Based on a character who first appeared in "Archie" comics in 1962, this quite literal wish-fulfillment comedy premiered on the Showtime cable network, and was then developed into a series for ABC.
Pretty Sabrina Sawyer (Melissa Joan Hart), newly arrived in Riverdale from her native Massachusetts, seems like a typical teen. Her eccentric aunts, caring for Sabrina while her parents travel, know better. Just as they did, Sabrina will inherit magical abilities upon the first full moon after her
imminent 16th birthday.
When Sabrina prematurely opens her gift, an ancient book of spells, she unknowingly gets a foretaste of the powers. In school, Sabrina achieves perfect test scores, performs superhuman athletic feats, and generally outshines snotty class queen Katy (Lalaina Lindbjerg).
Finally, she learns her true heritage as a witch, and tries not to rely too much on magic for easy solutions. In fact, the sorcery has prescribed limits. She cannot effectively cast a love spell, and an early attempt on high-school lothario Seth (Ryan Reynolds) has left her vulnerable to being
turned into an animal if they kiss. It's not an issue, however, as Sabrina realizes that best buddy Harvey (Tobias Mehler) is the one who truly adores her. Resentful Katy opens Sabrina's locker and finds the book of spells, but a brief transformation into a poodle scares her silent.
SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH goes to extremes to be mild, with a portrayal of witchcraft inoffensive to all but the most hysterical fundamentalist. "When you feel good about who you are, being true to yourself, then nothing can keep you down," counsel the aunts, teaching the girl to fly. The loose,
suspense-free plot line won't send any pulses racing, and Sabrina's romantic dilemma, going after the Flashy Jock and overlooking the Nice Guy who deserves her, was a predictable cliche even when John Hughes used it for trendy teen dramas like PRETTY IN PINK (1986).
Melissa Joan Hart, late of the Nickelodeon cable show "Clarissa Explains It All," is a winning personality. She and other performers actually look and sound somewhat like contemporary teenagers, a rare virtue considering the hopelessly square source material. Archie, Jughead, and other Riverdale
High alumni never appear, although director Tibor Takacs uses a page-turning screen "wipe" for transition scenes as a nod to Sabrina's comic-book origin.
Producer Paula Hart acquired rights to the Sabrina character as a vehicle for her actress daughter, and it paid off when "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch" the TV series materialized, with Melissa Joan Hart and Michelle Beaudoin the only carryovers from this feature. The program was ABC's sole solid
ratings hit among newcomers in the 1996-97 broadcast season, and it upstaged a highly-touted prime-time show based on the popular theatrical teen comedy, CLUELESS (1995).
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