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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

Sabrina: The Teenage Witch: The Complete Animated Series (review)

They’re actually not kidding: This horrendous early 70s throwback — and really, in this case, “early 70s” means “longing for the 50s” — is being marketed as some sort of hip retro cool thing, when it’s really just an artifact from the era that was best left dead and buried. Just one of the gang from the Riverdale of the Archie comics, Sabrina can do magic but keeps her abilities secret from her drippy boyfriend, Harvey — modern feminist interpretation can see only that a powerful chick might threaten his dubious male superiority, and so a good girl keeps her mouth shut — as well as from everyone else, from whence the supposed comedy of this series springs: “Hey, how did that mysterious and somewhat magical thing just happen?” is the unspoken refrain of every idiot Sabrina shares the screen with. The set comes complete with all 31 episodes from the 1971 animated series, plus the never-before-seen first episode of the “Archie and Sabrina Surprise Package,” a late-70s syndicated series, and a pointless “art gallery.” DVD nerds will note that the image and sound is extraordinarily well preserved for being nearly 40 years old.


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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  • OK. First of all, Sabrina was never “just one of the gang from Riverdale.” The character first appeared in the 1962 comic ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE and stayed on due to her popularity among readers, receiving her own comic in 1971. The cachet of the comic, as well as the series, is that witches were generally not allowed to reveal their powers to humans, and considering what happened with the Salem Witch Trials this was probably not a bad policy.

    Filmation Studios had the license to produce cartoons based on the ARCHIES characters, so with Sabrina’s popularity and the success of the other ARCHIES series they produced, it was only natural that she would receive her own series. These and other cartoons from the ’70’s era are not particularly being marketed as “some sort of hip cool retro thing” and they’re being re-released due to demand from either animation enthusiasts/collectors or buyers who would prefer to watch older cartoons that they grew up with, as well as folks who like family-friendly stuff. (I myself am not fond of the new GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE at all, so it’s a good thing the original series is out on DVD.)

    Also, a “modern feminist interpretation” is not exactly something to consider when watching this; it’s a CARTOON, meant to entertain and not be pro- or anti-feminist either way. In all the episodes Sabrina is depicted as a clever, smart and resourceful young woman, whether she has to hide her powers from her boyfriend or not. And as far as “Hey, how did that mysterious and magical thing happen?” the truth is that the average person tends to pay less attention to what’s going on around them than you think. (Plus, again, it’s a CARTOON.) So give it a break. Just out of curiosity, since you’re a reviewer of DVDs and you didn’t like it, what’d you do with your copy?

  • MaryAnn

    a “modern feminist interpretation” is not exactly something to consider when watching this; it’s a CARTOON, meant to entertain and not be pro- or anti-feminist either way.

    Riiight. Because how women are depicted in pop culture has absolutely nothing to do with feminist theory. Absolutely nothing at all.

    Sabrina is depicted as a clever, smart and resourceful young woman, whether she has to hide her powers from her boyfriend or not.

    Why, you make my point, sir! That a smart, resourceful young woman might have to hide her capabilities couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the poor way that smart, resourceful women are treated by the culture.

    what’d you do with your copy?

    It’s on sale at Half.com.

  • I still maintain that you’re taking it way too seriously for what it is. Most people don’t watch 40-year-old cartoons from the ’70’s with expectations of being educated in modern feminism, and most entertainment doesn’t really take sides on anything, especially when it’s entertainment that is constructed for a mainstream audience. And anyway, smart, resourceful women must not be treated all that terribly by the culture, because you seem to have a job as a film critic. By the way, isn’t the term “geek goddess” a bit demeaning for smart, resourceful women?

    I’ve got my own copy of Sabrina, being an animation fan and an ARCHIES fan. I just wondered what film critics did with review copies of things they didn’t like. Hope you can sell it.

  • MaryAnn

    Most people don’t watch 40-year-old cartoons from the ’70’s with expectations of being educated in modern feminism

    That may be true. But it doesn’t mean those things aren’t there to be found.

    and most entertainment doesn’t really take sides on anything, especially when it’s entertainment that is constructed for a mainstream audience.

    Are you kidding? Of course it does! It may not realize it, but of course it does, particularly when it aims for a mainstream audience by perpetuating the status quo.

    smart, resourceful women must not be treated all that terribly by the culture, because you seem to have a job as a film critic.

    I created this job for myself, and I don’t make much of a living at it. Most film critics in the high-paying, high-profile positions are men, and white.

    By the way, isn’t the term “geek goddess” a bit demeaning for smart, resourceful women?

    No. Why?

  • I’m afraid I have a hard time believing that feminist statement was “there to be found” in Saturday morning cartoons. I honestly believe that if you asked Lou Schemier (who was head of Filmation Studios and spearheaded most of their work) what his intention was in the creation of a cartoon about a teenage girl who also happens to be a witch, it would have been “to entertain kids.” I don’t think he would have been perpetuating a status quo, or even thought that he was doing such a thing. Most people who aim for a mainstream audience do so because they want to show their work to as many people as possible.

    Also, if Sabrina kept her powers a secret, it was because, as I said above, the cachet of the series was that witches did not reveal their powers to humans. This was completely understandable, because it is true of human beings that if you show them something extraordinary, they tend to either exploit it, take it for themselves, or demonize it out of jealousy or feelings of inadequacy. Such a thing would most likely happen with someone who had the ability to alter reality or matter as Sabrina could, whether the individual in question was male or female. I don’t believe status quo had anything to do with it.

