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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a dark drama about a teen girl (Kiernan Shipka) with magical powers. Existing in the same world as Riverdale and classic Archie comic characters, it's an edgy retelling of the young witch's story. Violence includes deaths, stabbings with spurting blood, images of witches hanging from a tree, a character making a joke about having human flesh for dinner while standing over the body of a recently murdered teen, and more. Gothic imagery -- bats, fog, cemeteries -- may spook younger viewers. A teen is bullied for having an androgynous gender presentation. Sexual content consists of loving kisses between Sabrina and her boyfriend, talk about virginity (and why it's a requirement for a new witch), and an orgy that takes place at Sabrina's home (she's not involved). Language is infrequent but includes "bastard," "a--hole," "hell," "bulls--t," and made-up slang with a vulgar edge, like when Sabrina calls fellow witches "succubitches." A character is called "freak." An adult character smokes theatrically and frequently with no visible consequences, and teens sometimes drink, which adults seem not to mind. Women and people of color have strong roles with agency; a main character is nonbinary. Sabrina in particular is tough but kind; she stands up for herself and for others against intense opposition, and she's a good role model for teens in many ways. That said, this magical world is darker, bloodier, and sexier than Harry Potter; think Buffy the Vampire Slayer with even more focus on the occult and evil. As Sabrina's seasons move on, the action is even edgier and darker, with sudden bloody murders, disturbing imagery (like a scene in which two characters suddenly find they are sewn together to be conjoined twins), rituals that involve cannibalism, demonic possession, evil spells, and the resurrection of the dead. Characters are suddenly dispatched, like when a woman's throat is suddenly and bloodily slit, or a boy is killed when a mine collapses. Many scenes feature characters visiting hell and communing with demons and/or Satan. Visuals are dark and spooky and can be shocking -- for example, a scene where adult characters are telling a sort of fairytale that involves a child being cooked alive to be fed to Satan; we see the hapless child in the oven.
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What's the story?
Based on a 2014 reimagining of the Archie comic Sabrina the Teenage Witch called CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, this TV version picks up in modern times, with Sabrina (Shipka) on the verge of her 16th birthday, the time when she has to accept either the "Path of Light" (living as a mortal woman with no magical powers) or the "Path of Night" (living as a full witch under traditional rules). Since Sabrina's dad was a warlock and her mom a mortal, it's complicated for her -- and she doesn't like giving up control of her life to anyone or anything. So with the help of her Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto), Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis), boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch), and faithful cat Salem, Sabrina's looking to carve a new path in the witching world, no matter what unearthly forces oppose her.
Is it any good?
Witchcraft becomes a meta-metaphor for female power in this smart, witty, and positively thrilling update of the cheesy teen-witch story that, like Riverdale, originated in Archie comics. This Sabrina is both darker and deeper, with more on its mind than the sitcom-with-magic antics of 1990s cult fave Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Compellingly, the new Sabrina grapples not only with the whiplash that comes from having one foot in the magical world and one in the mortal one, but also with the limitations that the world puts on her as a teenage girl.
There's a moment that crystallizes Sabrina's relatable dilemma in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina's second episode, when Sabrina debates with another young witch over Sabrina's witch-age-of-majority choice: Should she sign her name in the Dark Lord's book and accept her full powers, along with restrictive rules? Or should she remain mortal, free to make her own choices? As Sabrina explains to her colleague, she wants it all: power and freedom. The other witch scoffs. The Dark Lord would never allow such a thing. Why? "He's a man, isn't he?" Is witchcraft a means of magical empowerment for Sabrina? Or is it just another trap? With such a sophisticated, sharp idea anchoring the drama, this thrill ride gives viewers something to chew on.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how witchcraft has traditionally been portrayed on television and in movies. Think about how witches figure in some of the things you've watched. Are the witches depicted as heroic? Monstrous? Why does it vary, and what does this say about what witches represent to us?
Why is it important that Sabrina is young? How would this story change if she were an older character? What's interesting or special about youth, and why is it so often the center of drama? What types of stories make sense for young characters and not older ones?
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