Created by George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo and making her first appearance in 1962's Archie's Madhouse #22, Sabrina the Teenage Witch has a long and glorious legacy that only seems to get more interesting as time goes on.
One of the top-selling and most beloved characters ever to grace the Archie Comics line, Sabrina was quickly given her own ongoing series. That led to an animated series in 1970, and, years later, from 1996 to 2003, her story would become the basis of a TV show starring a post-Clarissa Explains It All Melissa Joan Hart. Meanwhile, in comics, her prankish, sometimes silly adventures evolved along with those of the rest of the Archie crew, and when the horror comic Afterlife With Archie was a success, Sabrina was given her own called The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which will be the basis of a new TV spin-off.
One constant in stories of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, though, is her zany aunts, Hilda and Zelda. Originally appearing as middle-aged witches with little in the way of defining characteristics save their bright green and orange hair, respectively, the two were revamped for the 1996 TV series. Glamorizing them a bit and giving them more fleshed-out personalities as well as actual careers — Hilda as a violinist, Zelda as a scientist and professor — the show offered us a deeper look into their characters than we'd gotten in the comics up to that point. The pair helped make the show, counterbalancing Salem's persistent negativity and Sabrina's naive optimism with a little bit of hard-earned life experience.
While you're waiting for the newest Sabrina reboot, take some time to check out some of the best Hilda and Zelda episodes of the 1996 series.
Season 1, Episode 7: "Third Aunt from the Sun"
There are a few secret aunts that make guest appearances on Sabrina, but one of the greatest is Raquel Welch's turn as Aunt Vesta. She summons a huge bug to terrorize Sabrina's teacher, Mr. Pool, just to get him out of the classroom so she can introduce herself to her niece. She shows Sabrina the world, taking her to Paris and Milan and letting her drink coffee, which her other aunts have rules against. Vesta chastises Hilda and Zelda, accusing them of being stuffy and rule-obsessed, and not allowing Sabrina any fun. She takes Sabrina to a place called, no joke, the Pleasure Dome, and Sabrina refuses to return home with Hilda and Zelda. Wisely, Zelda just shrugs and leads a much angrier Hilda away. When Hilda demands to know why Zelda gave in without a fight, Zelda tells Hilda to simply trust Sabrina to make the right choice in the end.
Meanwhile, Sabrina is disappointed her aunts didn't put up any struggle or attempt to get her to come home. They do, however, give Sabrina's friend Jenny Sabrina's new number, and Jenny calls, reminding Sabrina that they'd planned to go to the movies that night. Wracked with guilt and missing her friends, Sabrina returns home, thanking her aunts for not making a big deal out of things. The aunts contain their joy until Sabrina leaves the room, then they both leap out of their seats to celebrate.
Vesta, for her part, almost begins to feel lonely without Sabrina, so she walks into The Hall of Gratuitous Praise, where a crowd of people cheers compliments and professions of love to her. She shrugs off Sabrina's departure and is never seen again.
Season 1, Episode 22: "The Great Mistake"
A traveling salesman from The Other Realm that exists inside Sabrina's closet pops out and tries to sell Sabrina some useless trinkets. Wise Aunt Zelda pushes him back into the closet, telling him they're not interested and advising Sabrina to get to work on her homework. Sabrina waits until she's down the stairs, then runs back to the closet and buys a “tomorrow ball,” which is supposed to show her the future. Of course, Zelda was right all along, and it's a scam. The ball shows her some of the future, but doesn't account for the ways in which knowing the future will inevitably change the future, so Sabrina gets a C on a project that the ball said she would get an A on, just because she assumes it's in the bag and doesn't bother studying for it.
Instead of redoing the project, Sabrina tries to go to a Smashing Pumpkins concert by flying on a vacuum cleaner but gets pulled over and brought back home. Shrinking to a small size, she begs her aunts and Salem the cat to tell her stories of their biggest mistakes to take some of the sting out of her missteps. They do, and the four of them commiserate until Sabrina returns to her regular size.
This episode also features a scene where Zelda opens a closet and yells “Balls! Balls! Balls! Balls!” as a bunch of tennis balls fall all over the ground in front of her, which is maybe one of the best things to happen through the entire run of this series.
Season 2, Episode 24: "Sabrina's Choice"
Tiring of Sabrina's tendency to pit them against one another, Hilda and Zelda make an extreme decision: they agree to live in separate homes, telling Sabrina that now she must choose which of them to live with.
"Sabrina's Choice" is one of the better episodes of the series because it really highlights the differences in Hilda and Zelda's personalities and how those differences enhance their relationship rather than detract from it. Hilda's house is the exact mirror opposite of Zelda's, and as Sabrina travels between the two we see the contrast between them. She listens to grunge music and jumps on a trampoline in the living room with Hilda, then breaks to go read and listen to classical music with Zelda. Ultimately, we learn that it was just a plan the aunts came up with to teach Sabrina a lesson.
Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell show up in a very random cameo, and this episode also features RuPaul, who initially appears out of drag as a judge presiding over Sabrina's case then later in drag to give Sabrina a makeover complete with a beehive hairdo that she rejects (even though it's awesome).
Season 4, Episode 4: "Little Orphan Hilda"
Sabrina begs her aunts to allow Grandma Spellman (played by Shirley Jones of The Partridge Family) to come to visit, but the aunts are apprehensive due to their mother's overly critical nature. They finally concede to let her come to stay with them so that Sabrina can spend more time with her.
Sabrina is supposed to discuss her family tree in school, so she begins digging around to find out more about her lineage. She discovers paperwork that claims that Hilda was adopted, which leads Hilda to completely lose her sense of self. Worse, she recently gave up the violin in order to open her own clock shop, and Grandma Spellman is angry and disappointed in her for it. Later, Sabrina discovers more paperwork that leads her to believe that Zelda was also adopted.
Zelda and Hilda bond with one another by sharing stories of their mother and their childhood and Grandma Spellman clears up the mistake, assuring them that they are her daughters (not that they wouldn't be anyway) and she loves them.
Season 6, Episode 19: "Guilty!"
Sabrina attempts to have Zelda nominated for the professor of the year at her school, but her plan backfires when the nomination causes the school to investigate Zelda's credentials. She graduated from Harvard, but she graduated over a century prior, and because that's impossible, she's immediately fired from her job.
Although Zelda copes remarkably well, insisting that Sabrina couldn't know and shouldn't blame herself, Sabrina is wracked with guilt. A bus driver shows up to take her on an actual guilt trip, driving her around and refusing to let her out until she figures out how to even the scales and assuage her guilty conscience.
This episode highlights Zelda's more emotional and vulnerable self, which is why I like it better than episodes such as "Sabrina's New Roommate," in which she embraces her wild side. In this, she's perfectly reasonable and kind to Sabrina over the mistake, only breaking down and confessing how much she loved her job in secret. Sabrina realizes she's been focusing on trying to make herself feel better when she should have been trying to help her aunt, and formulates a plan to help Zelda get her job back.