    Sorry you don’t have a high-profile high-paying position, but you seem to be passionate about what you do. Maybe that’s better.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m afraid I have a hard time believing that feminist statement was “there to be found” in Saturday morning cartoons. I honestly believe that if you asked Lou Schemier (who was head of Filmation Studios and spearheaded most of their work) what his intention

    I don’t care what his intention was… and you’re probably right: I’m sure he would have said he had nothing in mind but entertainment. But this is a product of the time in which it was created — and especially so if it was created with the widest possible audience in mind, because then it must cater to the expectations and prejudices of those people. There doesn’t have to be any particular intent to inject any kind of message for it to be revealing of the time in which it was created. This show was made in a culture that had certain ideas — ideas that few people would have even thought about, because they were so ingrained in the culture — about what was proper and what was not for teenaged girls. And those ideas are inevitably on display.

    Also, if Sabrina kept her powers a secret, it was because, as I said above, the cachet of the series was that witches did not reveal their powers to humans.

    And do you not understand that this conceit was developed at a moment in time in which a powerful woman would HAVE to keep her powers secret? Even creators of comic books do not work in a vacuum, and even they are not exempt from the same cultural forces that work on everyone else. The creator of Sabrina would have HAD to be working from an overt, feminist perspective, one that challenged the status quo, to have created a female witch who DIDN’T need to hide her powers.

    See: I agree with you. I have never been talking about the INTENT of this cartoon. I’m talking about what it unintentionally says about the time in which it was created.

  • MaryAnn

    Just to be clear: the “modern feminist intepretation” I’m talking about in the review is one from the perspective of today, in the early 21st century, after women have made a bit of progress from the early 1970s. Sabrina was not feminist in her time — if anything, she’s antifeminist.

  • No, I’m not sure that you do agree with me, because I think we’re talking about two completely different things. I understand all your arguments, but they’re sort of pointless in light of what the show actually is. Looking over the course of this discussion, I am also beginning to believe that you probably did not watch much of this DVD set at all. I’m not trying to get you to like it; I just do not think that it was judged fairly.

    It is true that the show is a product of its time, but the idea that Sabrina is anti-feminist because she hides her powers doesn’t work because Sabrina, as a witch, wasn’t supposed to reveal her powers to anyone, male or female, at all. There are instances in the show where she hides her powers from her girlfriends, too. There is a male witch character (warlock) in the show named Ambrose (Sabrina’s uncle) who basically has to hide HIS powers from people under this conceit.

    If witches could be considered a humanoid species (and I get that impression from watching this) I think your subtext is better served referring to a species than a gender.

  • MaryAnn

    You’re still missing my point. But I’d be repeating myself to explain myself again, so I won’t bother.

  • Jonny Q

    Wow, what a discussion — too bad more people didn’t join in on this.

    I was overjoyed that somehow this series finally came to see the light of day once again, and had come to feel that somehow most of the “Archies” series of that time would be forever forgotten. How nice to find this so nicely preserved and presented.

    And then, how disappointing to see it being judged as utter dreck. ANYTHING from the same time period could be viewed within the same narrow scope — how women were presented on TV in the early ’70s was as much a reflection of “what life was” at the time, as it was something which contributed to shaping attitudes; either progressing them or simply reinforcing them.

    I was a young boy who adored this cartoon above all others, and was never “concerned” that the lead character was a woman. If anything, who knows, this very cartoon may have helped bring audiences to an acceptance that a woman could be the main feature as a matter of course and not as an anomaly. One thing the cartoons did not share so much with the comic books they were based upon was the tendency of the “Archie” boys to get all googly-eyed at the female characters — so without this view through the looking glass the women were allowed to be — simply human, even if this one is a witch.

    Why criticize something 40 years old for having something of a viewpoint from… 40 years ago? Should the creators have projected what attitudes people might have 40 years hence so that the cartoon would have remained “relevant”? Why not look for what progresses it might have encouraged instead of what it might have unknowingly perpetuated as popular entertainment? The arguments against this cartoon’s merits along these lines might be more aptly applied to “Bewitched” where the lead is happy to live as a domestic housewife, or even moreso, “I Dream of Jeannie” where she is happy to live as a devoted servant. Sabrina is her own person, a strong one at that, regardless of being appraised according to her gender. She had no agenda to tow a feminist line or otherwise.

    Sabrina’s burden is her power. How odd is that? But many people can identify with her — she’s different, yes, but each of us feels different from everyone else in our own way and it’s not always comfortable! With this cartoon we were given a unique insight into the head of the main character and saw everything through her eyes. She was not given a goofy voice nor odd mannerisms to make her stand out as a cartoon character. She was just a person who wanted to enjoy her life, and wanted other people to enjoy theirs too — and she overcame obstacles to that whenever they were presented. What a horrible lesson to present to impressionable youngsters!

    When you say “every idiot Sabrina shares the screen with” — there I might agree with something. Most of the rest of the “Archies” were somehow one-note depictions with no real flashes of insight nor ingenuity. I loved the Archie cartoons because they were fun to watch — lots of action and silly humor — but I never felt an identification with any of them. That is where Sabrina the character transcends; not only with regard to her fellow players, but perhaps with regard to most of what was presented as entertainment for kids at the time. She triumphed over undeserved misfortunes time and again, not by virtue of dumb luck or even because she could “zap” away a problem — she won mainly through her positivity and ingenuity.

