[18 February 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
There were several changes in order for Sabrina The Teenage Witch in the fifth season. That was the year everyone’s favorite spell casting sweetheart, Sabrina Spellman (Melissa Joan Hart), went off to college, and as we all know college is a cause for change. Not only is Sabrina dealing with new responsibilities, but she’s got new roommates from which she must attempt to hide her magic.
Soleil Moon Frye plays tough-talking Roxie, Trevor Lissauer is the slightly paranoid and geeky Miles and Elisa Donavan shines as their self-involved resident advisor, Morgan. Juggling college courses and cohabitation with conjuring would be hard enough, but those aren’t the only changes going on in Sabrina’s world.
Aunt Hilda (Caroline Rhea) decides to buy the coffee house where Sabrina works with her new crush, Josh (David Lascher), aunt Zelda (Beth Brodrick) elects to take up a teaching position at Sabrina’s school, and Salem (voiced by Nick Bakay), well, he gets into even more trouble on campus than Sabrina! They say a little change is good. This much change makes the freshman 15 seem like no big deal, so that’s got to be great, right?
Well, it is. Season five marked a shift for the characters, the stories and the show’s aesthetic, but not all of the great changes happened on screen. Sabrina The Teenage Witch: The Fifth Season, was also when the series moved from its spot on ABC’s lineup to the smaller, but ultimately more focused toward target audience on WB. This move not only revitalized the show, but it allowed it to become a bit edgier and explore a wider variety of topics and themes.
That’s something that usually occurs when you go off to college, too. You become wiser and more worldly as you are exposed to new people and ideas. You become more interesting. In television, more interesting often means more popular. While Sabrina brought in fewer ratings numbers at its new home than it had at ABC, the nearly four million weekly viewers were of the most devoted variety. Remember the people who say change is good? They are probably also the ones who will tell you that the friends you make at college are some of the best friends you’ll ever have. Sabrina The Teenage Witch undoubtedly made some very loyal friends her freshman year.
Of course, it isn’t easy coming into a new situation, and Hart’s Sabrina initially has trouble winning over her new crowd. Grounding this season in more mundane issues was a smart move, because everyone can relate to the struggle to fit in, whether or not it’s because they have magical powers. Of course, Roxie eventually accepts Sabrina and Sabrina is eventually able to see Morgan’s positive points, but even though things usually end up magically working out, the fifth season does tackle a few more difficult topics that Sabrina wouldn’t have dealt with when she was back in high school.
The most obvious of these is the episode addressing bigotry. Sabrina dates a Warlock and is a victim of prejudice because she is only half witch. Not that this was groundbreaking for a television series, especially in the new millennium, but it was very well done.
Sabrina also participates in some more mainstream college-age activities, like a student protest and trying to play matchmaker for her roomie. But she still gets into plenty of magical mishaps, as well, such as when aspiring scientist Miles brings a constructs a paranormal energy detector in the episode “Sabrina’s Got Spirit”.
Sabrina The Teenage Witch: The Fifth Season is digitally remastered on three discs, featuring all 22 episodes. It may not be everyone’s absolute favorite of the show’s seven season run (there are some who are just partial to Harvey, and even more who secretly loved Libby), but it is definitely one of the best. It took a show that was already quirky and fun, and made it quirkier, funnier, and refreshingly relevant.