So, the new Riverdale.
The CW has taken the classic Archie comics, and brought them into the real world. Well, not the real world, exactly. More like a CW show. They’ve brought them into a CW show. So it’s a darker, more nuanced, grittier Riverdale. (Although not nearly as gritty as the fantastic Afterlife With Archie comics, which place Archie and his nifty pals in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.)
In Riverdale, sufficed to say, there’s murder, illicit affairs, closeted jocks, and a serious lack of lighting.
When the story starts, Jason Blossom, twin brother of Cheryl, Queen Bee of the school, has apparently drowned. No body was found. But was it muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurder?
Of course it was.
Right off I’ll say, I enjoyed the pilot enough to continue watching. However, it’s very much like Gossip Girl, or Pretty Little Liars, and I gave up on both of those shows a couple of seasons in. Eventually you’ve paired up everyone with everyone else, you’ve had every single character betray every other character multiple times, everyone has secrets that come out, and then more secrets that come out again. It all becomes a bit of a yawner, frankly.
I hope the creators of Riverdale don’t just plop the Archie characters down in the CW universe, and forget their provenance – both to honor it, and to turn it on its ear. There were flashes here and there in the pilot, but I’d like more winks to the original. (Kevin calling Archie “swell.” Jughead’s hat. A hint as to where Moose might have gotten his nickname.) The show is, after all, written by Archie Comic’s chief creative officer.
Some general atmospheric stuff: I get that they’re going for a Twin Peaksian vibe here. That small town/soap opera noir, somewhat dreamlike, and very, very dark. Too dark. I mean, the-band-room-is-candlelit dark. I wish they would take a page from Buffy, a show that knew how to work the contrast between a sunny, seemingly perfect burb and its nasty underbelly. Give us some sun, and some bright shiny teens. Every scene at Riverdale High shouldn’t look like they’re about to be blasted with the tornado siren.
The characters in the original Archie comics never change (at least not when I read them back in the 80s.) They act out the same patterns again and again, they take the same girl to the dance (or at least the same two girls, in rotation) – they laugh at the same old bit of wackiness from Jughead, and at some point, Moose sees Reggie flirting with Midge, and we just know Reggie’s gonna get a pasting.
In Riverdale, they slap big fat labels on everyone’s foreheads right in the pilot. Many of the characters declare out loud just who exactly they are, or if they don’t, their friends do it for them. The Perfect Girl. The Fiery Bitch. The Big Jock. The Gay Best Friend. The Ice Queen. But of course, unlike in the Archie comics, these boxes are meant to be broken.
The only person who remains undefined is Archie, because at the start of the show, he’s mired in an identity crisis. He has no idea who he is, and it’s paralyzing him.
Which brings us to the character rundowns. Spoilers ahoy!
First off, Archie’s dad is played by Luke Perry, which is an inspired bit of casting. (Although, speaking of a rehash, Archie’s working-class dad and Veronica’s rich mom having a thing in the past – and now they’re both single (!) is so very Gossip Girl.) Let’s be clear: Archie in the comics is a little shit. He’s a wishy-washy, lying, misogynistic pipsqueak, who plays women against each other. Why two gorgeous, together girls like Betty and Veronica would even talk to him, let alone fawn all over him, is beyond comprehension. But I guess that’s part of the joke.
So Riverdale, smartly, gives Archie a makeover. First of all, he’s hot. And, one of those aforementioned winks, we learn he wasn’t hot the last time any of the characters saw him. He got ripped working for Dad Perry’s construction company all summer. He’s not a freckly ginger, either. Don’t get me wrong, freckly gingers can be uber-hot, but they’re not traditionally as hot as, say, oh, I don’t know, dark auburn broody boys. Just sayin’. So, Archie’s hot AF, so hot, in fact, that he loses his V card (I’m assuming) to the smokin’ music teacher over the summer. He’s still a little obsessed with her, I think (?) which is one of the reasons he can’t commit to his best friend, but never-girlfriend Betty, I think (?) but also because Betty is too good for him (yawn), I think (?). Honestly, we were left hanging as far as Archie’s feelings go. Which would be fine, except I think the writers were trying to be clear. He tells Veronica that he doesn’t think of Betty that way, but then, with the final Jughead-as-Walter-Neff voiceover, we hear that Archie’s heart is broken too, I think (?)
What we do know is: Archie love music. Archie love football. Archie torn. Archie gets to do both. Whee! I’m sure they’re going to create more conflict where this is concerned, but right now, it seems like Archie is broody for no reason, as he tends to get what he wants.
That’s the other thing, his Big Dark Secret with the teacher (aside from the naughty naughty), is that, while they were canoodling in the woods early one morning, they heard a gunshot – right around the time of Jason’s disappearance. Except, at the end of the episode, this problem too goes away for Archie, as they find Jason’s body with a gunshot wound. So he no longer needs to fret about telling the police. Although, hopefully the police will get the time of death wrong, and an alibi will be at stake or something, and that crisis can return. Otherwise, this Archie, like his predecessor, will just be a little shit who gets whatever he wants.
I’m liking Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper so far. She’s a decent actress, and, like Betty in the comics, can go from sweet and perky to hella hot armed only with some hot rollers and a pink dress. Her mother is played by Mädchen Amick, a deliberate nod to Twin Peaks. I’m already fascinated with the mom, as she’s a pretty horrible person, but in a somewhat unique way. I think we’re going to find out that she’s fixated on slights she incurred in high school, and those feed every current grudge.
I’m digging the relationship with Veronica. In the comics, it was always so strange, tricky, and unbelievable. They were sort of best friends, sort of arch nemeses, both fighting over Archie, but each other’s confidants too? In Riverdale, Veronica works hard to become Betty’s friend, because she sees that Betty is a good person, and wants to be like her. In turn, Veronica forces Betty to be bold, and not just eat whatever shit is shoveled her way. It has an immediate effect, especially in regards to her mother. A friendship to root for, which is great, because we know that Archie will come between them. He already has.
