I came home from work one evening in 1996 and flipped on the TV, which had been on Family Channel from night before.The movie listing said Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and as I was about to change channels I caught site of a young Melissa Joan Hart and decided not to. What I ended up watching was a fairly predictable light hearted comedy about a teenage girl who inherits powers and humorously uses them on foes, while being trained and even chided by her two lovable witch aunts. As a young man of a certain age I fell head over heals for Melissa Joan Hart after that, and she was added to my ever growing list of crushes. Later on that year I found out they were making a TV show of Sabrina, also with Melissa Joan Hart, and knew I’d have to eventually begin watching it. Of course again being a young man of a certain age, it wasn’t exactly cool to spend Friday nights watching “kids shows”, so I never got to tune in. That was until a large trip I made in 2000, in which I found myself spending many a Friday night in a hotel room and finally caught my first glimpse ABC’s beloved TGIF which Sabrina was a part of.
After I met my wife, she found out that I had a major crush on Melissa Joan Hart, and teased me about watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and about Hart’s newest movie Drive Me Crazy. Of course I always say that the video for Drive Me Crazy is one of the greatest ever made since it has both a young Melissa Joan Hart, and Britney Spears in one spot. Yes, I had a crush on the latter as well. As it turned out my wife in her youth had been a fan of ABC’s TGIF and had watched a lot of Sabrina and actually enjoyed the show and liked Melissa Joan Hart in it.
Flash forward about 13 years and its early spring of 2013, and every weeknight at 8PM Nickelodeon showed back to back repeats of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. This was also the same time of night when we would give our infant son his last feeding for the night, and soon Sabrina the Teenage Witch became synonymous with the memories of bedtime for our eldest son, while feeding our youngest. That went on for a few months and represents a gentle and beautiful time in my and my families lives and the show, and many good laughs, became part of that.
So now here we are four years later and my youngest son is obsessed with cats. One day while playing with him he mentioned talking cats, to which his brother and I immediately thought of Salem from Sabrina. Luckily some fans of Salem's put together compilations on Youtube of his best moments throughout the many seasons of Sabrina which delighted all of us. My youngest thought Salem was the greatest thing in the world, and when he spotted Sabrina the Teenage Witch on Amazon Video a few months later he begged us to tune in. The first night we watched the first two episodes as a pre-bedtime treat for him, but a few days later on a Thursday (acting as a fuax Friday night that week) we must have watched about ten more episodes in a row. As I sat there that Thursday night I began to wonder if there had ever been any Sabrina the Teenage Witch video games made, and if so for what systems. Nowadays, and at least for the past decade, it seems like all a kids show needs to do is air one episode and immediately it's got a game, but how common was it back then? As it turned out in the case of Sabrina the Teenage Witch there were only a few games made on a couple systems, like the Gameboy Advanced, PS1, and PC. But before I get into the game, lets talk about the show first.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
If you can’t tell by the title of the show it's about girl named Sabrina who is a Teenage Witch. Believe it or not despite not appearing until 1996 on TV, the character of Sabrina Spellman, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, has actually been around since 1962 as a character from the Archie comics. The character got her own series of spin-off comics starting in the late 70’s, and various other series and re-imaginings have been made since then. In April of 1996 Showtime (of all networks) would release the above mentioned Sabrina the Teenage Witch movie. The movie would, as you have probably guessed, serve as the pilot for the show that would premier on ABC in the Fall of 1996. Between the movie and the show there would also be a lot of modifications to the character, and cast. For instance outside of Melissa Joan Hart the only other actor that would make it from the movie was Michelle Beaudoin who would play a different character between the movie and the show, although in both instances as Sabrina’s friend. The character of Sabrina would also undergo a few changes, for instance in the movie the character was Sabrina Sawyer, but by the series she would take on her actual comic book name Sabrina Spellman. Another key thing the TV characterization would lose, is that despite being a good girl, the comic version (and even the movie version alludes to) of Sabrina is a bit of a sexy character. To make the character more family friendly, and to play off Harts girl next store image the character was toned down to be a typical and somewhat innocent teenage girl for the television show.
The main premise is that Sabrina is sent to live with her Aunt Zelda (Beth Broderick) and Aunt Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and their strange cat Salem (Nick Bakay) just before her 16th birthday. Sabrina thinks it’s temporary because her parents both have jobs out of country following their divorce. As it turns out she gains her witch powers at 16, and risks turning her mortal mother into wax if she sees her. As for her father (a warlock) he prefers his sisters, Sabrina’s aunts, to train her on how to be a young lady and develop her witch powers. After turning 16 and starting at a new high school Sabrina realizes she has odd powers, and confides the strange goings on with her aunts who reveal her witch powers to her with the help of Salem who stops pretending to be a normal cat, and begins talking and interacting with her. As it turns out Salem was previously a human warlock who has to serve a 100 year sentence as a cat for trying to take over the mortal world, albeit very unsuccessfully.
For the first for season the show follows the formula of Sabrina learning to cope with her new powers while trying to live the life of a normal teen and going through high school. In the first season the above mentioned Michelle Beaudoin plays Sabrina’s friend Jenny, but in season two and three Jenny is replaced by Valerie (Lindsay Sloan) as her friend, who herself is written out after season 3. Sabrina’s foil is Libby Chessler (Jenna Leigh Green), the stereotypical stuck-up cheerleader/popular girl in school who has eyes on Harvey Kinkle (Nate Richert) the schools handsome but friendly football hero. Harvey would stay a key character as Sabrina’s boyfriend until season 4, being briefly demoted to a recurring character in season 5, and returning to regular character status in seasons 6 & 7.
