Man, remember TGIF? It was that Friday night lineup on ABC, and when I was a kid they had the greatest shows ever; Step by Step, Family Matters, Boy Meets World, and my personal favorite, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch! But here’s something I only just found out recently – before the series, Sabrina actually made her live action debut in a made-for-TV movie starring Melissa Joan Hart. There are a ton of major differences in cast, setting and production, but a lot of people consider it an unofficial “pilot,” and I’m definitely interested in checking it out! And it’s on Netflix Instant Watch, which is awesomely convenient!
0:00.18 – I love this already. The titles look like they’re written in comic sans, and the opening theme music is very bouncy, like a late-‘80s-era-Elfman rip-off. Similar to the Simpsons theme, but before they get to Lisa’s sax solo and everything goes epic.
0:01.25 – Not even a minute and a half in and the glaring differences from the TV series make themselves evident. Salem the cat speaks…with a British accent? What is this madness?
00:02.37 – So we’re introduced to the eponymous heroine as she levitates over her bed, asleep. Salem tells Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda, who lower her back onto the bed and talk about how Sabrina can’t know she’s a witch yet even though it’s her 16th birthday. Apparently witches can’t find out about their powers until the first full moon after their Sweet Sixteen, or else they get in trouble with witch law. This rule does not make any sense whatsoever, as powers begin to manifest on the birthday. Isn’t it more dangerous to not warn a teenage girl about her other-worldly abilities than to tell her as soon as possible so you can help her learn responsibility? Does that extra time (a couple weeks at the most) make her more mature? Am I over-thinking a made-for-TV movie based on Archie characters? We’ll never know the answers.
00:05.02 – Jenny (she’s actually named “Marnie” here, but the same character played by the same actress was “Jenny” in the show so that’s all she’ll ever be to me) calls Sabrina’s Doc Martens “mondo styling,” which I think the director threw in as a way of dating the movie for future audiences. It’s highly effective.
00:05.53 – We meet Harvey, who in the show was a popular jock and kind of a man-ditz, but totally lovable. Here, he’s “nerdy,” which Hollywood thinks means he’s cute (but not underwear-model hot) and has a vast vocabulary of polysyllabic words (indicative of an above-average intelligence quotient) but he acts painfully creepy towards his crush, watching her and leaving “gifts” in her locker and memorizing random facts about her. That behavior is not endearing – that’s disturbing! Real people who act this way need help, not a love connection.
00:06.02 – I’m guessing these are the popular kids, because they’re dressed in “cool” mid-‘90s clothes and the girl leading them is blonde. The mean popular girl is always a blonde (except, somewhat ironically, in the Sabrina show – Libby was the rare brunette bully.) We can also tell that this blonde is the most popular girl in school because she’s making out with a tallest guy in the group. Hey… that guy kinda looks like Ryan Reynolds…
00:06.13 – That guy sounds like Ryan Reynolds, too…
00:06.26 – No, he really looks and sounds like… Waitaminute…
00:06.37 – HOLY CRAP THAT GUY IS TOTALLY RYAN REYNOLDS.
00:07.05 – Fake!Harvey totally broke into Sabrina’s locker and left flowers for her birthday… which she didn’t even tell him about. Which is what lovable nerds do, and is totally not a creepy stalker move.
00:08.35 – Katie (the popular girl) reveals to her friends during class that she plans on dumping Ryan Reynolds because “stagnate relationships don’t work” and she wants to “keep him on his toes.” Her friends are like “WTF?” I’m like “hey girl, he may not have fully blossomed into his true beauty yet, and his ‘90s hair may be super dopey, but in 15 years, you will really regret dumping him!” Katie’s like “Courtney, why are you talking to me? I’m a character in a movie” and I’m like “hey, how do you even know my name? This is weird!” Except that that didn’t really happen. Well, the first part did happen. The stuff about me interacting with Katie didn’t. Just in case you needed clarification.
00:10.44 –After school, fake!Harvey, Jenny, Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda throw a surprise party for Sabrina and like the entire school shows up. I guess Sabrina’s not as unpopular as she’s been insisting this whole time. Anyway, the party looks awesome and – OH HEY! Ryan Reynolds showed up at her party! Jealous!!
00:11.58 – Sabrina (on Ryan Reynolds): Okay, he is sorta cute.
Jenny: You’re 16 now – this guy isn’t “cute.” He’s a man!
Well, maybe he isn’t quite a man yet, but he will be someday. He certainly will be.
