Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: With Lifetime debuting The Unauthorized Full House Story, we take a look at some favorites from the TGIF era.
Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, “Pancake Madness” (season three, episode five; originally aired 10/23/1998)
ABC’s adaptation of the Archie comic about an adolescent sorceress starred Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina, a teenage girl who discovers that her father comes from a long line of witches. This is just about the last thing she needs, having just started at a new high school and moved in with her eccentric aunts—who turn out to be eccentric for a reason. Hilda (Caroline Rhea) is the “fun aunt” who makes questionable choices while her sister Zelda (Beth Broderick) prefers classical music and science experiments. Rounding out the Spellman household is Salem (Nick Bakay), a witch who has been sentenced to live life as a black cat as punishment for trying to take over the world—which is a pretty good deal, all things considered.
As Sabrina tries to understand her powers and the Other Realm portal in her linen closet, she also has to deal with the treacherous world of high school crushes and evil cheerleaders. Sabrina immediately thrived in the TGIF lineup, debuting in 1996 to 17 million viewers. (Remember when people stayed in to watch live television on a Friday night?)
If loud slapstick isn’t your jam, neither is Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. Hart, fresh off her wry run on Nickelodeon’s hugely popular Clarissa Explains It All, is perpetually frantic on Sabrina, matching the show’s manic pace. The laugh track is constant, and the scripts contain some puns that no delivery can save. But when Sabrina leaned in to its own wackiness, it resulted in gloriously bizarre episodes like “Pancake Madness.” When Sabrina ignores her aunts’ warning that the Spellmans have a genetic predisposition for pancake addiction, she ends up scarfing an upsetting number of pancakes at a school fundraiser. Her addiction manifests itself in increasingly ludicrous ways: twitching, licking her boyfriend’s fingers for residual syrup, sweating through fever dreams about an International House Of Pancakes for fellow addicts, and taking a trip through her psyche with a giant anthropomorphic bottle of maple syrup named Mrs. Mapleton (which is exactly as frightening as it sounds). The ridiculous premise matches Hart’s tendency to play to the back of the theater; the episode even includes a pancake-themed musical number complete with jazz hands.
Sabrina, The Teenage Witch lasted seven seasons, and while the last three aired on the WB after a dispute with ABC, this show still stands out in TGIF’s history. Not only did it target young women explicitly, but it built out a sprawling supernatural world that never took itself too seriously. Not even Bewitched let its witch ride a magic vacuum.
Availability: Sabrina, The Teenage Witch is available for purchase on DVD, and is available for streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime.