This Sabrina The Teenage Witch Reboot Is Not Good News

Photo by ABC/Viacom/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.
From bucket hats and bumbags to those few blissful weeks in 2016 that we spent running around catching Pokémon, nostalgia really is all around us. Naturally, TV has hopped on the '80s and '90s trend, too, with everything from Will and Grace to Blind Date back on our screens, and even faux-retro hits like Stranger Things capturing the essence of bygone times.
However, reboot fever can be dangerous – just look at the racist meltdown that ruined Roseanne's already unnecessary comeback, or the turgid fourth and fifth seasons of Arrested Development, again marred by controversy surrounding Jeffrey Tambor's inclusion. And even if your TV show doesn’t end up promoting a Trump supporter or an alleged abuser, it can suffer a third terrible fate: taking itself way too seriously.
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This, I fear, will be the undoing of Netflix’s upcoming series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. While not a direct reboot of '90s family comedy Sabrina The Teenage Witch, it comes from the same Archie Comics world as the original. Except this time, it’s an oh-so-creepy, spooky series from the makers of Riverdale, a show that takes teen drama cliches and, er, makes them oh-so-creepy and spooky. According to its makers, US network The CW, the new Sabrina will be "a dark coming-of-age story that traffics in horror, the occult, and, of course, witchcraft".
Photo by ABC/Viacom.
If I don’t sound particularly enthused, that's because the original Sabrina was such a huge part of my tween years. Unlike a show like Queer Eye – which most millennials were too young to appreciate first time round – Sabrina sticks firmly in my mind (I can even whistle the screechy 'rock music' theme tune). In the early 2000s, I would get my Nickelodeon fix at my grandparents' house after school, usually with some chicken and chips or a huge slab of my grandma's fruit cake on hand. Sabrina was a feelgood show with a laughter track, all about a geeky girl (Melissa Joan Hart, now a Republican Mom who has dabbled in designing clothes for boys and mommy blogging, weirdly) with amazing powers and no idea how to use them. Like Bernard’s Watch, Aquila and The Queen's Nose – British shows I also loved watching around the same time – Sabrina had a sense of otherworldliness so far removed from the dull London suburbs where I lived. Plus, it was pretty surreal, from the sarcastic quips of Salem – a witch in the body of a cat – to cameos from everyone from Ringo Starr to Britney to Coolio, to the time Sabrina accidentally went back in time to the '60s or, er, when her family guested on Jerry Springer (yes, this really did happen).
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Courtesy of Netflix.
Now, there are a few things about the Sabrina reboot which are undoubtedly great. For one, it stars 18-year-old Kiernan Shipka from Mad Men, who is a ridiculously talented young actor (I say this not to sound patronising, but as someone who was wearing Ugg boots and occasionally vomiting into gutters when I was her age). Also, The Office’s Lucy Davis – star of one of TV’s best moments ever, and who made a comeback in Wonder Woman last year – plays Aunt Hilda. But do we really need a darker take on Sabrina? Teen dramas in the post-Skins world are generally a bit grittier (see not just Riverdale but BBC3’s Clique, Skam, et al) but where, I ask, are the lols-y shows aimed at young people? Maybe it’s just that the lines between teen and adult comedies are less distinct in the streaming age, but it feels as though there’s nothing fun and frivolous for young people anymore. A quick look at Netflix’s 'trending now' tab confirms my suspicions; almost every programme apart from the two now-cancelled originals – Everything Sucks and Miranda Sings’ Haters Back Off – looks about as fun as getting your wisdoms out.
Writing about the tendency towards grittier remakes for US site The Awl, Deborah Krieger explains the trend by remarking that "we want to 'dark and gritty'-ify [Riverdale’s] Archie, Anne, and the Rangers to justify returning to the texts of our own childhoods". But what’s wrong with making reboots that feel faithful to the originals, or just not making them at all? Because, really, the most magical Sabrina is the one of our glossy, tweenage memories.
Sabrina The Teenage Witch will be available on Netflix from 26th October 2018.
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