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September 27, 1996

Sabrina, Teenage Witch

By Marilyn Moss
The Hollywood Reporter

Friday night comedy should sparkle with the engaging new sitcom ''Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.'' With a catchy story line and a perky ensemble of actors, the series will likely catch on and cast an upbeat spell on its target audience.

Based on the popular Archie comics heroine, the show concocts a smart blend of teenage wish-fulfillment dreams that collides with real-life growing pains.

In the premiere episode, directed by Robby Benson, it's the morning of Sabrina's 16th birthday and the unsuspecting teenager (Melissa Joan Hart of Nickelodeon's ''Clarissa Explains it All'') begins to levitate even before she wakes up.

Her two aunts, Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick), witches themselves, watch in the doorway as this crafty rite-of-passage overtakes Sabrina.

This is the day her aunts will explain to her that she's a witch.

It's also Sabrina's first day at her new high school.

She has come to live with her aunts, since with her new magic powers she is not allowed to look at her mortal mother for two years.

Her father, Edward (Benson), from whom Sabrina has inherited her powers and who has divorced his wife, lives in a history book.

When Sabrina opens its pages, Dad explains the situation _ to Sabrina and to viewers.

Sabrina must make her way in her new surroundings.

When she has a run-in with the most popular and obnoxious girl in school, she takes the opportunity to test her witchcraft.

Being a modern-day sorcerer's apprentice has its benefits.

Luckily, ''Sabrina's'' writers ground their heroine in the real world of teenage angst. Sorcery can be fun, but it won't solve all of life's problems _ so says the script and so Sabrina learns.

Sitcom witchery has evolved over the years since Elizabeth Montgomery twitched her nose at her problems in ''Bewitched.'' As a brew of '90s television, ''Sabrina'' takes chances that pay off.

Even the cleverest throw-away line leaves room for a lesson or two.

This nice combination of the real and the imaginary makes ''Sabrina'' work.

The pace is quick and the writing is teenager savvy.

Hart exudes a winning combination of self-confidence and reticence.

If it were not for Sabrina's bewitching predicament, she'd be the perfect Everygirl.

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