I grew up reading Archie comics. With its upbeat tone, hilarious love triangle, and lovable characters, I obsessively collected the comics for almost a decade. So when I heard that Executive Producer Greg Berlanti (of Arrow fame) had reimagined the comic as a dark and gritty teen soap, I came into this pilot with an open mind. Now that I’ve watched Riverdale‘s debut, I’m not sure it entirely works as much as the powers-that-be would have liked.
The main issue is that the show isn’t all that different from other teen shows like One Tree Hill and 90210, (and apparently Pretty Little Liars which I’ve never watched). There’s a formulaic murder mystery, and the usual slew of high school characters bantering off one another. It’s amusing to be sure, but why use the Archie mythos if you’re not going to make something different? I’ve read that Archie has been reimagined countless times (there’s even a zombie series called Afterlife with Archie), but this show’s going to have to do a whole lot better if it wants to succeed in the current landscape of epic TV.
The best thing Riverdale has going for it is its spot-on cast. In fact, they keep me hopeful that the show might tap into something great in upcoming episodes. K.J. Apa is good as our protagonist Archie (and he certainly looks the part), but it’s Lili Reinhart and Camilla Mendes who are absolutely awesome as Betty and Veronica. In fact, they’re exactly how I would have expected the comic book characters to be, and instill each of their personas with a whole lot of dimension. Betty isn’t your stereotypical good girl, while Veronica has a lot more complexity than you’d imagine from a spoiled rich kid. Weirdly enough, the show never paints them as semi-rivals. In fact, the love triangle is pretty much non-existent at this point, which is a strange albeit refreshing take. Let’s wait and see.
Sadly, the character I was most excited to see was a big disappointment. Cheryl Blossom (how great is her name?) is terrific in the comics, but Madeleine Petsch is saddled with a one-note Queen Bee character (she’s very Blaire Waldorf-ish – yes I sadly watched the first season of Gossip Girl). In addition, Cole Sprouse gets all of two scenes as Jughead, and Sarah Habel is severely miscast as Miss Grundy who is now a hot young teacher in what feels like a CW mandate to appeal to the youth.
It sounds like I’m hating on the show, but really I just want it to succeed. There’s no reason a modern day Archie show shouldn’t take pop culture by storm in this day and age. From a technical perspective, the art direction is stunning. The colors burst off the screen and every frame feels like it was ripped from the comic books. From Pop’s Chock’lit Shop to the Blossoms’ fiery red hair, this show is a visual delight the entire way through.
Bits & Love Triangles
– Did they use Lana Del Rey in the soundtrack? Because it’s funny how much Madeleine Petsch looks like her.
– I’m a big fan of Marisol Nichols as Veronica’s mom. Their dynamic is already one to watch out for. Less exciting is Luke Perry as Archie’s dad Fred (who used to date Hermione).
– Very cute scene with Veronica walking into the diner and basically throwing Archie and Betty’s dynamic into chaos.
– Archie’s dog is called Vegas. I’m not sure I remember him from the comics.
– Very disturbing undertones with Betty’s sister Polly being sent to an institution because of Jason Blossom. Speaking of disturbing, Betty’s mom (played by Madchen Amik) is already aggravating.
– Betty takes Adderall. There’s a really unsettling moment where she digs her fingernails into her fist instead of snapping at Cheryl and makes herself bleed.
– Can’t wait to meet Veronica’s dad, the devil incarnate. At least he sent his wife a suitcase of money.
– Josie and the Pussycats are here! They didn’t leave much of an impression yet. Although I did like the Justin Gingerlake line.
– Loved the way the sex scene in the car between Archie and Miss Grundy is filmed. Also, they heard the gunshot. Uh oh.
– The cheerleading tryouts were too heavy-handed for me, especially Veronica’s big takedown moment of Cheryl. And the kiss? Way too forced.
– Veronica calls Archie “Archiekins”. That nickname is iconic in the comics.
– I’m unsure how to feel about Archie’s music career. Or the fact that he doesn’t want his dad’s business. It’s all very messy.
– My favorite scene in the episode: Veronica and Archie in the closet. The sexual tension, the questions, the kiss – rooting for them already! The weird thing is he really doesn’t feel anything romantic towards Betty (as he tells her she’s too good for him).
– So did Cheryl shoot Jason, or did he shoot himself?
– The voiceover is terrible. I’m sensing a pattern since both Arrow and The Flash have atrocious voiceovers.
– Moose is a closeted homosexual and he has a fling with Kevin. That definitely wasn’t in the comics.
– So who do you think will be the “first” person to be arrested? Do we even care?
Kevin: (to Betty) Game-changer. Archie got hot! He’s got abs now. Six more reasons for you to take that ginger bull by the horns tonight.
Veronica: Is he your boyfriend?
Kevin: No, he’s straight.
Betty: No, we’re just friends.
Kevin: Betty and Archie aren’t dating, but they are endgame.
Veronica: Not to be a complete narcissist, but I thought people would be more…
Kevin: Obsessed with you? Any other year, you’d be trending number one, for sure. This year, though, it’s all about Cheryl trying to win the Best Supporting Psycho Oscar for her role as Riverdale High’s bereaved Red Widow.
Cheryl: So, what are you three hens gossiping about? Archie’s Efron-esque emergence from the chrysalis of puberty?
Betty: But last year, when I tried out, Cheryl said I was too fat. “Too season 5 Betty Draper.”
Veronica: Betty and I come as a matching set. You want one, you take us both. You wanted fire? Sorry, Cherrybombshell, my specialty’s ice.
Moose: For the record, I’m not gay.
Kevin: Obviously not, Moose. You’re on the football team. But if you were gay, what would you like to do?
Moose: Everything but kiss.
Kevin: I love a good closet case.
The script isn’t the cleverest, but the beautiful cinematography and top-notch cast make this watchable. Here’s hoping it improves fast.