Sabrina, the Teenage Witch - The Four Faces of Sabrina

"And from the whole, she deduced this useful lesson - that to go previously engaged to a ball does not necessarily increase either the dignity or enjoyment of a young lady."
 - Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey.

Ah, the prom. Another of those teenage rites of passage that we revisit time and again in popular media. If there's a show that is about high schoolers, sooner or later there will be a prom episode. (Unless the show is cancelled before getting there as was the case for Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life.) Even shows that don't feature high schoolers (Friends, The Big Bang Theory) have prom episodes - it's a television tradition. 

I thought it'd be fun to look at a select few (you can see the ones in queue at the TV Tomb of Mystery table of contents- feel free to leave suggestions for what to cover if you don't see it there), starting with "The Four Faces of Sabrina," the 21st episode of the 4th season of: 

I never before last night saw more than a few moments of the show, but I consumed enough Archies digests when I was a kid to be familiar enough with the character and concept. She first appeared in Archie's Madhouse #22 (Oct 1962.)

(Co-created by the great Dan DeCarlo, who was fired by Archie Comics in 2000 after suing them for greater credit and financial compensation for his part in creating her, Josie, and others.)
Then she got her own comic book (l), rebooted many times over the years, such as the manga-inspired one, (r) and reimagined again recently "with a dark spin."

The set-up is basically the same as the comic/ cartoon: Sabrina is, as advertised, a teenage witch, born of an "Other Realm" father and a mortal mother. She lives with her aunts, Hilda and Zelda

Caroline Rhea (l) and Beth Broderick (r)

who help her get the hang of her powers, which are essentially limitless but have certain odd rules and restrictions designed to complicate or uncomplicate potential plotlines. And Salem, a cat that was once a witch himself, until he tried to take over the world. 

That old chestnut. (Voiced by Nick Bakay)
The action is moved from Greendale (somewhere near Riverdale, Archie and the gang's stomping grounds) to Westbridge, Massachusetts.

Based solely on this one episode and not knowing all the ins and outs of the Sabrinaverse, Melissa Joan Hart seems like she was a perfectly fine family-friendly Sabrina. And it seemed true to the comic I half-remember. She says she played the character as "very afraid, a little more reserved (than Clarissa - her former series character) and shy, a little more worried about what people think." I don't know much about her or her career except I thought she was funny in Can't Hardly Wait and that she made elements of my social media newsfeed angry when she endorsed Mitt Romney for President in 2012. 

She's a witch - burn her!

From what I can gather from the wiki, the show underwent cast and premise changes on a fairly regular basis. Season 4 saw the arrival of Dreama, a witch newly immigrated from the Other Realm -

Played by China Shavers, who apparently is in the upcoming American Crime Story, a series I'm looking forward to.

as well as college-student Josh (David Lascher) a romantic rival for Sabrina's crush Harvey Kinkle (Nate Richert). Josh lasted three seasons; Harvey was around for most of them. He came back for the finale, and he and Sabrina run away together.

"You're the one that I want / ooo-ooo-ooo"
Season 4 was also the last to feature Martin Mull as Principal Kraft (also Zelda's boyfriend.)

"The Four Faces of Sabrina" starts off with Sabrina receiving a letter from Other Realm University. (If it's prom season, it's also getting-accepted-to-college season.) This makes Aunt Zelda very happy, as it's her alma mater. When she goes to Bean There, Brewed That (another in a long line of illustriously-named TV show coffee shops) to share the news with Josh, he asks her what about Emerson, where he goes? 

He looks up her admission status online (Seriously? He's not a witch or anything. Is this just an early-00s internet-confusion moment or can you really do that?) and tells her she got accepted. Now they can work together and go to college together and date. 

"It's like winning the lottery - except I'm still poor."

When she returns home, Harvey is there. He's rifled through their mailbox and sees she got a letter from Boston College. She opens it and voila - she's been accepted there, as well. Harvey reveals matching Boston College hooded sweatshirts he bought for them both.

"Why are you wearing an Emerson sweatshirt?"
"Er - to go with my Lake and Palmer sweatsocks."

Ba-da-dum. Kind of a dated reference for 2000, but more on this in a minute.

Sabrina tells Aunt Hilda that she feels pulled in three different directions. Her advice? Spend a year hiking across the galaxy. That's what she did after high school. (If this is an option, why is she considering any other? Sheesh.) 