    Have you ever accomplished something you could plainly see, yet realized that no one around you could recognize it? So many are so occupied within their own world that they can’t see something remarkable when it happens right in front of their faces. Is there room for comedy in that? Certainly! Sabrina herself was not comical; seeing the reactions of the people around her was what provided the humor. If situational humor is not your cuppa tea, then you’re probably down on most situation comedies then! Sure, I know fault can be found with this series anyway — but I don’t think you’re on the nose with your particular criticism. There was no subservience of this character as a woman — her concern for her fellow characters is a rare human trait, and it cheapens the concept of caring for others if it is to be seen as subservient; as a demeaning female characteristic. She did not hide her magical abilities in order to protect a male’s feeling of superiority! That part was simple self-preservation; to avoid being run out of town. But she certainly never hid her self-assurance and confidence — qualities in a woman that often CAN be found threatening to the “dubious male superiority”! (And as for that, I don’t recall an instance of boyfriend Harvey ever speaking down to her as one who felt in any way superior… which is probably why this confident, self-assured woman had him as her boyfriend!)

    Sabrina was not a feminist in words or behavior. If you must find a message here, possibly the most powerful thing about her character is in demonstrating that you can just “be.” Without realizing it, this may have been their best forward thinking: We might hope that one day, as individuals, we won’t have to feel a special obligation to be an example to fellow women, to fellow black people, to fellow handicapped people; to fellow members of any group who might have felt oppression in any way. If we can live as good people and be examples to other people to be good regardless of any category — that seems a dandy goal to reach for. Why couldn’t I, a young boy, find inspiration in the character of an attractive and powerful grown woman? I think I did in this case, and I don’t remember many other characters from the TV of my youth who provided that feeling by example.

    Your assessment of this character as demeaning to women is too knee-jerk to come by based on the show’s premise. How easy to criticize from a cursory glance than to pay attention and find the gems within! I wish you’d thought about it more and found some better insights about a character I remember very fondly, and whose series I was genuinely happy to be able to see once again.

  • MaryAnn

    Well, I don’t remember this show fondly — I don’t really remember it at all — and I’ve yet to develop the psychic abilities necessary to review things from the perspective of other people.

    Should the creators have projected what attitudes people might have 40 years hence so that the cartoon would have remained “relevant”?

    Of course not. But if there’s nothing there other than a mainstream perspective of 40 years ago, then this is nothing but an artifact of an earlier time

    The arguments against this cartoon’s merits along these lines might be more aptly applied to “Bewitched” where the lead is happy to live as a domestic housewife, or even moreso, “I Dream of Jeannie” where she is happy to live as a devoted servant.

    But this is very much in the same vein. Sabina uses her witchy powers to do nothing but be a “proper” girl: making sure she looks nice for her boyfriend, for instance. As entertainment, this interests me not in the least.

  • Jonny Q

    Well, EV-ER-Y-thing from 40 years ago is an artifact of an earlier time. Your review however duns an entire series based upon a faulty understanding of the show: Sabrina’s boyfriend Harvey is a supporting character, almost a prop, and the series is not about “Sabrina and her boyfriend Harvey.” Many episodes do not even feature Harvey even in passing. It’s not ANYTHING AT ALL to do with her protecting his “dubious male superiority” — she dances with him, picnics with him, goes to the Chok’lit Shoppe with him — when she is with him she’s having fun.

    She and her family deal with the problems of being witches in a mortal world, which entails having to remain undiscovered as witches — yet also there is a mandate for them to perform mischief, which Sabrina resists. This brief description is, I think, much closer to what the show is about.

    Not that you need to care about this, except as one who is reviewing a DVD containing over 600 minutes’ worth of material on it, and your assessment of just its basic premise is way off. I like the show; I just bought this DVD and went looking for what others had to say about it. I enjoyed the “filosophical” discussion that ensued to be sure; I enjoyed your banter with the other commenter even if I didn’t agree with your assessment of this show’s impact (or lack thereof) — but I do realize your review could turn someone off of the show unnecessarily if they decide “if that’s what it’s about, I don’t wanna watch it!” Which is too bad if what you said doesn’t even factually apply to the show. I hope you don’t summarily dismiss ALL “old” entertainment simply because it is old and therefore depicts life as it was at the time!

    And — reviewing things from the perspective of other people — I never suggested you ought to pretend to be someone else as you write — but I would suppose a writer must consider one’s audience when writing. As someone who seems to care about attitudes toward women, you may have turned someone off a gem of a show which promotes healthy attitudes towards women — possibly even a pioneering example of it.

  • MaryAnn

    Which is too bad if what you said doesn’t even factually apply to the show.

    No one’s opinion is “factual,” except to the extent that this is actually my opinion.

    I hope you don’t summarily dismiss ALL “old” entertainment simply because it is old and therefore depicts life as it was at the time!

    Oh, for pete’s sake: try reading some of my other reviews before you say such a thing.

    I would suppose a writer must consider one’s audience when writing.

    My audience is “people who share my general taste in things.” Which means I write to please myself, and am delighted when others seem to find something useful in it.

    a gem of a show which promotes healthy attitudes towards women — possibly even a pioneering example of it.

    Bwahahahaha!

  • The funniest thing about this thread? The fact that Jonny Q and Jon Rose never once seem to realize that back in the 1970s, feminism was part of the popular culture. It appeared in everything from daily newscasts to country songs (Loretta Lynn’s “One’s on the Way,” for example.)

    But apparently not in children’s shows…

  • MaryAnn

    Except it *isn’t* in *Sabrina.* *Sabrina* is a throwback to the prefeminist utopia when women knew their place and didn’t get all uppity.

