After the success of Clarissa Explains It All, Melissa Joan Hart had put herself firmly in the spotlight and after originally decided to go to university, was drawn back into acting by the lure of high school witchcraft.
Based on the Archie comic book from the 1970s, Sabrina was a pretty new concept. Science fiction and fantasy in a children’s show. It started off though is the form of a TV movie made by premium channel Showtime and whilst the film was nothing to write home about, it did manage to garner enough interest to get a TV show into production.
The clue’s in the title really, Sabrina was, well a teenage witch. Having discovered her dormant powers at the age of 16, the regular high-school girl now had to contend not only with normal teenage life, but with learning the family secrets and getting her grips on the world of magic as a whole.
She wasn’t alone though as she lived with her two aunts Zelda and Hilda, both witches, and their talking cat Salem (actually a war criminal being punished by having to take feline form) with the four often getting into wacky magical hijinks.
The show was nicely scatological, quite often going into the realms of surrealism to find its comedy, something not really seen in live-action family entertainment at the time. Helped massively by the conceit of magic being ever present, it allowed Sabrina to get surprisingly weird, with characters being teleported randomly, evil twins and pancake addiction being legitimate concerns. Add in some snappy back and forth between the central players, and Sabrina can still generate more than enough chuckles to get by.
The show had easily two high points; Melissa Joan Hart and Salem the cat.
Drolly voiced, Salem’s constant put downs and sarcasm were the perfect foil for the sweet natured rest of the characters. While quite a lot of the show geared heavily towards a younger audience, Salem’s dry sense of humour provided nice periods of respite. Even the weird, stilted animatronic cat fits with the shows surrealist aesthetic.
Joan Hart, much like on Clarissa, was the heart of the show. A wonderfully easy screen presence and a real anchor for the show to settle around, Sabrina is a great protagonist, smart yet fallible and awkward. She also continued to garner acclaim for her role, getting another slew of award nominations and wins throughout the show’s run and her natural appeal was the main reason why the show lasted so long in the first place.
Unfortunately, that could also be considered too long.
The show took a dramatic nose dive after Sabrina graduated high school, with the show simply getting tired after four extremely successful series. The last three series of Sabrina at university just never had the same creative spark as those that came before, something that was displayed in the ratings, with the number of viewers crashing from over ten million to just under four. A change of network didn’t help, but the show’s reign of popularity was coming to an end.
Cast members left with alarming regularity, budgets were slashed and the show came to a rather sad end.
While it was wise to ignore the show after it moved from giant network ABC at the end of series four, Sabrina was and still is a solid family show. It may not quite have the sparkle that Clarissa or many of the times other standout show’s still have, but doesn’t ruin those fond childhood memories that you might fear it would.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith