Archie, Betty, and Veronica – they’re three high school friends and one of the longest-standing love triangles in pop culture, ever since the Archie comics first popped up in the 1940s. The endless antics and timeless teenage relationships of the fictional gang of friends, including Archie’s best friend Jughead, is revamped in the slick new CW show, Riverdale, which just concluded its first season and can be watched in its entirety on Netflix. However, gone are the wholesome, light-hearted storylines, relatively chaste romances, and staid group dynamics of the long-running comic series; instead, Riverdale’s version is injected with campy, neo-noir elements and a fresh take on all the characters (especially the girls), subverting the mid-century gender norms of the source material and creating an addicting new story where (handsome, sweet, but dumb) Archie is no longer the main protagonist.
In the pilot, a murder mystery surrounding star footballer Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines) begins to bring up the hidden darkness in the small town of Riverdale, from the upper echelons of society to the criminal underworld. School is about to start and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), the perennial girl-next-door, is ready to tell her best friend and crush Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) how she feels about him. At the same time, New York socialite Veronica Lodge (Camilla Mendes) has just moved into town, inciting gossip and provoking jealousy from self-proclaimed queen bee Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). Narrating events while brooding over his first novel, outsider Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse, yes, of Suite Life fame) also finds himself drawn into the small town drama. Lastly, the parents of the teens—from Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) to Alice Cooper (Mädchen Amick) and Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols)—find themselves entangled with old flames, suspicious activity, and their kids’ storylines. Salacious drama abounds in Riverdale, the town with pep!
As a character, Archie proves to be the weakest link. Pretty, uncomplicated, and heroic, the star of the eponymous source material works better in a supporting role, which Riverdale does eventually lean towards (ridiculous music career goals and problematic romances notwithstanding). The far more intriguing character proves to be Betty, whose good-girl persona (and cutesy wardrobe) turns out to be a part of her identity that she struggles with while still striving to be independent and moral. Her desire to do the right thing makes her the driving force in uncovering the truth behind Jason Blossom’s murder. Thankfully, she doesn’t really butt heads against her canonical frenemy Veronica as their relationship solidifies into a healthy one almost right away. Most shockingly, however, is the switch from love triangle to (spoilers!) love square as Jughead and Betty find themselves falling in love convincingly and seriously. But the real teenage star in Riverdale is Cheryl. Slightly deranged, far too close to her dearly departed brother, and with the one-liners of a reality-TV star, Cheryl is the most entertaining part of the show. Her outfits are always on-point and her dialogue is outrageous and hilarious. Plus, she lives in a gothic mansion á la Crimson Peak.
Some of the other canon characters are sidelined, sadly. Josie (Ashleigh Murray) of the musical group Josie and the Pussycats, Archie’s nemesis Reggie Mantle (Ross Butler), and Jughead-enamoured Ethel Muggs (Shannon Purser) get a few good moments each but don’t really take centre stage for long. Hopefully they do get bigger parts in the next season (although Ross Butler is leaving for 13 Reasons Why and Reggie will be recast with, hopefully, another actor of Asian descent).
The story is pretty standard, soapy drama and intrigue, half teen angst and half small town mystery. There are lots of references to other similar shows: Twin Peaks, Veronica Mars, Pretty Little Liars, etc. and the show is mostly well done and certainly binge-worthy. The cast is gorgeous, even some of the “adults”, many of who were also teen idols back in the day and have still got it. Riverdale somehow managed to scratch that Gossip Girl itch that I hadn’t even been aware that I had. Highly recommend.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 3.6