  • Jonny Q

    What’s sorta funny is how “feminism” becomes part of the conversation about this show — in light of what may be a reasonable observation about it — that it really has no feminist agenda. Sabrina just “is,” she is her own person, confident, competent — almost TOO competent really, if one is to find fault with that. We may have established that you didn’t watch so much of this show, based upon your assertion that Sabrina kowtows to males to avoid bruising egos — again, not a theme within this show — and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many, if any, fair examples of this in what amounts to over 600 minutes of programming. Should you have watched the whole thing? I dunno — should you watch an entire movie before posting a review, or read an entire book — or just search for the “gist”? And then — is your “gist” based upon assumptions you’re inclined toward? You didn’t give this a fair shake.

    The specific criticism could be more applicable to other “magical women” shows like Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie — Samantha had Darrin’s ego to worry about; Jeannie, well, she called her Major Nelson “Master” all the time. (Well, maybe if she were male that would still be the case, but oh boy, what if she was black too!) But, point being, Sabrina had no such concern. She hid her powers from Harvey as with anyone else, with Harvey being a rather inconsequential character anyhow. As John Rose pointed out, her magical male cousin hid his abilities from the mortals as well.

    The series is not landlocked in the late ’60s – early ’70s either — these characters were resurrected in the ’90s on into the 2000s, virtually unchanged. Sabrina, played by Melissa Joan Hart, is still magical and still tries to avoid having her mortal friends learn of this. Really, the only things about the original cartoon that make it dated are the occasional “Groovy!” and the visuals, perhaps cars and clothing styles. The “modern” Sabrina is perhaps more vulnerable and less self-assured, if anything.

    I remember, as Tonio observed, how much feminism was part of the popular culture. Nothing to do with this show now, but at the time, it was needed in order to raise consciousness and challenge the norm. But you know? Every “category” of human being can espouse complaints about their lot in life. I could take issue with any number of shows which show white males as bumbling incompetents next to a savvy, ultra-competent woman, or “minority,” or what-have-you. Yes, some of that “bring someone down to raise us up” attitude is a by-product of what is on the surface “the fight for equality.” But, you might scoff at this. By all rights though, we ought to be closer to everyone advocating “humanism” rather than specialized activism. As a white male, do you think I enjoy being the idea of being the scapegoat of anyone who isn’t a white male?

    What should Sabrina have done about any of this? As an icon of entertainment, was it “her” responsibility to speak on behalf of all women and raise consciousness to improve their lot? Should they have shown her being oppressed as a woman and overcoming that via object lessons for the viewers? Should she have had ANY social agenda? Or, should she have just been a character who happened to be a woman, seeking happiness and perhaps finding it within the space of 30 minutes’ time, like was and is the norm with shows like this?

    I might not credit the show’s creators with having this specifically in mind as they made their show, but it is still a part of its simple beauty. Sabrina was quietly a role model without trying to be; without that being thrown in anyone’s face. As a young boy, I might have found it a little harder to enjoy a cartoon about “Barbie” because she was so clearly defined as being “for girls.” Sabrina accomplished something neat in being so “universal” — I mean look; you’ve got two male advocates of this show here with you now who remember it fondly nearly 40 years later. We were not disenfranchised as we could have been. What’s more effective — preaching to the choir, or reaching an unexpected, appreciative audience?

  • MaryAnn

    I will repeat myself, again: I never said *Sabrina* was feminist. I said it was *anti*feminist.

  • Jonny Q

    I’m sure you know “not being feminist” and “being anti-feminist” are two rather different things. The least of which, the first having no special agenda while the second implies that there IS an agenda, a purposeful idea. Your only apparent argument to support your assertion is faulty as we’ve pointed out, as you clearly DID NOT WATCH THE SHOW to any appreciable extent.

    As you are a self-appointed critic (apparently), you must realize that your words carry an impact. If you expect that anyone is relying on your words to inform their own opinions, then a carelessly published review needlessly places a foul mark upon the work of the dozens, or hundreds, of people whose craft went into the making of this or any other show. It insults the sensibilities of the thousands or even millions of people who appreciated the show. You DO realize that to label something “anti-feminist” is to say to the world that to an extent, “This is demeaning to women” and therefore is an accusation that could result in fewer sales of the program — which means less money in the pockets of the people who created it?

    You DO realize that this is not some private little blog for “just your friends who share your sensibilities” to read — that your words are on display for the whole world to find? I found the site rather quickly while looking for information about this release.

    Your words: “modern feminist interpretation can see only that a powerful chick might threaten his dubious male superiority.” This is possibly an insult to anyone who might fancy herself a “modern feminist” — “can see ONLY” — implies closed-mindedness. Obviously this is the only thing you see here, too — she’s a “powerful chick” and therefore automatically falls into this trap — even if the stories themselves don’t actually play out that way. Harvey’s “dubious male superiority” implies he foolishly regards himself as better than she is by virtue of his gender. Well, perhaps he does a lot of this off-camera where only modern feminists will know he is doing it.

    WARNING TO ALL MODERN FEMINISTS: Here is a strong, self-assured, good-natured, well-adjusted “powerful chick” from forty years ago, who uses ingenuity and common sense to solve problems and make life better for herself and her friends. RUN WHILE YOU CAN!!

  • shoop

    Wow. Never again will I dismiss a review of an old cartoon. The mind simply boggles.

