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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina visits its alternate universe self in a standout episode

Just a girl and her talking cat
Just a girl and her talking cat
Photo: Diyah Pera/Netflix
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If you’re going to get super self-referential and acknowledge in-world that your show is a reboot of another, pre-existing show, then you might as well bring back the talking stuffed cat while you’re at it.

There’s a narrow balancing act for an episode like this to manage, where the closer the show gets to breaking the fourth wall, the funnier the whole concept is, but there’s a danger of lowering the stakes too much in pursuit of the joke. But as Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina dips ever deeper into the well of jokes about its former incarnation as a ’90s multicamera sitcom, there’s a tipping point where it flips back to its existing mission: defeating the eldritch terrors. Sabrina Morningstar has a pretty daunting task ahead of her when she lands in sitcom land: She has to figure out how to defeat an eldritch terror, but she’s not the Sabrina that’s been battling them. She doesn’t even know which terrors are left. But she’s still Sabrina at heart, which means that she never gives into despair. If anything, she’s a slightly more confident version of Sabrina than Spellman, who’s struggled a lot with who she is this season along with fighting the end of the world. Sabrina Morningstar knows she’s got a hot husband and a mission left back in the main version of the cosmos, and she never falters in her quest to figure out what’s going on.

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And of course, along the way, the show has a lot of fun with its former stars. The new old aunties are warm, friendly, and funny at first, just like they were in the earlier version of the show, and Salem the talking cat gets a couple of the requisite one liners. Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick prove more than game about reviving their versions of Hilda and Zelda, and then getting creepier and creepier while they’re at it. Meanwhile, everyone else Sabrina knows (minus Salem) has been imported over as is, thus thankfully sparing us from the extreme weirdness of Harvey being played by a 42 year old man. The show then has a great deal of fun putting a hat on a hat, by having Roz explain that she can’t be dating Harvey because the writers would never give her a boyfriend, and express complete acceptance of going blind because at least it’s an arc. Sure, Theo doesn’t have an arc in this universe either, but that’s not the point: Harvey will defend him by messing with Billy and Carl at “sports practice.”

Illustration for article titled iChilling Adventures Of Sabrina/i visits its alternate universe self in a standout episode
Photo: Diyah Pera/Netflix

The show even finds a way to work around its various new characters by having them work as stand-ins or on the crew (we’re all agreed that Nick threw Harvey in the green room so he could take over, right?). Faustus is of course the director, and whatever version of Lilith/Wardwell this is acts as the script supervisor. For the record, the closed captioning had her as Wardwell.

Things rapidly start to deteriorate once the Void starts infringing on the Endless, threatening to crush this entire mini universe in an effort to kill Sabrina. In one of the biggest departures from her counterpart, this Sabrina works with the eldritch terror she encounters and convinces him to make a run for it once he realizes he’s in danger. The two of them bolt for a mirror back to the main cosmos, abandoning a bloodbath behind them in one of the more fun and bizarre action sequences the show has ever done. How many shows would show all of its characters being gruesomely murdered while the protagonist sprints through a collapsing TV set as a talking stuffed cat shouts out orders to clear the way?

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Illustration for article titled iChilling Adventures Of Sabrina/i visits its alternate universe self in a standout episode
Image: Diyah Pera/Netflix

They make it through the mirror just in time, thus ending the episode on a cliffhanger and leaving us to wonder if the Endless will still be with Sabrina Morningstar back in the real world.

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Does everything work perfectly smoothly in this sitcom version of Sabrina? Well, not exactly. The detour into revisiting earlier episodes felt unnecessary, and there’s a whiff of contempt for traditional multicamera sitcoms in the cheesy dialogue and stilted situations the actors are forced to act out. It’s possible to see this as the inability of the Endless to craft a compelling plot, but it’s hard not to read it as the show setting itself a little bit above this other art form.

But overall this is an extremely tight deconstruction of its own world. I don’t think even Sabrina Morningstar would have many notes for this one.

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Stray observations

  • At first I thought we were only going to get one smoldery glimpse of Nick to show that he was there, but his insistence that he’s Harvey now was very funny.
  • One of the best parts of this episode was how dang creepy the whole thing was. Everything is just off. But for me the absolute creepiest part was the stand-ins sleeping under the beds of the main cast.
  • Sabrina cannot get over the concept that a talking stuffed cat is the star, but no one has time to explain the ’90s to you, Sabrina!!
  • It is extremely noticeable that everyone is drinking milk and eating tuna, but Sabrina does not question it even a little.
  • This episode was obviously a ton of fan service from top to bottom, but it was also just effective storytelling, and the strongest episode of the season so far. I promise I’m not grading on a curve just because the talking cat appeared, but please know that I’m really glad the talking cat appeared.
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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