00:14.09 – Katie’s friend called her (on a brick of a cell) to inform her of Ryan Reynolds’ appearance at the party, so Katie rushes off to check it out herself. Because she dumped him, so he’s not allowed to interact with other girls… ??? Whatever, I barely care. It’s just contrived so that the movie can have a villain. A really weak, super lame villain.
00:14.22 – Turns out Katie’s a ventriloquist – she can make a pseudo-revenge speech without moving her lips!
00:15.32 – Sabrina blows out her birthday candles, and apparently her wish was to make Katie all itchy and set her hat on fire, because that’s what happens. Katie doesn’t die – fake!Harvey puts out the flames with punch – but man, that’s some Carrie stuff right there.
00:17.26 – Through some totally not awkward, entirely organic expositive dialogue we find out that Sabrina’s parents are travelling the world on a sabbatical. They say that’s why she’s living with her aunts, but I bet the real reason is that witches have to be trained by special guardians who aren’t their parents! I also bet that fake!Harvey’s in love with Sabrina, Sabrina’s gonna use magic to score a date with Ryan Reynolds, and Bruce Willis is dead.
00:18.52 – Sabrina catches Aunt Zelda hiding a big, magic-y looking book in the flippin’ hallway. Sabrina is not supposed to open it until the full moon, so…. Why hide it in the hallway where she can easily find it? It makes no sense!
00:20.25 –Sabrina sneaks a peek at the book, but the pages are blank. She thinks that’s weird. I think the weird part is that she looks at the book which magical law mandates she cannot do yet, and nothing happens! The pages are just blank! She doesn’t disappear in a puff of smoke or get hauled off to Azkaban by Aurors. She just literally can’t read the book yet. Talk about lame.
00:21.00 – Fake!Harvey totally just got Friend Zone’d!
00:22.02 – So Jenny convinces Sabrina to try out for track with her because the guys at their school are really into track chicks and the popular girls are all on the team. I guess they don’t care too much for cheerleaders at Riverdale. Anyway, Sabrina inadvertently uses magic to get on the team, so Katie has to invite her to her “track team only” pool party. Oh boy, I wonder if wacky hijinx will ensue!
00:24.33 – Aaand cue Swimsuit Shopping Montage. How is it that girls in movies always have a dandy ol’ time trying on bikinis? I usually end up crying in a fetal position in the corner of the dressing room, wailing about “cottage cheese,” “muffin top,” and “doughy rolls” before running off to the food court for some Cinnabons, because describing my weight in cuisine-related terms makes me hungry. It’s a vicious cycle.
0:30.17 – Sabrina and Jenny arrive at the pool party, and Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda send Salem to spy on them. I guess they’ve seen a teen movie before and know that shenanigans are about to go down. Fake!Harvey crashes the party in order to spy on Sabrina as well, because the movie really wants us to think he’s adorable when really he’s just creepy. Katie convinces Sabrina to participate in a diving contest, because apparently she was a silver-medalist swimmer at her old school. Of course it’s a rouse to get Sabrina to slip in front of everyone. But Katie’s brilliant evil scheme backfires, as Sabrina cartwheels into a dive and everyone thinks she’s totally awesome.
00:33.25 – Katie gets her revenge! She sets up a microphone outside the room where Sabrina and Jenny are changing and talking about Ryan Reynolds, and their conversation gets broadcast to the whole party. “He even makes Brad Pitt look like a nerd.” Agreed, ladies. Agreed.
00:35.23 – So it’s the night of the full moon and Sabrina the witch gets transported to the Other Realm through her wardrobe. Not a lion in sight. Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda meet her there and finally tell she’s a witch, and Salem says hi. Then Sabrina says “this has got to be a dream,” …and she just wakes up. Well, that was dumb! Such an anti-climax. There wasn’t like a ritual or anything. They didn’t even do any magic!
00:38.52 – The next morning at breakfast, there’s actually some explanation. Aunt Zelda tells her that she wasn’t dreaming – she really is a witch. And all witches have to be sent to trainers to learn their powers. Ha! Totally called it!
00:39.32 – If I could choose a superpower, it’d be control over awards shows.
00:41.22 – Aunt Hilda performs a spell to make everyone forget about the shenanigans at the party. How’s that not unethical and illegal, but learning about your witch powers before the full moon is? I don’t understand these witch laws!
00:45.29 – Sabrina tries to make Ryan Reynolds fall in love with her spell but the spell fails. Apparently love spells don’t work – not because their morally reprehensible, but because if witches kisses a mortal whose love they used magic to win, that witch will be turned into a cat for 90 years, unless said mortal’s love is pure. Um… what? Who made that rule up? That makes no sense, and it’s unnecessarily complicated!