    Personally, my favorite Sabrina episodes involved her relatives, the Groovie Goolies [sic]. Or maybe those were Groovie Goolie episodes that involved Sabrina. Not sure. And how about the Goolies as a metaphor for the disenfranchised Other–any culture outside the White Christian mainstream? If that’s the case, then Sabrina, a member of the Goolie family, has the burden of “passing” as “normal” in the hegemonic world of Riverdale. The cartoon, I would submit, is more about race, class, and ethnicity than about either repressed or anti-feminism.

    Also, if you loved (and still love) the show, there’s no reason to take what I just said seriously. Just sit back and revel in Saturday morning Filmation Studios nostalgia–nothing wrong with that.

  • MaryAnn

    The least of which, the first having no special agenda while the second implies that there IS an agenda, a purposeful idea.

    Not necessarily. Antifeminist was the mainstream default in the early 1970s. Something had to be consciously feminist at the point to actually be feminist. (This is arguably still true today.)

    As you are a self-appointed critic (apparently)

    All critics are “self-appointed.” I don’t see how this is a bad thing.

    therefore is an accusation that could result in fewer sales of the program — which means less money in the pockets of the people who created it?

    Who knew I had such power?

    Seriously, of course I realize this. So I should give positive reviews to everything so that hard-working people don’t lose out on their work? I might as well not review anything.

    You DO realize that this is not some private little blog for “just your friends who share your sensibilities” to read — that your words are on display for the whole world to find?

    Are you kidding me? No matter how many people read this site, it is ultimately going to be most useful to those who share my sensibilities… which is also true of *every* critic working today, whether he/she is published in *Entertainment Weekly* or one his/her own little blog that no one but his/her friends read.

    anyone who might fancy herself a “modern feminist”

    Yeah, that’s silly old me, fancying myself a “modern feminist.”

    WARNING TO ALL MODERN FEMINISTS: Here is a strong, self-assured, good-natured, well-adjusted “powerful chick” from forty years ago, who uses ingenuity and common sense to solve problems and make life better for herself and her friends. RUN WHILE YOU CAN!!

    Warning to all modern feminists: Here’s a powerful woman who uses her power only to make herself a better “traditional” woman. She uses magic to dress nice for her boyfriend, ensure that he stays out of trouble even though he’s an idiot, and so on. Why a woman with Sabrina’s capabilities would limit herself to being the best helpmeet she can be is a mystery to me, Modern Feminist Girl. But there we are.

  • Have read the recent goings-on on this review. Pleased that others out there remember Sabrina.

    Jonny Q was not asking that you give positive reviews to everything. No one expects a critic to give a positive review to everything that comes down the pike. What he was asking was pretty much the same thing I was asking–be fair. Research what you’re watching and form an opinion based on the show’s actual merits instead of going off on some tangent. In short, he was asking you to do your job. You know, the one you created for yourself?

    I have watched the entire series and have failed to see where Harvey required Sabrina to save his “dubious male superiority.” Harvey wasn’t even in a third of the episodes, and most of them were directly ABOUT Sabrina.

  • MaryAnn

    I was fair. Just because you disagree with me doesn’t mean I wasn’t.

  • You were NOT fair, because you failed to properly review the item. You failed to properly review the item because you did not watch enough of the item’s contents to make a fair review. Instead, the review was based around a tangent that had nothing to do with the contents of the item whatsoever and was not present in or out of context of the item’s contents. Whether you liked the item or not, the review should have been written about the item rather than about a tangent, and the item should have been judged on its merits, or lack thereof.

    I’m sorry, but whether I disagree with you or not is moot. You did not deliver a proper review, and THAT is why I have continued these posts. I’m not concerned with whether or not you like Sabrina, nor am I trying to get you to like it. What I want is accountability from you. You’re not some silly middle-school git with a chip on their shoulder making a page on MySpace so they can make fun of people and hide under their anonymity. You’re a journalist and a film critic/reviewer with proper credentials and her own website, and you deliver to more people than just those who “share your sensibilities,” so ACT LIKE IT. WATCH the items you REVIEW and make an assessment based on the item instead of your personal soapbox diatribe, and WRITE a review instead of spewing some bash-fest based on your personal dislike of a certain genre. If you’ve done all this work to create a job for yourself you should at least get it right, and if you’re too busy to give something a proper review then leave it alone and let someone else do it.

  • MaryAnn

    You’re making unfounded assumptions about genres I supposedly do or do not like, and I’m not sure why, except you seem to think it supports your opinion.

    We clearly don’t see the same story and character elements in the same way. That’s fine. But it’s not about “fairness” — it’s about disagreeing over interpretation.

  • I made such assumptions because from other reviews I’ve read, you seem to dislike animation and cartoons, especially older animation. The only favorable animated review I’ve read so far has been of the Family Guy “Blue Harvest” episode, and I can only guess that the reason it got a favorable review is because you like Star Wars. It was all right, but it wasn’t good enough for me to buy it.

    I state again: in order to review a film, movie, television show or other type of visual media, it has to be watched. Half of your arguments have proven that you didn’t watch any of this because you made an interpretation based on a knee-jerk reaction, and therefore I disagree with your interpretation because the review has no judgment of the product’s merits. Your assessment of the characters is incorrect or extremely flawed at best, with little to no concrete evidence to back up the assessments, and your interpretation shows that you have limited knowledge of animation, comics, or the history thereof. So I repeat: If you’ve done all this work to create a job for yourself you should at least get it right, and if you’re too busy to give something a proper review then leave it alone and let someone else do it.

