Riverdale: First Impressions (Spoiler-Free)

Sometime in late December last year, my notification screen alerted of the newest series from The CW to join Netflix’s library of weekly TV shows. At first I thought the title, Riverdale, pertained to that ethereal Elven realm from The Lord of the Rings, and briefly noted the poster of what appeared to be millennial teenagers hanging out at a diner, and said to myself, “Well that’s interesting – a modern take on Tolkien’s classic?”, before moving on and not giving it another thought.

To be honest, a story about a Middle-earth legendarium, set in the Instagram era, would have been more original, and something I’d follow in a hearbeat, as I don’t think it has been done before outside the world of fan fiction. As it turned out, Riverdale is actually the very familiar town of a group of teenagers from my comic book-reading grade school past, back when I read every copy of Archie comics I could get my hands on at least fifty times over.

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It must have taken some degree of courage, and a whole lot of confidence, to produce another TV show set in the world of Archie Andrews and the gang of Riverdale High. After all, Archie Comics characters and concepts have appeared in numerous films, cartoons, TV shows, video games, and even radio shows, since their creation in 1941. The characters were so popular among teen-aged readers spanning several generations, that a Christian version of the comics was also widely-circulated for three decades, including those where Archie and friends got busy evangelizing hippies in California. And of course, who can forget how The Archies released the number 1 song of 1969, Sugar, Sugar.

So what exactly is there left to look forward to in this latest resurrection of the classic gang? For one thing, no less than Archie Comics chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote the series, with Greg Berlanti, known for his work in successful titles such as Dawson’s Creek, and Arrow, as executive producer. The main cast, while relatively unknown, is joined by TV veterans Luke Perry as Mr. Andrews, and Mädchen Amick as Mrs. Cooper. The storytelling style has been compared to another popular teen mystery drama, Pretty Little Liars. The basic ingredients for another hit seem to firmly in place.

However, fans of the characters looking to reunite with the wholesome town and its equally swell residents will be sadly disappointed. In this iteration, Betty and Veronica face bigger problems than who gets to be Archie’s date to the prom.   The picturesque town of Riverdale is dark and full of sinister secrets and equally disturbing residents. In this world, Ms. Grundy is a statutory rapist, Mrs. Cooper an anti-social mother who hates all of her daughter’s friends, and that gorgeous red-head Cheryl Blossom, quite possibly, a murderer.

In fact, there was very little of the characters that I could recognize from watching the first two episodes of the new series, apart from the names and some of the characters’ idiosyncrasies. Here are my first impressions and fearless dissections of the main characters, from what I’ve seen in the show so far:

Archie Andrews

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In comicdom, Archie is an extremely likeable fella who seems to be clueless about his gifts, which is the biggest basis of his appeal. He is obsessed with pursuing Veronica, but also has gentle feelings for his best friend Betty. His many talents and interests have him being friends with a lot of groups – jocks, musicians, nerds – but never to the degree that he is best buds with Jughead Jones.

In Riverdale, Archie’s only main draw appears to be his six-pack abs. He seems to be very selfish, and completely oblivious to the feelings of his childhood friends. In the first episode, it is revealed that Archie and Jughead had a major falling-out during the summer, because Archie reneged on their summer plans to chase a mysterious woman. He was also quick to dismiss Betty’s feelings when she confessed them, and didn’t waste any time snogging with Veronica a few hours later in the closet, during a game of 7 Minutes in Heaven. His life’s drama is about how his father does not want to support his dream of becoming a musician in favor of taking over the family business, but in this he fails miserably at eliciting my sympathy. This reincarnation of the eponymous Riverdale bachelor is not one to be liked. I wonder if, like his comics version, he will be killed off at some point in the series too. That would explain why the writers made his character so weakly developed, and just so unlikeable.

Betty Cooper

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As is the case in the comics version, Betty is the nice, girl-next-door member of the gang, except, she does not seem to be a firm member of any group at all in this TV series at the beginning. Instead, she spends most of her time chasing Archie on campus, or else hanging out in her room with her gay best friend Kevin Keller. Her neurotic mother has her on Adderall for weight loss, and Betty blames her for her sister’s nervous breakdown and subsequent rehabilitation at a group home. Apart from her obsession with Archie, she does not seem to have any real interests. I’m still not sure what role she will play in the story, but for now, the writers could not have made a more boring character.

Veronica Lodge

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Here is where the writers seemed to have spent a bit more time trying to give depth to a character. Stripped of wealth after her rich husband’s arrest, Veronica’s mom works as a waitress at Pop Tate’s Chock’lit Shoppe. Not at all like the selfish, spoiled brat of the comics, Veronica of Riverdale is exceptionally more worldly and intelligent than anyone else in town, and has a quick, smart mouth to boot. She seems to have attached herself very early on to Betty, for some inexplicable reason, even groveling for her forgiveness after the closet-snogging incident with Archie, and staunchly defending her from Cheryl Blossom’s mean-girl bullying, queen-bee style. After Betty forgives her for the closet incident, she makes a pact with Betty that they will never let a guy stand in the way of their friendship. It is clear though, that something will, and I am interested to find out what that is.

Jughead Jones

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The narrative in the first two episodes happens in Jughead’s head, and chronicled onto his laptop. In this story, Archie’s loopy best friend, known for his laid-back and easy-going attitude in the comics, is a dark and mysterious writer, who, like Betty, seems to be obsessed with chasing Archie around town as well. His only saving grace is that he is played by Cole Sprouse, the 24-year old version of Cody from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Yup, he is all grown up, very emo, and very gorgeous. I suspect that he will play the role of the sleuth who discovers who did it earlier than everyone else, except he will get killed or else fall into a coma, thereby prolonging the mystery. In the meantime, I just like looking at him.

As a new TV series, Riverdale has the potential to be a good one. But it is so far off from the Archie Comics town, and the characters we’ve known and loved, that it may be best to try not to make any associations at all, and just enjoy another whodunit TV series.

Have you seen Riverdale? Share your impressions in the comments section below.

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