On the previous Sabrinas Through Time, we took a look at the first TV appearance of George Gladir's most famous creation, Sabrina the Teenage Witch...which was back in 1969. Most people don't know this and think Sabrina didn't appear on TV until Melissa Joan Hart played her in 1996. For those who were hoping, it's true....we've got a tape of that as well. Not a DVD, a videotape of the actual first airing with ads and everything. Because as you've probably caught on by now, that's how we roll at Platypus Comix Amalgamated.
This time period is about when I quit watching TGIF. I was growing out of kidcoms and the schlocky jokes Family Matters was serving up, and when they put a "Clueless" show in there I said "Done, they're not targeting me anymore." (Rest assured we'll be looking at that show soon.) What's kind of annoying to me is that the opening credits for Sabrina say "Created By Nell Scovell" at the end. Nell is a veteran television producer who did not create Sabrina and is not George Gladir. Whenever superheroes have gotten their own shows, their credits have always stated the comic book men who created them. DC and Marvel always made sure of that. Archie, by contrast, treated its contributors like disposable diapers until recently.
The series began with a shot of Sabrina rising in bed while her caretaker aunts, Hilda and Zelda, watch from the door with proud and excited expressions. Now that she's levitating in her sleep, it means her powers have been awakened and she's officially a witch. A teenage one!
Sabrina's sleep-floating was popular enough that they created a doll of Sabrina one year later that appeared to float on a plastic bed. This trait seems to have been forgotten now, though, which is interesting considering how much of the comic wound up permanently revised by the show. Hilda and Zelda were once very traditional, warty, pointy-nosed brujas, but as of September 27, 1996, they took on normal appearances.
Sabrina has never been told what she is about to become. It'll be a lot to take in, Hilda and Zelda really have no idea how to break it to her. When Sabrina hops down the stairs for breakfast, her first birthday present is greeting her on the table. She opens it up while her legal guardians watch. It's a small cauldron.
Sabrina looks at them with
complete confusion. Hilda starts in: "Okay, here's the
thing....there are two different worlds; there's the natural
world, and then there's the supernatural---"
"YOU'RE A WITCH," Zelda yells abruptly.
That could have been handled better. Sabrina thinks it's a joke and leaves for school. Thanks to her aunts' terrible method of education, she has no idea her powers are fully active, and things are about to get very interesting for everyone else.
Sabrina enters high school and looks visibly overwhelmed (that feeling is about to get a lot worse). Looking into the window of her first period class, she catches a brief glimpse of Harvey Kinkle for the first time. Harvey smiles at her, and they're about to flirt when the science teacher opens the door and whacks Harvey in the head. This is a great way to introduce Harvey.
Have you ever noticed that every time you see a science class on TV, the first thing they do is dissect a frog? This show embraces the cliche immediately. It's the first hour of the new school year. The science teacher introduces himself, says his name, and with his next breath says "Okay, let's dissect a frog now."
Sabrina's about to ask Harvey to be her lab partner (nothing like cutting open a dead animal to kindle romance) when someone named Libby who's going to be the biggest thorn in this sorceress's side for the next three years immediately gets to work annoying her. Libby calls Harvey over before Sabrina can get out a word. From the angle Libby was looking from, I don't think she even saw Sabrina yet, and yet she's already tormenting her. Libby exemplifies the trope of the sadistic high school queen bee so ridigly that the entry for her character type on TVTropes was originally just called "The Libby."
When you think about it, the reason TV high schools dissect frogs every single day must be because they never get the chance to actually perform the act. Maybe THIS will be the show that goes far enough to cut a dead frog open....nope, Sabrina accidentally points at her frog and brings it to life, interrupting the ritual for everyone else.
In the next scene Libby is in the girls' bathroom applying lipstick and gabbing with two of her toadies, when Sabrina enters to wash the frog slime off her hands. The moment Libby sees Sabrina, she hates her ON SIGHT. I could point out how unrealistic that is, but sadly, it isn't. When I was Sabrina's age I had complete strangers walk up to me and tell me how repulsed they were by my existence. I didn't even have to be in school for this to happen. I've got audiotaped proof of myself walking up to a kid in a park, introducing myself and saying "How's it going?" The kid immediately replied, "FINE, 'TIL I MET YOU," threw a swear my way and ran off.
