WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 1, streaming now on Netflix.
Nearly 11 minutes into the premiere of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, viewers are greeted with a date stamp that reads, "Tuesday, October 28th of This Year," but it's never really clear which year that is. While its broadcast cousin, Riverdale, plays out in nebulous, dreamlike era in which characters cruise around in vintage cars and talk on smartphones, the quirky Netflix horror drama leans hard into a faux-1960s backdrop. That is, except when it doesn't.
You see, Greendale is the kind of (seemingly) quaint town where teenagers dressed like extras from American Graffiti flock to the Paramount for a Horrorthon screening of Night of the Living Dead, teacher Miss Wardwell sings along with the car radio to "Bad Moon Rising," and Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) gleefully dances to "Be My Baby." Most of the signs in the first episode of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina point to a late-1960s setting, not far removed from the primary 1964 backdrop of the Archie Comics series that inspired it.
That notion is seemingly supported throughout the first season by the appearance of transistor radios, rotary telephones and black-and-white television sets. When Sabrina's friend Rosalind Walker (Jaz Sinclair) sets out to prove the puritanical Principal Hawthorne (Bronson Pinchot) at Baxter High, she doesn't turn to the school library's computer, but rather the reliable card catalog; and when the manipulative Miss Wardwell (Michelle Gomez) assigns students to research their family histories, they don't go to Ancestry.com -- they actually talk to relatives, which has its own consequences.
But evidence that Greendale's 1960s facade isn't all that it appears first surfaces, rather subtly, in the earliest scenes, when Sabrina's boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch) is confused by the slow-moving zombies in 1968's Night of the Living Dead. While that permits the show's writers to demonstrate the depth of Sabrina's knowledge of classic horror, it also implies Harvey is accustomed to the fast-moving zombies popularized in such early 21st-century films as 28 Days Later (2002), Resident Evil (2002), House of the Dead (2003) and Dawn of the Dead (2004).
Just in case we're reading a little too much into Harvey's remarks, we can find some other cultural clues that lift Chilling Adventures of Sabrina out of its 1960s-style setting. Ignore the classic horror movies advertised at the Paramount theater and playing on television -- the series begins in the days before Halloween, after all, and the teens are avowed fans of the genre -- and listen for Sabrina's mention of the David Cronenberg remake of The Fly, which would bring the series to at least 1986. However, a song playing in Episode 7 takes events forward by at least a decade: Fiona Apple's 1996 hit "Criminal," which wakes Sabrina and draws her to the room where her rival Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) is taking full advantage of her status as Queen of the Feast of Feasts to have, well, an orgy. Hey, we can question her taste in music while admiring her ambition.
The use of "Criminal," within an episode and not merely on the soundtrack, helps to move the events of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to the present day, supporting the initial inference to be made from Harvey's zombie comments, to say nothing of his smartphone -- which, curiously enough, appears to be the only one in Greendale. Of course, that doesn't get us to "This Year," but absolutely nothing will do that: In 2018, Oct. 28 falls on a Sunday; to find it on a Tuesday, we have to go back to 2014, which just so happens to be the year when the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comic debuted.
As for why a relatively modern Greendale doesn't have computers, flat-screen TVs or, aside from Harvey, smartphones, we can only speculate it has something to do with a diabolical curse. However, one would certainly think the Dark Lord approves of Facebook and reality television.
Available now on Netflix, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina stars Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman, Ross Lynch as Harvey Kinkle, Michelle Gomez as Mary Wardwell/Madam Satan, Jaz Sinclair as Rosalind Walker, Chance Perdomo as Ambrose Spellman, Lucy Davis as Hilda Spellman, Miranda Otto as Zelda Spellman and Richard Coyle as Father Blackwood.