00:47.58 – Who put “witch hunts” in the science curriculum?
00:53.01 – So far, Sabrina has used a lot of magic for things like getting Jenny an A on a test, giving Katie a zit, and winning a race. There hasn’t been a single indication of any kind of limits to magic other than no love spells. So if witches can do pretty much whatever they want, how come they haven’t solved all of the world’s major problems yet? Just give all the tyrannical dictators of the world some embarrassing blemishes, and *poof!* Instant Justice!
01:01.07 – Sabrina finally decides to not use magic to win the big track meet, but instead win it herself. You know what that means – gotta have a montaaaaaaage!
01:03.32 – Okay, now I know why the cheerleaders aren’t popular at Riverdale. They suck.
01:04.37 – So witches can read minds, too. That seems like a power they should use more often
01.07.04 – Sabrina’s last name is Sawyer? Lies! She will always be a Spellman in my heart!
01:08.47 – Katie pushes Sabrina over during the last event at the big track meet, so Sabrina ends up using magic to win again. Ryan Reynolds is so enamored of her blurry-fast running that he asks her to the dance
01:10.39 – Fake!Harvey tries to tell Sabrina he loves her, but he’s awkward and it fails. I laugh at his misfortune.
01:12.37 – Ryan Reynolds shows up to take Sabrina to the dance, and we can see he’s going to be a jerk because he’s also giving his friends a ride (that actually seems like a nice thing to me, but the movie treats it as heinous and ungentlemanly.) He also refuses to greet her at her door, instead honking his horn and having her go to him. That actually is pretty rude. I expect adult Ryan Reynolds has since learned proper courtesy.
01:18:06 – At the dance, Katie breaks into Sabrina’s locker and finds her magic book, so logically the first thing she thinks of is “Witch!” She threatens to tell everybody, so Sabrina turns her into a poodle. How was everyone going to believe Katie anyway? Her only proof is an old book that could easily be explained away.
01:20.15 – Ryan Reynolds pressures Sabrina into going to “the lookout” with him, and then he gets his assault on. The writers were forced to make him such a creep; otherwise the audience would be really upset when she chooses fake!Harvey the Stalker in the end. It’s like when Stephanie Meyer realized that Jacob Black was way better than Edward Cullen, so she made him into a pseudo-rapist/pseudo-pedophile. You have to make the romantic rival a horrible person, that way your horrible love interest can look good in comparison!
01:22.19 – As revenge for being a sleazebag, Sabrina turns Ryan Reynolds’ car into Christine. I’m just happy that I got to make not one, but two Stephen King references.
01:25.43 – Fake!Harvey comes to Sabrina’s rescue on bike, even though she already rescued herself. They start dancing, and Sabrina flies them back to the dance. Fake!Harvey totally had his eyes open the whole time, but when they get to school he has no idea how they got there. I guess she did a mind-wipe spell or something, but we never see her do it, so this is just bizarre.
01:27.26 – Sabrina turns poodle!Katie back into regular Katie, who skulks off with Ryan Reynolds. I think the severe emotional trauma of being turned into a dog and/or getting almost run over by your possessed car is more than enough due retribution, so they deserve to be in love again.
01:27.45 – Aunt Hilda and Aunt Zelda are spying on Sabrina through a crystal ball. Creepos.
01:28.02 – Sabrina and fake!Harvey kiss, and she doesn’t get turned into a cat. Turns out his intentions were true. He stalked her purely out of twu luv, not warped lust.
01:28.25 – And then… the movie just ends. There wasn’t much of a climax. But then, there wasn’t much of a plot either. There were a few half-developed storylines in there, but not much was ever made of them. There also was a disappointing lack of magic. It took far too long to actually get to the point where Sabrina discovers her powers, and once she does, she hardly uses them! And the romance side plot really falls flat once you realize that Ryan Reynolds actually has more screen time than fake!Harvey, who’s so one-note you can’t actually believe someone would want to be friends with him, let alone fall in love with him. You can’t just slap the “geek” label on a character and expect audiences to love them – they actually have to be endearing, and fake!Harvey just ain’t Ducky.
But in spite of its many flaws, I actually enjoyed this little flick. It’s aimless and silly, but it’s fun. As an old Sabrina fan, it was cool to look back at this TV movie as an unofficial pilot rather than a standalone piece. It works way better that way. I’d definitely suggest it to any other Teenage Witch fans!