Review by C.J. Bunce
The most twists and turns, the most clever story arcs, and the most faithful adaptation of a comic book series you’ve seen so far. After a great first season but a ho-hum sophomore season, the creators of the third season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina kicked every aspect of the show into high gear, making for the best season of any series so far on the streaming provider (yep, including that first season of Stranger Things). So often it’s easy to binge watch every new series. But the best you reserve to savor, and each episode of the third season was like a good movie. More magic, more of the supernatural, and more gold nuggets from centuries of folklore took these established characters and made them shine in exciting new ways, giving us the rare third season that bettered earlier seasons. Great characters, great stories, great actors, and great writing as the witches of Greendale must fend off an attack by pagans that could mean the end for them and the mortals over eight action-packed episodes. The season should put the series on anyone’s contender for best series of the year, even if we are only at February–it’s probably Netflix’s most riveting season of programming so far.
Has anyone done this before? I’m talking about Robert Aguirre-Sacasa. From the pages of Archie Comics, in 2014 Aguirre-Sacasa took Sabrina Spellman, a 50-year-old supporting character, and with a lot of love and dedication, and the visuals of artist Robert Hack, made her relevant for comic book readers in a new millennium in the pages of Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Then he took her story to television and created a hit show to match, and kept it going for three seasons (with a fourth season due by year end). Has any comic book series received this expert an adaptation and a singular champion of a classic character?
In front of the camera, Kiernan Shipka owns her title character and performs at the level of an actress who’s been doing it for 25 years. Stunningly confident, she carries a swagger when called for as if Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger or some other big movie star’s badass character walked onto the set. Viewers believe her because she knows this character, able to flip from several versions of a put-upon, angsty high school teen to a genuine leader, fierce manipulator, and ferocious force to be reckoned with–even the forces of evil know to stay out of her way.
The series ticked several boxes of greatness this year. The musical score carried an almost Danny Elfman darkness, exciting accompaniments to the action contrasted with pretty harmonies, all created by composer Adam Taylor. Oscar-winning costume designer Angus Strathie created great re-creations of mythological characters this round, as well as a stunning queen ensemble for Sabrina and an interesting twist on Hela from Thor: Ragnarok for Michelle Gomez′s Lilith. Gomez took on full dual roles this season, and again proved again she’s one of the top genre actors anywhere.
The show is once again anchored by its supporting cast of top talent. Mirando Otto expands her role as coven leader Aunt Zelda and gets a scene nearly equal to her finale in The Lord of the Rings here. Lucy Davis plays Aunt Hilda in even more quirky ways. Chance Perdomo′s Ambrose is becoming even more key to the future of his family. And Tati Gabrielle′s Prudence becomes the next sword-wielding badass of television. The list of guest actors and supernatural surprises they play this season is too long to list (Leanna Khol Young′s fantastically creepy Pesta, Will Swenson′s Pan, Skye P. Marshall′s Mambo Marie, Vanessa Rubio′s Nagaina, and Lucie Guest′s Circe, for starters).
This year weaved a lot together: the spiritual realm, religion, the occult, folktales, legends, all intermingled neatly. And the writers took several seeds planted in earlier season episodes and brought them back in meaningful ways that would especially benefit new viewers who just binge-watched seasons one and two for the first time. And the story centered on a carnival, but did it in a new way–good handling of a popular trope we’ve seen in Stranger Things, Heroes, October Faction, and Shazam. Plus the writers added some science fiction to the fantasy, and maybe a time loop or two.
Our only detraction about the series is the same as with past seasons. With all the great technology available, why wouldn’t you give more attention to Salem, Sabrina’s cat, who has a far bigger role in the comics? We know Shipka is allergic to cats, but that’s what special effects are for. She also needs to react to Salem when onscreen like she loves her cat–she can’t quite hide she must not be a fan of cats in real life. C’mon, effects people–what are you waiting for?
Highly recommended for teens and adult viewers, get caught up on all three seasons of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina now on Netflix.