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Los Angeles Times
November 9, 2001 Friday Home Edition
Calendar; Part 6; Page 29; Entertainment Desk

TUNED IN

'Sabrina' Still Casts a Family Spell

LEE MARGULIES
TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sabrina needs a favor, fast. Being a witch, she transports herself to see Mercury, messenger for the gods. Arriving unannounced, she launches into an explanation: Her former boyfriend is a hockey player, but he's got an ankle injury and he's not playing well and the coach has benched him, so she's wondering if maybe Mercury has some speedy skates.

"And you are the goddess of what--run-on sentences?" Mercury (Patrick Bristow) inquires.

That's what I've always liked about "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." It's aimed at young viewers but it manages to throw in some decent jokes for parents too.

In that sense, "Sabrina" really is magical. Watching the 5-year-old sitcom seems like time traveling. It's a throwback--to "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie," obviously, but, more than that, to the days when family shows were a television staple, not niche programming.

Admittedly, the humor is broad and bland. When Sabrina (Melissa Joan Hart) fails to return Mercury's skates in good condition tonight (8 p.m., WB), Zeus is summoned. "Please don't take out my liver," she pleads. "I have midterms in two weeks and it's really hard to study without a vital organ!"

But it's a show you can park your kids in front of without worrying that they'll be exposed to something crude, sexual or strictly for adult sensibilities. (Not counting commercials and news promos, of course.) That in itself is pretty cutting-edge these days.

The laughs tonight come from Salem the talking cat (who appears in a double role, thanks to a cloning experiment) and Zeus (Dion Anderson), who proclaims, "Mercy is a wonderful concept, but I find it gets in the way of punishment."

What parent can't relate to that?

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