How Netflix brought back two ’90s stars for a quirky, nostalgic ‘Sabrina’ crossover
Warning: This post contains spoilers from the final season of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.”
For one last magic trick, the powers that be at Netflix have conjured an episode of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
The fourth and final season of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” premiering Thursday, features a nostalgic crossover event: The penultimate episode of the teen fantasy series guest stars Beth Broderick and Caroline Rhea, who played aunts Zelda and Hilda, respectively, in the ’90s sitcom “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” starring Melissa Joan Hart.
It’s the first time showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s dark adaptation of the Archie Comics saga has directly acknowledged the existence of its lighter, 20th century sister series — and the result is an absolute scream in more ways than one.
“People who like both the shows will enjoy seeing that come together,” said Lucy Davis, who was already a fan of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” before portraying Hilda in Netflix’s iteration. “I was trying to keep it cool, so that I didn’t sound like a buffoon, but I was really excited to do this.”
“Riverdale,” “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” “Nancy Drew” and a raft of other TV series are reinventing the teen drama with retro styling and moody plots.
The episode, titled “The Endless,” picks up immediately after Sabrina Spellman’s clone — Sabrina Morningstar, a.k.a. the Queen of Hell (both played by Kiernan Shipka) — is sent to a parallel universe to spare the town of Greendale apocalyptic chaos. After a brief, cosmic journey through her bedroom mirror, Sabrina arrives at an exact copy of the Spellman residence — well, almost exact.
Essentially, Sabrina lands on the set of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” — referred to simply as the “show” throughout the episode.
“Sabrina, is that you?” Aunt Zelda says. “There you are. Where were you? We were getting worried.”
In a normal episode of the Netflix series, the line would be read with gusto by “Lord of the Rings” alum Miranda Otto. But this is not a normal episode.
“Sorry, who are you?” asks Sabrina — and any viewers born after 1990, probably.
Enter Broderick and Rhea, reprising the beloved characters they originated on ABC in 1996. What ensues is a quirky, horror-comedy adventure full of wry meta-commentary on the entertainment industry and campy callbacks to “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
No one was more enthused to welcome Broderick and Rhea to “Chilling Adventures” than Davis, who had been corresponding with her ’90s counterpart since Rhea congratulated her on her casting in 2018. When they finally met in person ahead of the table read, the two Hildas “gave each other a huge hug.”
“If I’m honest, it felt like I’ve known her for a long time,” Davis said of her pen pal-turned-castmate. “And then I met Beth in the table read as well, who is so graceful and charming and lovely.”
Though they don’t spend much time together on camera, Davis and Otto bonded with their predecessors behind the scenes by giving them a tour of the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” sets at Martini Film Studios, near Vancouver, Canada.
While discussing their respective “Sabrina” series, the four actresses were joined by Aguirre-Sacasa, who “kept saying, ‘My mind is being blown right now that I’m standing in front of you guys,’" Davis recalled.
To commemorate the historic occasion, Broderick, Rhea, Otto and Davis posed for a photo on the grand Spellman staircase.
“It just sums up our characters and that we’re well-suited for them because the two Zeldas are sitting properly, looking at the camera as they’ve been told to do,” Davis said. “And then the two Hildas are looking at each other,” immersed in candid conversation.
In “The Endless,” the sitcom aunties inform Sabrina — and consequently, the audience — they are “the stars of a hit TV show.” In this universe, their mystical mansion is merely a set on a soundstage, Salem the cat is a talking puppet, and according to Broderick’s Zelda, “The only magic we do is what’s in our scripts.”
Shipka’s Sabrina is understandably stunned. She’s had zero time to watch TV while fending off menacing monsters and sinister spells with her mighty Spellman powers — all of which are very real back in the other Greendale. (“OK, first of all, the last show you were on sounds amazing,” Rhea’s Hilda tells her. We see you, Netflix.)
Don’t worry, the other Zelda and Hilda, played by Otto and Davis, are still around. And yes, there is a mind-trip of a scene involving all four identically-dressed aunties.
“It was weird,” Davis said. “People just stared at us four on that first day. It was quite funny, I must admit.”
Sabrina’s Baxter High friends — Harvey (Ross Lynch), Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Theo (Lachlan Watson) — exist in the alternate cosmos too, though Harvey is dating Sabrina instead of Roz, his girlfriend in parallel Greendale.
“We’re #Habrina,” new Harvey tells Sabrina. “We’re always dating. It’s canon!”
That line is one of several tongue-in-cheek moments sprinkled throughout the episode, which is loaded with self-referential humor, horrifying haunts and “a little British sensibility” — as Davis puts it — courtesy of Matthew Barry, who co-wrote the episode with Donna Thorland.
“He was really chuffed to bits to get to write that episode,” said Davis, who praised the “very cool idea” Barry conceived for the crossover. Though, for “selfish purposes,” she wished she had more scenes with her new BFF, Rhea.
“If I worked with Caroline for too long, I think we’d be getting told off,” Davis joked of their chummy offscreen relationship, which has continued beyond the show. “There’s just something kind of naughty or mischievous about [Rhea] that brings out that side of me. ... We gossiped a lot, laughed a lot.”
Two classic horror films, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist,” have been the go-to reference guide to describe the tonal feel of Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.”
“The Endless” is also significant in that it was the final episode Davis and her costars filmed before wrapping Season 4. In July, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” joined Netflix’s growing list of cancelations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the official word from Netflix didn’t come until later, a clairvoyant Otto suspected that the fourth season would be their last while filming “The Endless.” And Davis — who swears her onscreen sister is “psychic” when it comes to predicting Netflix’s every move — took Otto’s Zelda-like premonition to heart.
“I was really taken aback,” Davis said. “It jolted me because it hadn’t occurred to me. ... I was watching and thinking, ‘I might never be here again in this Spellman house.’ And I kind of welled up. ... I’ve never been there since that day.”
“When Miranda said that, the good thing for me was that I was able to go, ‘OK, well, I’m not gonna think negatively, but I’m going to imagine, each day, that this is it — so that I get to take it all in.’”
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