What Netflix’s ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ Can Learn from ‘Riverdale’s’ Mistakes
While The CW’s Archie saga ‘Riverdale’ suffered a sophomore slump, Netflix’s horror-inspired adaptation of ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ is poised to be spookier and much more fun.
Even more Archie comics characters are coming to your television screen soon—but not on The CW. Though The CW was once developing a television version of comic series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the series has since landed at Netflix with a two season, 20 episode order. The comic series, written by Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, is a darker adaptation of the plucky Sabrina character who is also a teenage witch. The series was adapted once in the '90s starring Melissa Joan Hart, but this new series will likely be more like Riverdale than anything resembling Hart's version.
That's a good sign for fans of Riverdale, who like hot teenagers running around solving murder mysteries, but it could also… not be. The first season of Riverdale was a noir-tinged pop culture orgasm. It was lightning in a bottle, much like the first season of Gossip Girl had been on The CW years earlier. But in its second season Riverdale has managed to stumble into nonsense far quicker than its soapy Manhattan predecessor ever managed to.
What was once a series about Archie deciding between the raven-haired Veronica or the blonde Betty while also trying to discover who murdered Jason Blossom has turned into something of a mess. The teenagers' parents have nearly as much story as the teens do. There's a serial killer now prowling the streets of Riverdale. Gay teens are cruising for dick in the woods like it's 1979. Archie is the leader of a vigilante gang called The Red Circle that wants to keep the streets safe from the aforementioned serial killer. Students are hooked on a drug called fucking Jingle Jangle. And it's all pretty much oppressively dark, with barely any hints of prom, spring flings, or the other trappings of teenage dramas that should at least be the basis for the wacky goings-on in town. It's like if Buffy were all monsters without any of the teen angst as subtext.
Luckily for Sabrina, the format of the comic series works great for adapting the series to television. Aguirre-Sacasa had previously written Archie comics such as After Life with Archie, but clearly that zombie story couldn't be transferred to the non-supernatural Riverdale. That will pose no such problems for Sabrina, which will be able to keep its supernatural stories intact. The focus of the comic series is on Sabrina and her family, so it's reasonable to assume the same focus would translate to the Netflix series. Both seasons will shoot back to back as well, which should help with the coherence of creating two seasons that complement one another.
Perhaps it's not just Riverdale's sophomore slump which has influenced the decision to lock in two seasons of Sabrina. Netflix has another very popular supernatural series, Stranger Things, which revealed many of its own woes during its second installment. The original concept of the series' second season was to involve the characters returning to town as adults, much like in the film It, but that was abandoned because of how popular the teenage actors became. Netflix would be wise to get a cast of teenagers that they can shoot two seasons with before they start age out of their characters, which is entirely possible given Netflix's freewheeling production schedule.
Stranger Things and Riverdale both faced the task of trying to recreate the same magic of their first seasons when they returned. Shooting a second season right away of Sabrina could be a way to make sure what audiences love about it is maintained for at least two years. There won't need to be any going back to the drawing board when the second season is a true conclusion to the first. The shorter episode orders ought to help too, keeping the series from the fatigue that comes with many network TV dramas and even Netflix's shortened series.
Furthermore, Sabrina has the potential to be a lot more fun. Riverdale keeps pushing up against that edge of insanity, wanting to go over the top and always having to pull back. Without the aid of the supernatural, which Aguirre-Sacasa is a huge fan of given his previous body of comic and theatre writing, he seems oddly limited. Riverdale could probably flourish if there were more supernatural trappings than "deranged killers" each season… or maybe all of that freedom might make something even messier. As it were, Riverdale is still pretty enthralling even when it's disastrous, so Sabrina will probably be great to binge.