First Thoughts on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”

Maybe I shouldn’t admit to it, but I’ve started watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” after picking it up on DVD. At some point, I was reminded that the show existed, and remember watching it off-and-on while it was being broadcast, and finding it entertaining. I went to Amazon and found a collection of the complete series — all seven seasons — for a reasonable price, although it wasn’t exactly cheap. I watched a couple of other things first — I was worried for a while that I wouldn’t be able to just watch it and in the summer there are times when I want all the lights off to keep things cooler — but then decided to just give it a try.

I’m actually really enjoying it. In fact, right now the most annoying thing about it is that the pacing of the show is so good that I have a really hard time reading while watching it, which means that my re-reading of “The Tamuli” is going really, really slowly. While it being a half-hour show certainly helps with that, I think it’s more that when you look up to see what’s going on — inspired by something loud or exploding — the show just keeps moving from scene to scene to scene, one right after the other, so there’s no real downtime that would make you look down again and get caught up in the book.

I think that one of the reasons I liked it was because of its “Multiple Demographic Appeal”. From the TV Tropes entry:

Multiple Demographic Appeal: In her autobiography, Melissa Joan Hart describes the show as this. Younger kids would love the magic, teenagers would relate to Sabrina’s problems fitting in, red-blooded males would enjoy the pretty female cast, and the magic would also appeal to older viewers nostalgic for Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.

But I also think the show does some things that make a female protagonist more generally appealing, and also manages to avoid some of the more annoying teen sitcom tropes. What’s good about the show is that while pretty much all of the main protagonists are female — except for Salem — the show isn’t really about female protagonists. While the viewpoint character is female and often the show is indeed clear about that, the problems that Sabrina has to deal with aren’t particularly female-oriented. Almost all of her “normal teen” issues are issues that pretty much all teens can relate to, and her fantastical problems also tend to be mostly neutral. Even if someone wouldn’t, say, want to go to the club with all available guys, even guys will understand wanting to go to a place with attractive, dateable people. So, again, while the perspective was female, there weren’t all that many cases where men and boys couldn’t relate to what was going on.

The show starts by setting up the typical “Betty and Veronica” situation with the standard “Veronica is an unsympathetic Alpha Bitch who is just there to annoy and clash with our nice heroine” with Libby. However, physically Libby is no where near as attractive as Sabrina is. The typical situation has the ordinary Betty compared with the more exotic and exciting Veronica, but while Libby is at least in theory richer than Sabrina, she just can’t compete with Sabrina on anything important. Sabrina is more attractive than Libby, nicer than Libby and more compatible with Harvey than Libby, and Harvey isn’t presented as someone that can be impressed by money (a nice car, maybe). To the show’s credit, either they always intended this or they realized it was happening really quickly and this line is quickly dropped, with Libby still trying on occasion but usually only when she has some kind of in, and Harvey makes it clear that he isn’t really interested. At first, he doesn’t notice how mean Libby is because she’s always nice to him, and then later falls into some of her traps because he can’t say “No” or is generally clueless, and then later makes it directly clear that he isn’t interested. Libby remains an antagonist for the first three seasons, but isn’t taken seriously as a romantic rival very often past the first half of season one.

It also manages to avoid the oh-so-common “Incredibly attractive female lead/sidekick can’t get a date because she’s not attractive enough”. Both Jenny and Valerie are attractive, although not as attractive as Sabrina is (Melissa Joan Hart, at the time, was incredibly attractive, even for a TV star). And they are both presented as girls who have a hard time getting dates. But usually it wasn’t their attractiveness that caused the issue. Jenny was eccentric, and seemingly in response to getting ostracized — mostly by other girls — for those traits, embraced the eccentricity and became almost an early hipster, embracing the things that were non-standard and rejecting out of hand those that were popular and making that an important part of her identity, which made her really annoying at times. Valerie had a strong underlying desire to be popular, but had crippling self-esteem issues. When Sabrina changes herself into a boy to see what Harvey was thinking when she wasn’t around, Sabrina “dates” Valerie — to keep Harvey from doing it — and notes that Valerie messes up by spending so much time talking about how no one wants to date her and how she never gets second dates, which Sabrina herself notes is a bad idea (and Valerie does the same thing on a “date” with Harvey). So it’s less their looks and more their personalities that are responsible for them not getting dates. And both are given guys who are interested in them. Jenny gets one on the trip to Salem and Valerie has a boyfriend for a couple of episodes and has a requited crush on Gordie. This allows the show to still play up them being dateless while allowing for episodes where they, for example, double date.

The show is a lot like “Charmed” in a lot of ways, but especially in how most of Sabrina’s problems come from her not learning the lessons she learned in previous episodes and doing something stupid with her magic, and not learning from previous episodes that hiding it from her aunts only makes it worse, especially since she often needs their help to fix the things she’s screwed up. But the show lampshades that on occasion and I’m more willing to forgive that in a sitcom than I am in an action-drama. The show can be incredible stupid at times, though, both with entire episodes and with sequences inside episodes.

I also like the Canadian references tossed in, likely due to Caroline Rhea — who played Hilda — being Canadian. While they name drop it on occasion, Hilda gets deported back to the “Northern part of the realm” for speaking too much like a Canadian, and I think the national anthem was the Canadian one. It’s fun for them to do that, and allows them to appeal to a shared audience with things that if you don’t know Canada won’t seem out of place.

Ultimately, I’m finding it entertaining, although Season 4 is starting a bit rough. But I should be able to go through it and will likely watch it again at some point.


2 Responses to “First Thoughts on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch””

  1. Why Doesn’t Sabrina Count as a Role Model for Girls? | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] you might be aware, I’m currently watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. And it’s interesting […]

  2. New Thoughts … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] had the same sort of multiple demographic appeal that Sabrina the Teenage Witch had, except that it has less of those elements. The music is interesting if you like that sort of 90s […]

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