The difference is, though, you have to look like a nerd to begin with. Melissa Joan Hart is hardly the kind of human that would be rejected for her looks. But I keep forgetting this is a television high school, where girls get rejected for wearing shoes that are precisely two and a half minutes out of fashion.
"You know, if you stink, it's not fair to blame the frog," Libby says coldly. Then by Royal Decree she declares that Sabrina is never to use this lavatory again and must instead go inside "the freaks bathroom." She finishes that off with an uppity finger gesture. Sabrina makes a mocking version when Libby turns her back, then leaves....and in her disgust, she ends up spelling Libby into covering her entire face with lipstick while yelping in terror.
It may be trope-y, but you know what's nice about it? Watching a dramatization of teens where 100% of the dialogue doesn't reference social media or constantly name-drop the app of the month. I'm really growing sick of that.
By now Sabrina must be a little more willing to believe the truth about her nature, right? Think again. When she comes home, her aunts have another gift for her -- a giant book of spells. Sabrina opens the book to where its ribbon is bookmarked, and she finds a portrait of her father....and the portrait then talks to her. "Wow, it's amazing what they can do with holograms these days, right?" Sabrina says. What's it gonna take?
It's gonna take the cat.
"This is insane; I'm going to my room. Come on, Salem,"
"Can I wait 'til I finish my milk?" Salem asks. Sabrina looks back in shock, then runs.
But there's no escape -- the book follows her. Sabrina whines that she doesn't want to be an all-poweful master matter manipulator, she wants to be a boring teenager who has to work for everything. Uh, whatever your preference, Blondie.
Her father says back through the book that her witchiness is just part of who she is and she has to accept it. Then he explains that when he left Sabrina with her aunts to travel with the "foreign service," he meant something a lot more foreign than he implied. He can't return for a long time, but he can communicate with her through the magic book. "What about my mom? Does she know? Is she a witch too?" Sabrina asks. Pop says of course she knows, but she's a mortal woman, and Sabrina can't visit her for at least two years "or she'll turn into a ball of wax." What? That's just the way physics works.
That evening, Sabrina attempts to practice magic on purpose for the first time. Hilda and Zelda tell her one of the easiest tricks to perform is turning an orange into an apple; it's the mortal equivalent of playing Hot Cross Buns on the recorder. Sabrina tries, but turns the orange into a pineapple by mistake. "Oh well, I'm bound to get the hang of this," she says, and one jump cut later she's surrounded by pineapples while the laugh track mocks her.
Like I said earlier, it's a lot to take in, especially for a girl adjusting to a new school at the same time. So the next morning when Sabrina is in the cafeteria and Libby is hazing her again, you can't blame her for something....slipping out.
As Libby walks away, Sabrina yells at her and points, and suddenly a massive windstorm takes control of the cafeteria and everybody ducks for cover while Libby has a seizure standing there. When the dust clears, Sabrina finds she's done the only thing she's good at....she's turned Libby into a pineapple. Well, good. Everyone fine with this? I'm fine with this. Let's eat her.
|Time for commercials! You know what appears a lot? Game Boy Pocket. It had just come out. Imagine spending just fifty bucks for a handheld with a ton of great software. I loved mine, even if the battery life was half that of the brick.|
|From what I understand, McDonald's Arch Deluxe burger was a flop and a nationwide punchline. During Sabrina, the chain boasted they not only still sold the Arch Deluxe but that they were expanding it into a string of "Deluxe" burgers. Had the higher-ups not heard? Word traveled slower within the company due to those 28k modems.|
|There are also ads for toys. I mean the kind of ads you would normally only see during Saturday Morning and daytime syndication. Pictured to the right is the "Melanie's Magic Mall" playset. There are ads aimed at grown-ups, sure (I think the Arch Deluxe was one), but by this point ABC had apparently given up telling companies TGIF was a family block...it was more like a "keep the kids busy during the hours you're least likely to watch prime-time TV" block.|
|Another toy, and it's as 1996 as you can get. The "Talkback Diary," a primitive Blackberry-like device that was intended to replace the paper diary (it did not). If your gross brother tries to read it, it plays the sound bite "HANDS OFF, CREEP!"|
Several assorted celebrites would appear in Frosted Cheerios ads for the next two years. Melissa Joan Hart would get one after the success of Sabrina.
