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Monday, 25 October 2010

Teenage witch MKII?

Last weeks blog was intended as a pretty basic round-up of what I had been watching but it was missing one vital ingredient. I don't know why I missed it off, it certainly wasn't intentional, but it's kind of fortunate that I did because pretty much straight after knocking that post together I watched an episode of the show in question that I think warrants a bit of waffle all of it's own. That show is Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

Sabrina was one of the least funny teen sitcoms ever made I reckon but nonetheless successful enough to run seven seasons with a couple of TV movies in the middle. Normally, with a comedy as unfunny as this one was I'd question why it managed to last as long as it did but in this case I reckon I know. There was a charm to this show that transcended it's shortcomings and that charm came from it's cast. No matter how lame the jokes, the cast never gave it any less than their all and this, combined with the obvious chemistry amongst the leads, (although some of the supporting cast were less at home), meant that you never begrudged the 30mins you spent with them.

I watched bits and pieces of this show in my younger years and will admit to liking it quite a bit back then. This may have had something to do with the fact that it inherited a lot of goodwill by having the very lovely Melissa Joan Hart playing Sabrina. For myself, and indeed most boys my age, Hart had been a major factor in our first noticing girls, in that way, thanks to her lead role in Clarissa Explains It All. That lingering crush meant that our tuning in to Sabrina was pretty much a foregone conclusion, with our critical faculties unlikely to be fully engaged when we did so.

Sadly, like most shows aimed at the young, especially imported ones, it's scheduling was erratic to say the very least and so I'm currently engaged in a thorough, chronological re-watch. A re-watch which has thrown up quite a few surprises, not least the way in which the cast seems to be in constant flux with all bar Sarina and her Aunts (so far) being lucky to last a couple of years.Anyway, Season 5, which I am currently nearing the end of, sees Sabrina leaving High School and going off to college, leaving half of the supporting cast behind and gaining a whole bunch of new ones.

I've read a few comments here and there on the old interweb, putting down the new characters and bemoaning the loss of the 'much better' originals (forgetting that the 'originals' of which they speak were in fact replacements for even earlier characters) but to my mind it's academic since the support cast was always pretty interchangeable. Besides, the majority of the criticism was in the murky world of the youtube comments section and as we all know, there hasn't been a deeper pit of deranged mentalism than that merry lot since Torquemada and his lads were plying their trade.

One thing I have noticed about S5 is the distinct lack of magic in many episodes. At times the writers get so caught up with the soap opera aspects of the show that they seem to forget that they're writing about characters with magical powers. Given that the only reason I'm watching the show at all (sorry Melissa) is due to the supernatural aspect, this can become a trifle annoying and I hope it's something that is addressed in the last two seasons.

That's S5 in general, but what of the episode I mentioned up top which deserved it's own write-up? Well, it was called Witchright Hall. The basic idea was that Sabrinas cousin Amanda (played by Harts younger sister Emily) was sent to live in the mortal realm and in an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for her the family send her off to a boarding school for wayward magical youths. So off she goes, with Sabrina as chaperone (because the Aunts had a romantic history with the Headmaster that would have soured him against the family), to try and get admitted.

While I was watching it I got the distinct whiff of the dreaded 'backdoor pilot' from the whole affair and a quick Google search told me I was right.

The impression I got, (which may be right or may be wrong because finding out that it was definitely intended as a pilot was pretty much the extent of the background research I did) was that the mooted show was intended as a route back to the younger days of Sabrina. Being in college and quickly closing in on the point where the 'Teenage' part of the shows title would become redundant meant that the character of Sabrina was beginning to deal with more adult concerns. Perhaps the producers were keen to go back to the more innocent hi-jinks if the shows early years. By launching a spin-off with a younger witch they could do just that, while still allowing Sabrina to mature as she aged.

Choosing Amanda as the lead in this proposed spin off was a sound one because, well... I'm not sure how to word this without sounding slightly dodgy, given her age at the time and my age now but... Sod it, she looked a lot like her sister, which meant that young boys then would likely have come to the show for the same reason I and others like me came to Sabrina years earlier.

And that would definitely have been a factor, have no illusions, since sitcoms about teenage girls, with strong romantic elements, are not the first choice of viewing material for most young boys boys. On top of her aesthetic appeal though, Emily Hart had something else (and I'm not talking about nepotism) in her favour. She had proven, in her earlier appearances as Amanda, to have something of a flair for the style of over the top, slightly arch comedy the show traded in. Indeed, I've found during this re-watch that the (roughly annual) Amanda episodes were usually a highlight of each season. Not only did the younger Hart shine in the role but she brought out a little something extra in her sister as well.

As far as the rest of the characters introduced in this pilot, there really isn't much to differentiate them from their counterparts in early Sabrina. Two authority figures with an affectionate yet often bickering relationship, a cute boy for Amanda to moon over/get together with/split from ad infinitum, a best friend figure and of course, a talking animal. Where Sabrina had a talking cat Amanda would be joined by a talking dog, gym teacher at Witchright Hall and affecting a military drill sergeant persona. Strangely enough ,the dog animatronic was little better than the woeful cat animatronic that Sabrina had been dealing with for years. I say strangely because I have it on good authority (alright, a Doctor Who commentary track) that dogs are a lot easier to fake than cats. (The problem with cats being that they were too small to house the necessary machinery)

All in all, while I don't think a Witchright Hall series would have done anything particularly groundbreaking or epic with the premise, I also don't think it would have been any less of a show than Sabrina was. I certainly would not have begrudged however much of my time I would have inevitably expended on it. As it turns out, the show didn't go ahead, despite what a certain friend of mine (who knows about the Quest and delights in messing with me) insisted but the younger Hart continued to make occasional appearances on Sabrina until it's finale, so it wasn't the end of the world for her, although I'm sure she'd have preferred a show of her own.

Although technically she kind of got one, because she voiced Sabrina in the popular animated version of the show.

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