To be frank, the thought in my head as the credits brought the first episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Sixth Season to a close was, “Well, this did not age well.”
Perhaps it is because the episode features a fanged vampire in a cape who clearly can only fly with the help of suspension cables, not a hunky bloodsucker with sparkly skin, the current trend in vampire fantasy, but the shows initially felt like they hailed from a bygone era, more remote than the 2001-2002 television season from whence they actually came.
This thought surprised me, because I had watched Sabrina on and off for the better part of a decade; never a die-hard fan, but certainly someone who found the show to be a reliable source of mind-relaxing entertainment, in the best sense of the term. At first, I thought Sabrina simply might not make sense in the present age, an atavism in the world of teen television. I mean, there are no pregnancy scares, mean girl manipulations, or even much of a love triangle.
Yet, this initial hesitant disappointment did not stop me from watching a second episode. And then a third… and soon I found that, somewhat to my surprise, I was getting hooked. Its very abnormality when compared to dramas of the present day became endearing, and, although I mostly watched it as a dissipating diversion and for the comedic scenarios offered in each episode, such as Sabrina’s addiction to “Cloud 10” or possible smiting by Zeus, there were times that I actually popped in the next episode because I wanted to find out what would happen in the plot.
Soon I realize that Sabrina simply suffers and benefits from the same paradoxes that characterize any mainstream show of one’s youth that one revisits it as a 20- or 30-something. These shows don’t have a chance at standing up next to current mainstream culture—the allurement of rapid change is so ingrained in the American consciousness that old-fashioned has become an insult. However, they do have nostalgia, and humor, and sometimes watching an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Sixth Season is the perfect relief from the troubles of the present day.
For those of you who did not grow up in a time when “Sabrina” was as common a moniker as “Bella,” Sabrina the Teenage Witch is a show about a young girl who tries to live a normal teenage life, going to school, dating boys, but runs into all kinds of difficulties because she happens to be half-mortal, half-witch. She lives with her two aunts, who are also witches, and often provide the important lessons of the show, and even much of the drama and entertainment. Her aunts, Zelda and Hilda, are beautifully played by Beth Broderick and Caroline Rhea, who is a great source of comedy in the show.
Of course, Melissa Joan Hart is Sabrina, and, perhaps to her chagrin, probably always will be in the minds of millions who grew up in the 1990s. Unless she made a bigger impact on you in Clarissa Explains it All, which was an excellent show of the early '90s. By the sixth season, Sabrina is no longer a teenager, yet she still makes some incredible mistakes, and Melissa Joan Hart is perfect as the girl who always has good intentions that, without fail, go awry.
The Sixth Season finds Sabrina in college, and for that reason it is probably one of the best seasons of the show. The plot lines are a bit more mature and the great characters from the previous seasons remain (her aunts plus conniving talking cat Salem and former fling and all-around nice guy Harvey, played by Nate Richert) but are augmented by some new college friends who bring a lot to the show. Elisa Donovan is especially good as Sabrina’s selfish and superficial, but not malevolent, nemesis-turned-BFF, Morgan. Soleil Moon Frye (Roxie in Sabrina, but Punky Brewster to many) and Trevor Lissauer as Miles are two additions who reinvigorate the show by embodying the teen stereotypes of the rebellious outsider and the geeky outsider, respectively. Oh, and David Lascher as her mature boyfriend Josh brings sexiness to a teenage show that for the most part lacks sexual references.
I recently read a review of a film that posited that the film was only made better by the fact that one had a hard time deciding if it was great or horrible. In a similar way, once you get used to them, those bizarre quirks in the plot, dialogue, and everything else in Sabrina that verge on the ridiculous soon become the best part of the show and compel you to keep watching.
And, if nostalgia coupled with absurdity is not a good enough reason to convince you to watch Sabrina, which I personally think it should be, there is actually a message hidden among the mid-drift bearing shirts and disturbing magic tricks (if you think Sabrina would look good transformed into a baby doll, you would be wrong).
The moral is this: even if you have the power to meddle with life, it is not always a wise path to travel. Hubris combined with inhuman ability can lead to disastrous consequences. We mere mortals may fantasize about life as a witch (or god, or superhero), but perhaps our time is better spent appreciating the life we have. Were Sabrina not a witch, I believe she would find life to be a lot easier, and perhaps even more charming.