But she wasn't big enough yet, so here's...Dennis Nedry. Why were they letting this guy endorse a product when he was responsible for the deaths of so many? And if he'd succeeded, dinosaur DNA would have gotten into the black market. This is to say nothing of his irritating lockout screensaver. I suppose you can't touch his Cheerios, either. "Uh-uh-uuuuh...."
If Libby had stayed a pineapple
Sabrina would have been spared a lot of grief over the next few
years, but Hilda and Zelda are not pleased, so it has to be
fixed. At this point my recording of the episode had one minute cut from it, and....it turned out
Libby was turned back to normal within that minute, so for the first few days the rest of this article
was written under the assumption what happens next was about rescuing Libby. But I've been informed that after
Libby became human again, she swore to tell everyone what a freak Sabrina was and left. Evidently she still
didn't get completely clued in or she would have bowed at their feet from this point.
Sabrina messed things up so bad that she argues the only way to save her future is to turn back time so none of the previous 24 hours ever happened. But to perform a spell like THAT requires approval from the almighty Witches Council. And you'll never guess who's serving as chairman....Penn Gillette. Good luck getting on HIS good side!
Both Penn and Teller are two of the three Council members shown, and of course Teller never speaks. Obviously joke casting (because MAGIC), but it's never blatantly pointed out -- not even the audience reacts in surprise.
Penn demands to know in his booming voice what this puny pubescent witch is doing wasting his time. So Sabrina explains her situation: "It was my first day in a new school! And the kids are so mean, and I don't fit in! And I can't get this hunky guy's attention, and, and....."
Like Penn cares about this. He actually puts her speech into fast-forward just to get it over with. "Okay, we'll review your case, now don't spend another minute of my time here. GO!"
The Council's ruling on use of the time-reversal spell takes some time to be processed. Sabrina spends the evening chatting with Salem, who reveals he was once a warlock who was sentenced to become a cat for 100 years because he tried to take over the world. In the comics up to this point, Salem was just a cat, and he couldn't even talk. I like this spiced-up scoundrel version much better, and so did Archie Comics, who changed Salem into the sitcom version and has kept him that way ever since.
The next morning, the ruling arrives via the toaster, just like Winnie's concert tickets (I swear, people, it was a personal goal to NOT mention Free Spirit on this page. I was doing great until now). Sabrina takes the paper out of the toaster and opens it. Penn's loud voice blasts out of it: "REQUEST DENIED! HAHAHAHA!" Now what?
Aunt Hilda is steaming mad. It turns out she and Penn have a past -- they used to date. She sent Sabrina over to appeal to the Council because she couldn't work up the nerve to do it herself. But now, enough is enough. She stomps over to the closet, activates the portal to Council headquarters, and slams the door behind her. Then you hear a lot of yelling while the camera shakes.
Sabrina completely blew her first day and fears she's going to be labeled a freak forever. She really doesn't want to go back to school, but the law is the law. When she arrives, her new frizzy-haired friend tells her a joke she's heard before, the kind of joke vapid teen girls tell each other on 90's television: "Knock knock! Who's there! Brad! Brad who? Brad Pitt! Is there any other Brad?" Like, totally.
The reason Sabrina knows the joke already is because she's already lived this day. It's the first day of school again -- Hilda succeeded in getting an appeal from the Council, and Libby isn't a spiky fruit yet. It was probably a great temptation not to transform her twice, but why bother after all this trouble. Since she's already had a practice run, Sabrina aces the day and makes a great impression with Harvey.
Okay, she DOES zap Libby, but in a less severe way: she makes her grape juice tip over and sploosh her shirt up. Then she races home and tells her aunts, "IT WAS A GREAT DAY! I'M NOT A FREAK ANYMORE, I'M NORMAL! I'M GONNA GO DANCE WITH THE CAT!" This is exactly what she does. You would think Salem would hate that, but there's no comment from him. Fade out, forgettable credits gag about Sabrina drinking milk.
|And that was the half-hour that
launched an avalanche of fantasy comedies, dramas and
comedy-dramas on late 90's TV. The following season, ABC
had such faith in Sabrina that they sold Family Matters
and Step By Step to CBS and loaded TGIF with
supernaturally-themed shows about angels and genies --
they all failed within weeks.
however, lived on, and cemented her place in American pop
culture. Eventually MJH would become so synonymous with
the 90's that she would be typecast and forced to slum it