Everything is the same, and yet so very different. You know how adaptations do that sometimes? It’s like when Spike Jonze adapted children’s book classic Where the Wild Things Are and made this lush, dark, foreboding contemplation on life and death and identity instead of it just being a kid in a wolf suit getting a time out. The names were the same, even some of the visuals were familiar. But it just felt different. Disturbingly so.
This show is Archie Comics gone noir, but at the same time it is such a a teen drama that if it were any more Dawson’s Creek it would be actionable. Except that maybe Dawson’s Creek was more than a little bit Archie in some of its themes—in fact, most every teen-centric tale of the past seventy-five years has owed a lot to this seminal comic strip, in which the fresh-faced eternal high school student Archie Andrews courts, and is courted by, his town’s saint/whore metaphors, sweet blonde Betty Cooper, and sultry brunette Veronica Lodge.
Here, a murder mystery is thrown into the mix, but sadly it’s not of the Archie’s Weird Mysteries there-are-monsters-in-town-now sort of thing. Taking some inspiration from that turn-of-the-century animated silliness would actually have made this show all the better, to be honest–and you know things are pretty dire when a cartoon that once featured a swarm of humanoid bees descending on Prom is being held up as a possible improvement.
Our story starts off with narration, which is rarely good. We later learn the narrator is Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), who has gone emo and loner and has replaced his court jester hat canonical in the comics with a collection of hipster beanies. He appears to be wearing several at once. He is no longer jolly and kind of dim. He is deep, man. Deep. He feels things deeply. You can just tell.
Jughead is writing up the true and terrible tale of one Jason Blossom, who went missing on the lake at the end of summer vacation. Now school is back in session and Jason’s twin sister, mean girl Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), has decided to Amanda Knox this whole situation and be very suspiciously not completely devastated by her brother’s death. (She was there, even, or so she claims.) When the missing Jason’s body is discovered replete with a bullet hole to the head on the eve of the back to school formal — it’s a thing, apparently — Jughead’s narration gives us to believe that the first arrest will be made the very next day. Oh, do let it be Cheryl!
Jughead’s old friend is the newly-hot Archie Andrews (KJ Apa — not a natural redhead, by the by), and Archie is having himself some Girl Problems. To wit, his best-friend Betty (Lili Reinhart) finally reveals her true feelings for him, Joey Potter-style (“You’re too good for me!” he declares), but he has fallen immediately in crush with the new girl in town, Jen Lindley, er, I mean, Veronica Lodge (Camilla Mendes), and also has been making some summer loving in the back of a car with his high school music teacher, the unreasonably young and attractive Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel). Archie is both Dawson and Pacey in this scenario. (Apologies if you don’t recognize the parallels to Dawson’s Creek.) (If you don’t, you really won’t like this show.)
So, Archie has discovered within himself the need to Create Art, penning some iTunes-ready musical tie-ins for the season ahead, as well as making it onto the Varsity football team, because not enough girls were swooning after him. Betty and Veronica try out for the cheerleading squad, because hey, feminism is for dummies (and then they make out, for some reason). There’s a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven at a party.
Meanwhile, Betty’s mom is THE WORST, and Veronica’s mom is named Hermione — and yes, that is canonical from the comics, folks — and has recently been exiled from New York to Riverdale after her husband was indicted for assorted shady business dealings. She used to date Archie’s dad.
Archie’s dad is played by Luke Perry.
Twin Peaks alum and noted makes-me-use-the-insert-symbol-menu-to-spell-her-name-correctly Mädchen Amick plays Betty’s mom, whose name is Alice. Alice Cooper. That’s what comes of taking your source material from the 1940s. (Luke Perry’s name is Fred.)
Grown adults try to convince us they’re sophomores.
And Josie and the Pussycats are there.
It really is the most terrible show. All melodrama and histrionics and questionable casting choices and oh, the teen speak is enough to make you cringe, with references so pointed and yet out of place that the show will date faster than a Kanye song. (A reference that will also date, obviously.)
Here’s the thing, though. I am absolutely going to watch it. The part of my malformed brain that stayed the course through ten seasons of Beverly Hills 90210, seven seasons of Pretty Little Liars, six seasons of Gossip Girl, four seasons of Greek and one season of the tragically aborted Hellcats is not going to let me walk away. I want to know what happened to Jason. Will Archie get the girl, and if so, which one? What is up with Veronica’s dad? What did Jason do to Betty’s sister Polly? What happened between Archie and Jughead? Why are everyone’s parents so sketchy? Will Archie ever do anything to make him worthy of all this devotion? (His abs notwithstanding.)
I need to know–even though I think I probably already know. Which is no doubt why I still buy an Archie Comics Digest once a year or so. It’s all so comforting, so familiar… just like this show. It’s all be done before, from the dead teen in the water to the love triangle to the new girl in town to the hot-for-teacher hookup to the domineering parents threatening to take over the narrative.
And I’m hooked. Also, I can’t wait to see what they’ve done with Big Ethel.
SEASON PASS: Yes… to my shame.
Riverdale airs Thursdays on The CW at 9PM.
Comic Book Adaptation | Season 1, Episode 1 | January 26, 2017
Based on Archie Comics | Created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa | The CW
Starring KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, Marisol Nichols, Madelaine Petsch, Ashleigh Murray, Mädchen Amick, Luke Perry