  • MaryAnn

    I made such assumptions because from other reviews I’ve read, you seem to dislike animation and cartoons, especially older animation

    Then you haven’t read enough of them. I like plenty of animation.

    I’ve restated my position more than once, as you have done yours. I’m done.

  • Jonny Q

    I’m back! While I was “away” I read at least 50 of your other reviews — and I wanted to share that I am now a fan of your work and “stylings” — I would recommend your site to others. I appreciated your take on things such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which I love as well, and yet agree with your criticisms of it. At least with all the other reviews of yours I’ve read, even if I disagreed with you, I found good merit behind the points you made.

    So why am I back HERE? Haha. Well, this one still bugs me. Perhaps it seemed like much lighter fare, not worthy of the same introspective meanderings. So what I’d like to point out is, yes, it’s not so important a piece of entertainment in the grander scheme — after all, its timing was bad; the “Archies” had a nice ten year or so run and sorta faded out just before home video — so it was not a good candidate for that market. The company behind it had its problems and so its archives weren’t plugged into a nice studio who could market it, and not until just recently has this stuff finally resurfaced. Meanwhile, the world at large has mostly forgotten it — except for some of us who have always cherished it and wondered whatever in the hell happened to it?

    So, now it is back, and the company with the rights to it is gamely trying to market it. They recently released “The Archie Show” and “Archie’s Funhouse,” and there is a whole trove of other product that could once again see the light of day. It had a mass audience once; it deserves better than a niche market now.

    So that is partially why it is disappointing to see this rather dismissive review, because dammit, I want to see more of that product, and good reviews will help that happen. Not that this is all on your shoulders of course, and not that you should give a good review when you don’t feel it is warranted. I just feel you gave it terribly short shrift, and in noting that you never actually defended against the suggestion that you didn’t entirely watch it — I would like to ask that you consider giving it another look. Not weighing its merits based on the perceived transgressions of the decade(s) it was born in (how does “wants to be the ’50s relate to this at all?), and not dismissing it because as a female-dominated show it ought to be viewed under the looking glass of feminism — it doesn’t play a feminism card in its execution, either pro or anti — feminism has nothing to do with it any more than it should have to do with a project starring any female lead, Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Sandra Bullock — they are just leads who happen to be female and deserve their work to be considered on artistic merits and not burdened by any agenda of “what they ought to be doing for the cause of women.” I think any actress deserves that consideration and shouldn’t have to be a “role model” per se, but if they turn out to be one, that is a bonus — but no reviewer, generally speaking, is going to critique an actress’s work on that basis any more than they would a man’s.

    Sabrina is a cartoon character, so thus easier to dismiss on “impact” terms — she’s not out there playing other parts. There is an actress behind her, Jane Webb, providing her voice and doing a darned good job of pioneering something for women in those earlier days, and she deserves some consideration as well. In fact, all the people behind these cartoons deserve better than being dismissed as “antifeminist,” especially based upon what seems a very casual glance.

    So yes, this review is disappointing not only for the reasons described above — but particularly now, because I know you CAN DO BETTER. If you re-reviewed it and still gave it a big zero, at least if you supported that with examples that actually can be found within the show — then I would still say, “Good job!” At least, even a bad review that was attentive to the subject matter, can still allow others to decide, “She might not have liked that, but I’d still like to see that for myself!” No chance with this review — you just said “Nahh, it’s terrible” and threw it on the junk heap without any of your usual flair for eloquently trashing something. So, I wish you’d try again — because amongst all of your five-star-worthy reviews that I’ve read, which are entertainment in and of themselves — this review earns a “skip it” too.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve already wasted enough time on *Sabrina.* I’m not going to waste any more.

  • paul

    The assumption of hiding magical powers is in a lot of work, from Harry Potter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because it is the simplest way to explain why there is magic and most of us don’t know about it. The alternative is in a lot of urban fantasy: there is magic and most of us don’t want to admit so ignore it so completely we’ve blinded ourselves to it. The latter explanation often leads to frankly annoying prattle about alternative mental states and borderline anti-science lectures about the limits of rational thought.

    I think it is interesting that as Harry Potter and Buffy fought increasingly powerful evil magics, in both series the curtian of secrecy slowly fell aside (more so in the latter). Nothing in the above reviews and comments encourages me to watch Sabrina, so I am curious if anyone wishes to tell me if the dramatic requirement for secrecy in Sabrina limited the nature of her enemies as well as the actions of the heroine, just in case I need a counter-example for cocktail conversation.

  • Jonny Q

    Well, that’s fine; perhaps the subsequent discussion serves to fill in some of the gaps for the review-seekers.

    I was curious if there were any other discussions to be found relating to Sabrina and feminism, and found a brief passage in a book entitled “All about the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity” By Anita Harris. This is actually in a segment headed “Postfeminism,” which I believe would be in keeping with my earlier assertion that “Sabrina was not a feminist in words or behavior. If you must find a message here, possibly the most powerful thing about her character is in demonstrating that you can just “be.” Without realizing it, this may have been their best forward thinking.” Here is the excerpt:

    “Postfeminism, as I use it here, is the argument that girls and women are doing fine, feminism is unnecessary, and the movement is over. The deployment of Girl Power discourse to make these postfeminist claims plays an important role in the disconnection of Girl Power and feminism by dismissing the need for feminist action. Some journalists have used the language of Girl Power to claim that girls have attained all the power they could ever want, and there is nothing left to be done.”