I'll just leave this unexplained.
"You'll be just like Jack Kerouac. Only sober."

Great, Sabrina confides to Salem, now she has four people to disappoint. Salem tells her she also got accepted to John Adams College, ranked one of the five best fictional colleges by USA Today.

"You are a wretched excuse for a sounding board."

Shortly after this, Josh shows up at the front door and says  "Road trip! Cape Cod - my frat's having a clam bake." Nice, bro. Kid, everyone's going to be there! I had to laugh at this point, because of the unexpected callbacks to my own life in the early 90s: accepted to Emerson although I never matriculated, girlfriend at Boston College, fraternity parties, clam bakes on the Cape and I was a big fan of both Kerouac and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. That ELP reference threw me. I talked a buddy of mine into going to see them in 1992, and we were the youngest people in the place by a good 15 years. I can't imagine they got any more popular or widely-known for mainstream-TV-audiences by 2000, but what do I know.

Personal reverie (in this blog? Never) aside, Sabrina unknowingly casts a spell that splits her into four people, one for each of the directions she feels pulled in.

Each of the Sabrinas asks the principals of each direction to prom, and then begins the sort of zany hey-didn't-I-just-see-you-over-there-in-a-different dress hi-jinks one might expect of such a plot. At episode's end, Sabrina re-fuses and tells everyone she's going to John Adams but doesn't want to let anyone down. They warmly congratulate her, to her surprise, and tell her they just want her to be happy.


The end. Well, not quite. Zelda breaks up with Principal Kraft and vows revenge, first on his beat-up Cordoba. Hilda agrees to help her. ("I had the same conversation after my prom - except it was about Brutus and his beat-up chariot.") And there's a running gag with Salem trying to remember what it is he has to tell everyone, which is resolved (with a shrug).

I include this pic because who knows when you may have need of such a meme? Someone might leave a cryptic message about getting together in an email or on your facebook wall. Whammy! You've got a cat asking "Is it about the money?" at the ready.

So, all in all, this isn't exactly the most prom-centric TV Prom episode, is it? 

It's mainly an excuse for Sabrina to talk to herself about what she's going to do post-graduation.

Maybe I should've chosen a different story or show to start things off. Ah well, what's done is done. This is an inoffensive if not especially trailblazing half-hour of television. It only peripherally attends to the tropes one might expect of a TV Prom episode. (No losers get their revenge on the popular kids, no one gets drunk or breaks up or loses their virginity or discovers heretofore-unknown qualities about their date, etc.) 

It made me wonder how much these sort of rituals would really impact a character with Sabrina's powers, anyway. Like Carrie White, Sabrina has incredible powers; unlike Carrie, though, if anyone dumped a bucket of pig's blood on her head, she could just turn back time and ask the Witches Council's permission (almost always granted) after the fact. 

I know, I was surprised, too.


  1. I have never seen the show nor read the comics; basically, I have no familiarity with Sabrina whatsoever. This explains why it was a surprise to me to learn via this post that she was a spinoff of Archie comics! (I've similarly got zero familiarity with Archie and his pals; not sure how that happened, but so it goes.)

    "I'll just leave this unexplained." -- I think that's the right call; the explanation can't possibly measure up.

    The cat being named Salem is a bit of an eye-roller, but I can roll with the concept of a snarky cat.

    Speaking of "Carrie," have you seen this recent comic cover?


    I thought about buying a copy just because, but good lord, I've got to draw the line somewhere.

    1. I hadn't, no. Archie's gone a little too "meta" for my tastes. I can understand branching out/ trying new things/ mixing it up, etc. But a) if you wanted to trailblaze/ do things differently, why did you screw over the DeCarlo family, then, the same way Marvel screwed/screws over Kirby et al.? b) Archie Comics tried many different things in the past, too (The Champions, Red Circle Comics, The Fly, etc.) A lot of them were noble failures rather than outright disasters, but just saying, this isn't the first time the company's branched out as it has been with all these chasing-trends takes on their iconic characters.

      I guess I don't have a "c."

      Thanks for reading - I was riding high on Bond hits for pageviews and emails and interactions. These TV Prom ones have garnered... significantly less... haha. Oh well, so it goes. They're fun to do.

    2. Never play only for your audience!