The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a dark and twisty take on an old classic, and many fans of the old Archie Comics character are finding this new version to be a progressive and feminist update. Yet there is one glaring discrepancy in the new Netflix series that not enough people are turning into a hot topic of conversation.
Not to split the cat hairs that are surely covering every surface in Sabrina Spellman’s bedroom (thanks a lot, Salem), but why and how is no one talking about the incongruence regarding the accents of Greendale? For a show that does such a good job of building a world and drawing viewers in quickly enough to necessitate a weekend-long binge, one of the more frustrating aspects is that there seems to be a multitude of dialects—even from characters who presumably grew up in the same home—and during the entirety of the 10 episodes that make up Part I of the series, there is no explanation given for the variety of accents on display in Netflix’s rendering of the Archie Comics universe. The writers of the show don't even add a little lampshading (addressing a portion of the story that may undermine a viewer's suspension of disbelief with regards to the plot) into the script to make a joke or two about the disparate dialects spoken onscreen.
While it may have become rote or pointless to debate whether or not two notable Aussie actresses (Nicole Kidman and Toni Collette) can successfully rid themselves of their natural-sounding voices when they step into character, there is still room to discuss the plethora of accents on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. So let’s unpack the various affectations of Greendale’s finest, and maybe we’ll get to the bottom of this mystery.
Kiernan Shipka stars as Sabrina Spellman, the 16-year-old witch who must choose between her presumed ancestral dedication to the Dark Lord (read: Satan) and using her magic for “good” (mainly for social justice in her small town, or rescuing) among her mortal friends in the town of Greendale. She lives with her two aunts, Hilda and Zelda, but sounds like neither of them. Shipka was born in Chicago (residents of which often have a very specific accent that sounds different from the rest of the flattened Midwestern dialect), but has lived in Los Angeles since she was a young child, so her portrayal of Sabrina, who presumably grew up in the small town of Greendale gives way to a fairly typical American accent that occasionally dips into a light Valley Girl cadence. While the series is filmed in Vancouver (it is unclear if Greendale is located in the United States), no one speaks with a particularly Canadian accent. We also know that Greendale is not too far from Riverdale, and is a mining town, which makes it plausible for Greendale to exist somewhere near Appalachia, Colorado, or the Pacific Northwest. Harvey Kinkle (Sabrina’s boyfriend, played by Ross Lynch), Roz Walker, and Susie Putnam also sound very stereotypically American on the series.
Lucy Davis plays Sabrina’s Aunt Hilda, and as someone who hails from Solihull, England, she speaks with a clearly British accent. Did Hilda Spellman grow up in England? It sounds like that would be the case, but her sister, Zelda, sounds nothing like her, and it can be assumed that they grew up together.
Zelda’s voice sounds like a contemporary riff on the standard transatlantic accent taught to the actors of the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s and ’40s, but the actress herself (Miranda Otto) is Australian. Did Aunt Zelda grow up in New England? Were she and Hilda separated from one another during their adolescence (the time at which an accent would have developed for either of them)? One whole season down, and this is still unexplained.
Ambrose, Sabrina’s sophisticated older cousin, is a warlock who sounds nothing like the rest of his family. At this point in the series, no one knows exactly who his parents are, but it is known that he was banished to the Spellman property after he was cursed with house arrest for 75 years, thanks to his participation in an attempt to blow up the Vatican. His British lilt sounds different than Hilda’s (and the actor who plays him, Chance Perdomo, is English himself), but only in that it is slightly more posh sounding.
Prudence is an orphaned witch and one of Sabrina’s main antagonists who attends a rival school, of sorts. Tati Gabrielle, who plays the character, has a higher-pitched American-sounding voice (which you can hear in this interview), quite unlike the lightly affected British accent spoken by Prudence. But not all students at the Academy of Unseen Arts sound like Prudence—Nick Scratch, a warlock who catches Sabrina's eye, sounds just as American as the youngest Spellman, and so do both of her adopted sisters. Gabrielle recently revealed to W that she was inspired by the sultry, raspy inflections of the late Eartha Kitt, so that would explain her voice.
There is one character on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina who requires no explanation in the dialect department. Unlike the sassy Salem from the late-’90s Sabrina the Teenage Witch sitcom, this version of Salem does not speak at all, and therefore has no accent. So if we can accept that maybe nothing about the Riverdale-Greendale universe actually makes sense (Sabrina is a show all about magic, after all), at least we have Salem to keep us grounded.