    “Journalist Susan Orlean, in an article titled “Girl Power: Has Sabrina the Teenage Witch Worked Her Magic on a Generation?” celebrates how great things are for girls today. She writes that the television character Sabrina the Teenage Witch is an empowered girl who lives life “in the way that only girls who have grown up taking feminism for granted are able.” According to Orlean, Sabrina doesn’t need feminism; her life is great as it is. In this article, Girl Power comes to symbolize girls having achieved power and equality in the world.”

    As this was apparently written with the 1996 live action Sabrina series in mind, which lasted several years and continued on once again in animated form to the present day, when you consider that the conceit remained just the same as the original series (there is really no substantial difference save the absence of the other Archie characters), this is interesting to consider — that Sabrina was not pre-feminist, feminist or even anti-feminist — she actually embodies postfeminism, at a time when one of the strongest feminist movements in our history was just getting off the ground. One thing I don’t really know is whether modern feminists view postfeminism as a goal, or if it goes against their grain. But, I would hope that the goal of any movement would be to eventually eliminate the need for that movement.

    Meanwhile, I’ve also discovered at least two other sites out there which gave the show a nice, substantive review:
    http://animated-views.com/2008/sabrina-the-teenage-witch-the-complete-animated-series/
    http://www.the-trades.com/article.php?id=10312
    While they may not have given the show their top ratings, the reviewers express some fondness for the series and were at least thoughtful in the process, which is what we as viewers interested in such commentary would hope to find.

    Lest this spirited discussion be seen as combative, again, in consideration of this site’s reviewer MaryAnn, while they can’t all be gems (as is my feeling in this singular case), she is on her game at least 99% of the time and once again I wholeheartedly recommend taking a look around at her other reviews, which I appreciated very much.

  • Jonny Q

    Paul,

    Sabrina and her family mostly hid their powers because they just wanted to fit in and didn’t want to be run out of town. Also, Sabrina had a mandate as a witch to cause mischief, which was aberrant to her, and she actually used her powers often to control or undo mischief caused by other witches, or her own well-meaning magic gone wrong (she’s a teen, she’s still learning!). Aside from the general threat of being discovered, her only real “enemy” was Reggie Mantle, who was often suspicious and set out to prove Sabrina and her family were witches.

    The notion of hiding in plain sight is even humorous, considering that her aunts look very witch-like, with green skin, oddly colored hair, and full witch garb including pointy hat. Thankfully the other Archies don’t usually encounter her aunts to bring that into question, and her boyfriend Harvey is basically oblivious, even when directly zapped by her aunt Hilda. I suppose the more modern series adjusted the aunts’ appearance to be more normal so they could more fully interact with the other characters.

    The “limits of rational thought” part you mention would seem to address the nature of the mortal characters to stubbornly cling to the idea of normalcy and refuse to acknowledge something incredible in their midst. Well, yes, they do do this — and since the witches are actually somewhat careless in their use of magic despite their fear of being discovered, it is often a theme. Mostly the “victim” is the older character, Mr. Weatherbee the principal, who regularly is faced with very obvious oddities. In one scene he encounters Sabrina in the hallway, standing next to an elephant that has just appeared from nowhere, and Weatherbee forcefully directs it to “shoo!” Then he walks away, satisfied in having handled a situation, before the disturbing unreality of it sets in and he nearly faints. Immediately afterward he rubs his eyes and dismisses it with his regularly-repeated catchphrase, “I didn’t see that. I did NOT see that.” Then he’s happy once again. Self preservation!

    Don’t know if any of this would whet your appetite to see the show — and I might refer you to the other review links I offered in the previous response to find out more if you wish.

  • paul

    I came back prematurely to apologize for the unintended snarkiness in my previous post (what is it about the Internet that makes snarkiness so easy?) and behold there were already two answers to my question. So it appears that Sabrina uses both motifs for explaining why most people don’t know about magic, thus managing to accidentally make fun of shows and books that hadn’t been written yet. That happened to me another time, when I was watching a Red Dwarf episode that I thought was making fun of a Star Trek episode, only later to learn that the Star Trek writers had seen the Red Dwarf show and decided to play it straight. And the posts told me what I wanted to know about the relationship between magic and plot, too.

    I also thought it was funny that Sabrina is from Riverdale and Buffy is from Sunnydale (according to an article on the other side of the link). I wonder if there’s anyway to find out if that was on purpose. Whedon copied liberally from other sources, which makes for lots of little in-jokes.

    I would also say that post-feminism is the likely goal of feminists, but whether or not it has been achieved, will be achieved, or can be achieved, depends upon the goals any particular feminist has in mind. They don’t always agree.

    Thanks, Jonny Q(uest?)

  • MaryAnn

    Anyone who thinks women and girls no longer need feminism is insane.

    Anyone who thinks that two show produced decades apart — even from the same material — are substantially the same is wrong. I would not take any criticism — positive, negative, or indifferent — about the 90s *Sabrina* sitcom as any kind of indication about anything regarding the 70s cartoon.

  • paul

    Ah, but feminism is rather diverse, so which feminism sets the bar of success? The ones who are happy with women making up the majority of college student bodies or the ones who now insist that women be proportionately represented in computer and math departments as well? The ones who want feminism to represent what women want (which may also be too diverse for measurement) or the ones who want to change what women (and men) want? The ones who use it to get ahead at work or those who use it as an excuse to party? The ones who want the door held for them or the ones who sweat it out in the dojo as one of the guys? Is a woman who gets a black belt but only dates men who outrank her a feminist?

