There are few actresses that simultaneously embody teen coolness and groan-inducing forehead slaps like Melissa Joan Hart. It's been exactly 11 years since her hit show, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, faded from the Mortal Realm into memory. Luckily for lovers of Sabrina Spelling, her two offbeat aunts, Hilda and Zelda, and their talking cat, Salem, the show lives as reruns on Hulu and regurgitated BuzzFeed lists ("21 Life Lessons Learned From Sabrina, The Teenage Witch," "Sabrina the Teenage Witch Is the Best Show," "Why Salem Was the Real Star of Sabrina The Teenage Witch," etc). Since then, Hart has attempted to redefine who she is - and was - in today's celebrity landscape, a proclamation that doesn't hold a candle to the Internet's cage of nostalgia.
During the height of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch's popularity, she existed in the same stratosphere as other three-named icons like Sarah Michelle Gellar and her co-star in Can't Hardly Wait, Jennifer Love Hewitt. They were portraits of aspiration, a bold, brave, and beautiful trifecta. They were that thing teenagers will forever want to be. But Hart was different from her contemporaries: She literally grew up in front of us on Nickelodeon before making her way to ABC Family. Unlike Sarah Michelle Gellar breaking away from Buffy as a ruthless Upper East Sider in Cruel Intentions, Sabrina was always an extension of Clarissa. She was fashionable, daring, and comical. Above all, she was fun in a non-threatening, TGIF-sort-of-way when she did things like turn her frenemy into a pineapple.
That was also true when she made her transition into movies, starring alongside Adrian Grenier in Drive Me Crazy. While that movie wasn't the biggest hit, it did give her a leading role in a feature-length film as a popular girl swooning for her next door neighbor, an angst-ridden artist type, and a spot in the video for a massive Britney Spears song, "(You Drive Me) Crazy." Britney then starred in an episode of Sabrina. She was riding a wave with the biggest teen pop star and finding her niche at the multiplex. It was a pop culture moment that made sense.
And then she disappeared.
Sure, she didn't disappear outright, but it feels like that's what happened. Toward the height of Sabrina's run, Hart gave more revealing, adult interviews, similar to what modern starlets and pop stars like Miley Cyrus do to ditch their Disney roots. She said that Nine Inch Nails was her favorite band ever, she claimed she threw "water" in boxer Oscar de la Hoya's face when they were drunk (he called her Sabrina), and in her episode of MTV Cribs, she showed us all Sabrina shot glasses she owned. She also used a doll of herself to hold paper towels in place, almost begging to wipe away her image and the sticky sweetness of Tanqueray, her favorite gin, in a home that also included multiple shrines to Shirley Temple. But she was still Sabrina.
At 37-years-old, Melissa Joan Hart continues to distance herself from that image. After all, it remains her bread and butter. You only have to watch Disney Family's Melissa & Joey, starring fellow teen dream, Joey Lawrence, in a format almost identical to the single-camera sitcoms that made her famous, to know that. She even revisited Sabrina in a Funny Or Die skit, featuring Salem.
But she also gave interviews about how she hates cats because of her experience on the show. "The set was covered in cat food," she explained. "I don't do cats anymore." When she did a stint on Dancing with the Stars, Jimmy Kimmel asked her if she used any witchcraft during her final performance. She wasn't pleased "Whoa, hold on. That joke is, like, 1996," she said. Kimmel's response: "Yeah, you know, but so are you."
She's done interviews with everyone from Entertainment Tonight to Katie Couric, talking about her transition from child star to full-fledged adult without the traditional pitfalls of celebrity. While Britney Spears lost custody of her children, rolled out of a car without underwear, and was held under a 5150 psychiatric hold, for example, Hart had a family of her own without virtually any paparazzi attention. But in her punny book, Melissa Explains It All, a riff on her iconic portrayal as Clarissa Darling, she claims to have dabbled in ecstasy, mescaline, and making out with the likes of Nick Carter, the blonde Backstreet Boy, for about a year-and-a-half. Paris Hilton also offered her cocaine around the time Spears had her breakdown. Melissa Joan Hart stayed out all night and was showed up high to her own Maxim cover shoot. Her Sabrina confessions come across as an attempt to hold onto fame, all the while separating what made her famous.
This all lead to a $2 million Kickstarter campaign a week after Zach Braff launched his own project with Veronica Mars-levels of ambition. Hart set out to make a movie called Darci's Walk of Shame, where she would play the character doing the walk of shame. In the campaign video, she jokes, "People don't see me that way. The see may as Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." The movie was supposed to have "no black cat" and "no magic." It raised a little over $51,000 of its $2 million goal after a month. The project was cancelled.
11 years since Sabrina, the Teenage Witch ended, Melissa Joan Hart is a reminder about how a magical gift can be a bewitching curse.