Viacom has spun out a series for Nickelodeon’s popular Melissa Joan Hart (“Clarissa Explains It All”), and the result is more likable than the series’ title “Sabrina, The Teenage Witch” or pedigree the Archie Comics character might suggest. Whether Friday-night viewers will go for two way sugary blond chicks in a row (“Clueless” follows) remains to be seen.
For now, think of “Sabrina” as “Bewitched” meets “Carrie.” The heroine lives with a pair of what used to be called maiden aunts (maybe they still are), winningly played by Beth Broderick (Zelda, the acerbic one) and Caroline Rhea (Hilda, the sweet one); the tip-off on what’s in store is the cute little black cauldron they give her on her 16th birthday. They’re witches, as is Sabrina’s absent father. Her powers are revealed to her on her first day at a new school, when she brings a frog on the verge of dissection rather startlingly back to life.
When Sabrina inadvertently turns a nasty classmate into a pineapple, she’s forced to negotiate with a trio of ancient witch bureaucrats played by Penn & Teller and Deborah Harry to set things right. There’s also a guest appearance by former teen idol Robby Benson, who directed the premiere.
None of it is what you’d call inspired, though some of it is amusing. Hart is already quite comfortable on the small screen, and there’s a nice relationship developing with a classmate who goes her own way and who isn’t blond, played by Michelle Beaudoin.
There are also special effects a talking cat, morphing pineapples that aren’t likely to impress a target audience used to more daring visual fare.