    Sometimes when friends of mine get into arguments, I ask them to define their terms and the disagreement disappears. Or they argue about the definitions instead.

  • shoop

    What Paul said. The gap between the denotative and connotative meanings of “feminism” is huge. And, as there’s no feminist pope, you can be, say, a fuck-me Camille Paglia feminist, or you can disagree with everything Paglia stands for and still be a feminist. Same with Hillary Clinton, and I guess, same with Sabrina–70s and/or 90s incarnation.

  • Jonny Q

    The concept of postfeminism can be discussed separately from the discussion of whether women “still need feminism.” The world Sabrina lives in doesn’t address the perspective of women as oppressed people in society — this idea is entirely absent in the stories. It shouldn’t be a problem any more than a story about a minority person that doesn’t include societal prejudice. If Sabrina were to find herself oppressed by anyone — she could simply zap them and be done with them. I enjoy the discussion here, but the challenge remains to produce a single valid example of why feminism is even pertinent in the conversation — at least if the series is to be accused of ANTIfeminism. The “Harvey” example holds no water because there are no incidences of Sabrina trying to preserve his male ego. Hiding her powers is something she does regardless of sex, color or creed! And any consideration a woman lends to a male doesn’t have to be defined as pro- or anti-feminist… why can’t it just be simple human caring and courtesy?

    And what, a remake of something from decades before can’t be “substantially the same” as the earlier version? Why not? The fact of it being a remake means it IS “substantially the same.” ’90s Sabrina characters probably didn’t wear bell bottoms, say “groovy” or dance to the same music — but these are not “substantial” by any means. The setup is a well-intentioned, resourceful teenage witch lives with her aunts and goes to high school. She is still learning how to properly use her magic and must also keep her powers a secret from non-magical people. What’s so different? “The Odd Couple” was a movie, then a TV series in the ’60s, then remade decades later, once with black principal characters and also another time with female principal characters. The concept, a tidy person moves in with a slob — is the same, and the stories and humor are driven by that. Everything else is just details.

    ’70s and ’90s Sabrina are both the same character — she didn’t need a personality update. If they remade “I Love Lucy” or “I Dream of Jeannie,” today’s audiences would probably reject them if those characters weren’t “updated.” The discussions are interesting — but it still remains to be seen as to just how the series is antifeminist. After all, if you as reviewer say a piece of entertainment is “bad,” you give examples as to why, rather than just saying “it is bad because in my opinion it is bad.” — Right?

  • shoop

    “I enjoy the discussion here, but the challenge remains to produce a single valid example of why feminism is even pertinent in the conversation — at least if the series is to be accused of ANTIfeminism.”

    Jonny Q, welcome to the strange, wacky, sometimes friendly, and sometimes hostile world of theory and criticism. In this world, your particular worldview determines what is or is not relevant (much like the rest of the world, come to think of it). In other words, for some folks, feminism is not merely relevant to “Sabrina,” but it is the way one looks at everything in both “pop” and “high” culture. So, for someone steeped in feminist theory, Sabrina becomes relevant as to 1) how she negotiates a male, patriarchal society (where even the soda shop is called “Pops”), and 2) whether or not she is legitimately female, or a male’s conception of who and what a female should be. For practitioners of race theory, Sabrina is the Other, trying to pass as “white” in the predominantly white world of Riverdale. For queer theorists, Sabrina could either be a gay male or a lesbian passing for straight (suppressing her “magic,” as it were). Materialists would concentrate on the fact that Sabrina, as a witch, need never worry about material needs (she could just zap food, clothes, and shelter), but she must “fit” herself into middle-class society… you get the idea, if I haven’t put you to sleep. This is the sort of thing that makes articles, essays, presentations at conventions, and books–and some folks earn a pretty fair living thinking up this kind of thing. If all that seems like a load of spinach and you feel like screaming, “It’s just a freakin’ cartoon!”–that’s a legitimate worldview, too. You’ll just want to avoid graduate school.

  • MaryAnn

    I fail to see how anyone who thinks that this is “just a freakin’ cartoon” — or that a movie is just a movie or that a TV show is just a TV show — would even bother reading criticism. So let’s assume it’s a given that there’s more to say about movies and TV — otherwise, why are you here?

    The world Sabrina lives in doesn’t address the perspective of women as oppressed people in society — this idea is entirely absent in the stories.

    But it’s in the unintentional subtext. *Everything* is a product of its time.

    It shouldn’t be a problem any more than a story about a minority person that doesn’t include societal prejudice.

    But depending on the story being told — including where and when that story is set and when and where that story was created — that absolutely could be a problem. And reading into the subtext of that story WHY the prejudice is avoided as an issue is a totally valid way to explore it.

    If Sabrina were to find herself oppressed by anyone — she could simply zap them and be done with them.

    Sure she could… IF she recognized that she was being oppressed!

    I enjoy the discussion here, but the challenge remains to produce a single valid example of why feminism is even pertinent in the conversation

    This is a show about a powerful female made at the height of the feminist awakening… and you’re suggesting that there’s no relevance?!

    Hiding her powers is something she does regardless of sex, color or creed!

    Yes, but what is the subtextual reason why a powerful woman would have to hide her powers? (Hint: it’s NOT the same subtextual reason why Harry Potter has to hide HIS powers. The contexts in which these stories are told are completely different!)

    And what, a remake of something from decades before can’t be “substantially the same” as the earlier version? Why not?

    Because of the context in which those two different versions were made. I’m stunned that this is not obvious.

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