Those eyes though. Camila Mendes has some gorgeous, camera-loving, huge brown peepers. Also, they cast a Brazilian-American woman as Veronica, which not only is cool, but necessary, because the world of (original, early) Archie is whitey-white-whitesville. She’s a skilled actor, impressive because she has zero experience on TV before Riverdale. I love what a wit the character is. Her references leap from literary to pop culture, several of them are deep track, all of them are on point. Because it’s been established that Veronica used to be a big ol’ bitch, we can assume that she used to use that sharp tongue for evil. Now it’s used to delight those around her. And occasionally to take down the local nasties (I’m looking at you, Cheryl.) Also, that reformed beyotch thing is interesting. After she kisses Archie, she goes to her mom and puts her head in her lap – the camera pulls in. Although she doesn’t say it, we know she’s thinking, “Can I change? Am I just an awful person by nature?” That’s some good directing and acting. Excited to see more of her struggles with her shoulder devil.
Okay, but here’s my problem though – and it’s not her fault.
When I was 13, and staying at a friend’s aunt’s place for a week, I discovered a huge stash of Archie comics in the back of a closet. I read them all. And let me tell you, I was obsessed with Veronica. Her clothes, her face, her hair, her attitude, the whole shebang. This Veronica… is not quite there. She’s too sweet looking, her hair is too plain, her clothes are meh. This can all be fixed – step up, ye mavens of hair, makeup and wardrobe! Give her extensions- a fantastic head of glossy thick waves. Zhoosh up her makeup: play up those goddess–given eyes. And please, please, get her some fabulous duds. We should be drooling every week over What Veronica Wore. That’s who she was in the comics, that who she should be on the show.
Also, it has to be said, she needs to work on her Ice Queen game. I didn’t quite buy her takedown of Cheryl. I think she has it in her, though.
When we first meet Kevin, in Betty’s bedroom, we know he’s gay. When she calls him ‘Kevin,” I thought, “Really, they couldn’t have made a canon character gay? They had to invent a new one?” BUT, I looked it up, and Kevin is a character, albeit a newish one, in Archie. He’s also gay, in Archie (Yay Archie!) BUT ALSO, bite my tongue about canon characters. Freakin’ MOOSE. Big closeted jock Moose. I love it. I wonder if there’s going to be a Midge. Will she be his beard? So curious.
The actor playing Kevin, Casey Cott, is nailing it well enough – he’s especially strong, as is the character, when he gets salty. I like that he doesn’t hold his tongue, even when he probably should.
I’m putting faith in Riverdale. Since they deliberately labeled Kevin the Fabulous Gay Best Friend, I’m assuming they’re planning on breaking him out of his box as well. Because that depiction is tiiiired, and more than a little insulting. The gay man who only lives to support his female friend with sassy little asides? Yeah, no. Granted, that character template, like all character templates, can turn out exceptionally well with good writing: as long as the character is given a unique personality, agency, and their own desires. (See: Felix from Orphan Black.)
Already we’ve gotten a bit of Kevin’s life outside singing backup for the gals, what with that Moosetacular assignation. Sadly, it ended with a corpus coitus interruptus, but I’m sure they’ll hook up in the future – and since Kev Kev (can I call him Kev Kev?) is playing a dangerous game – one that could damage his heart and/or his person- it’s bound to be interesting.
A pretty stereotypical Queen Bitch of The School, except for the twist that her twin brother and “soul mate” just died, and she was apparently lying about how it happened. Also, there was definitely a creepy sexual element to their relationship in the flashback. And also, also… she seems to have bounced back to being a cheerleading bully and school dance princess pretty darn quickly.
And what’s with all the redheads in Riverdale? Hmmmm….. (Yes, I know it’s in the comics, but they could really play with that.)
JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS
No token minority for the Pussycats – all three of them are black, and brava. Again with the smart diversity. More of this everywhere, please. Also, Josie, at least in re Archie, is really, really mean. A snotty kind of mean. I’m not sure how I feel about this, only, I hope we learn a lot more about her, and Sweet Merciful Zeus, please don’t make her yet another love interest for Archie. He has quite enough on his plate already, thank you very much.
One of the main four characters in Archie, he narrates small bits of the show. We don’t meet him until the very end of the episode, when we learn that he had a falling out with Archie some time ago. He seems to be a bit of an artsy loner, and might end up being a favorite character for that fact alone. Looking forward to more Jughead, including how he got, not to mention held onto that nickname.
To sum up: I’m going to give Riverdale a chance to do some magic. So far, it’s fairly thin on the ground. There are some nice twists to the original characters, but many of the bits fall flat. Cheryl lording over her party, manipulating the game of Seven Minutes in Heaven? It feels like a ‘first idea’ sort of writing choice. Not terrible, but not at all original or surprising. Veronica and Betty kissing at the end of their cheerleading tryout? I get what the joke was supposed to be… we’re supposed to think that’s going to get them on the squad, and then *record scratch* Cheryl points out that that particular device is tres passe… Except, here’s the rub: Riverdale used it in the show for the very same reason that Veronica and Betty used it in their tryout. Cheap titillation. They try to get away with it by bending the fourth wall, but it doesn’t quite fly. Archie’s father’s lecture near the end of the show… about construction, and football, and music, and how Archie lied, doesn’t quite track with what happened earlier in the episode. And so far, Archie is an amorphous blob of a character – but I’ll give that a chance, because I know the point is that he doesn’t know what he wants.
All I can say is, remember the provenance, creators. Keep on winking at us, and you’ll be just fine.