In seasons 5 & 6 Sabrina would go to college, changing the shows format a bit. Sabrina would now take on three new roommates bringing the element of friend characters back to Sabrina. In season 5 she becomes involved with Josh (David Lascher), a character introduced in late season 4 to replace Harvey, and who she stays in a relationship until the end of season 6, Harvey would return as the boyfriend of one of Sabrina’s roommates in season 5, rekindling old feelings between Harvey and Sabrina. As for Aunt Zelda and Hilda, they would continue to play major roles in seasons 5 and 6 and Salem as you may have guessed goes straight through season 7.
In season 7 Sabrina sets out on her adult life, as the characters of the Aunts drop out of the picture. Two other characters Josh, and the male college roommate Miles, also disappear as a new love interest the wealthy Aaron (Dylan Neal) steps in although Sabrina still has feelings for Harvey. The two female college roommates and friends Roxie (Soleil Moon Frye) and Morgan (Elisa Donovan), take over Sabrina’s Aunts house as Sabrina herself lives with them. As the season goes on things get very serious between Aaron and Sabrina, and the last episode ends with their wedding day, although you can only guess what happens.
As usual my series synapses is brief and meant to try to avoid giving spoilers. Unlike the two science-fiction shows I just reviewed in my Game & Watches series before this, you will notice my season reviews here are brief. Keep in mind this was a only a half hour long kids/family show that didn't exactly have much of a seasonal story arc, so nothing too complex here. With that said though it's a fairly good and entertaining show the whole family can watch, and that you could even put on for the kids and walk out of the room feeling ok. Scary moments happen, but are rare a usually too cheesy and funny to scare kids. Innuendo happens maybe once an episode, usually between Sabrina's Aunts, and you have to be an adult to really catch it. Other than these pretty minor things it's good to watch.
Of course I going to also point out a few bits of trivia about the program. For instance do you know there is a connection between MST3K and Sabrina the Teenage Witch? It's true, Frank Conniff, MST3K’s TV’s Frank, was actually in an episode The Adventures of Rudy Kazootie, and was a writer for the show for four seasons.
Here's another piece of trivia, did you know ABC/Disney almost fired Melissa Joan Hart over breach of contract? Nearing the release of Drive Me Crazy Melissa Joan Hart did a racy spread and Interview for Maxim magazine. As if the lingerie and implied nudity of the photos wasn't a nightmare enough for ABC/Disney, Hart went on to give in interview in which she talk about her sex life, as well as her use of drugs and alcohol. Hart later apologized for the interview.
The show also had a lot of interesting guest appearances and recurring characters. Britney Spear’s would make a guest appearance after Drive Me Crazy, Penn & Teller would have recurring roles, and Debra Harry, Davy Jones, Jack Wagner, and many others would guest star on an almost weekly basis. Hart would even go on to have a hit radio song in 1999 with a remake of Blondies, One Way or Another, originally performed on the show.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: A Twitch in Time
So I did some play through of this game the weekend before last and as per my review of it that weekend here is what I have:
This is a colorful and upbeat little game, as you would expect based on the theme, although it only features the voice of Nick Bakay as Salem, with someone else voicing Sabrina. Graphics wise it's prisoner to its era and can be a bit hard on the eyes, although it’s pretty solid and hit detection is fairly functional. Perhaps with less glare on my TV it would be a little easier to see at another time, but I doubt it. Control wise it needs help with the camera views which never look where you want them to and leave you pretty vulnerable to enemies. As with most of my PS1 games I played this on the PS2, and controls were confined to the D-pad which again is a struggle to get use to in a world of analog control games. The game itself stays pretty true to the comical world of Sabrina, but as for originality this looks like it might have borrowed off other games. It's an ok game but not one I’d suggest buying, unless your curious and/or a Sabrina the Teenage Witch fan.
Some additional thoughts to expand upon are that the image of Melissa Joan Hart on the cover of the case had an odd almost airbrushed look to it. It kind of makes you ask if it's actually her or not. Perhaps it isn't, perhaps instead it's actually the girl who voiced Sabrina in the game, and who as well as sounding a little bit like Melissa Joan Hart looked a little bit like her too. But we do have a nice picture of MJH on the back.
Seeing as to how there are three Sabrina games out there this one wasn't the best of the three. It looks like the GBA game, which actually goes for a higher price, maybe it's an overall better entry since games based on kids shows always seem to do better on portable systems. With that said it's not a terrible game, but it has some deficiencies. The story line, what little we see of it, does bring an adventure element to the Sabrina universe we don't get to see in the show, and looking back now it's too bad it didn't. Perhaps ABC/Disney should have popped for a Sabrina adventure movie to premier on the Disney channel, similar to what they did for Wizards of Waverly Place years later.
Moving past my crush on a young Melissa Joan Hart, there is something pleasant about watching the show. Popping it on and just letting it play, is a nice break from long stressful days. I could easily see ordering a pizza and just unwinding to Sabrina marathon some Friday evening after a long week, like some ABC TGIF from years ago. It's just fun humor, free of real world problems, and stressful super-hero show plot lines. As for the game it's pretty cheap to pick up. Will I ever return to it? I don't know, perhaps my youngest would have a blast with it. So to finish, do check out the show, but only buy the game if you really want.