Riverdale – A Few Thoughts at the Halfway Point
We are halfway through the first season of Riverdale, the new CW network show that takes inspiration from the classic Archie Comics series. Riverdale comes to us from executive producers Greg Berlanti (Executive Producer of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow) and Sarah Schechter (Executive Producer of Arrow) with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Chief Creative Officer for Archie Comics and creator of Afterlife with Archie) writing the series. Prior to airing, Aguirre-Sacasa described Riverdale as “Archie meets Twin Peaks.” After seven episodes (or “chapters” in Riverdale speak), I thought it time to offer some thoughts and comments.
Let’s start with the criticisms, shall we?
Riverdale has received a considerable amount of criticism from die-hard Archie fans and critics alike. Most of the critics speak to the self-aware, campy nature of the show. They also complain about the tone, pacing, and plot. And of course, there are the issues with the characters. Archie fans hate the unorthodox portrayal of their beloved characters. Critics hate the archetypes. Both are unahppy with the way it all comes together in an angsty, high school murder mystery.
Cinemablend had the following to say after the show premiered:
I get what the series is trying to do; it’s filtering these classic, wholesome archetypes through a Lynchian lens to highlight the absurdity of the nostalgic comic strip. However, the fact of the matter is that the Archie aspect of Riverdale often feels like a total afterthought that was shoehorned in without a discernible plan for how to capitalize on it…..Riverdale tries to be The OC and Twin Peaks at the same time, and it can’t seem to figure out how to reconcile those two ideas into something cohesive.
And of course let’s not forget the product placement and sales pitch for CoverGirl which was fairly unobtrusive to begin with (I actually enjoyed the first few “transformation” into character clips they showed), but has become annoying and flagrant (for instance, that close-up and pause on the make-up Josie used before the talent show). It was reminiscent of the tongue-in-cheek use in the horrible Josie and the Pussycats movie from 2001, but not in a good or clever way.
All that said, I like Riverdale.
Yes, it does make references and allusions to what’s come before. The cheerleading training is reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Betty’s snark reminds you of a lesser Veronica Mars. The dark colors and eerie tone at times call back to Twin Peaks. Cheryl cascading down the stairs at her home is like Crimson Peak. There are all kinds of references, some of which work while others don’t even come close to the original genius they are trying to reference. But if you’re like me, you love seeing the references anyway, bad or good. And when you get glimpses of DC Comics posters on Archie’s walls? Well, it makes me wonder what will be referred to next.
And yes, the cast did start off as modern caricatures of the original comic characters, using the Betty-Archie-Veronica love triangle as its main link to the comics. But it strayed quickly from that (which angered fans of the original comics) and started to develop a friendship with Betty and Veronica using Cheryl as a new foil. It focused on the illicit relationship Archie developed with his teacher (which is problematic on many levels, but that’s for a discussion some other time). And it turned to the parents.
The parents in the show are interesting in and of themselves. However, it is more than a little off-putting that all the adult women are terrible people. Betty’s mother is a psychopath; Veronica’s mother is a liar; Josie’s mother is power hungry; and let’s not forget Miss Grundy preying on younger men. And yet Archie’s dad (Luke Perry) is portrayed as a kind man with a good heart. The moms, aside from Betty’s (played by Mädchen Amick aka Shelly Johnson in Twin Peaks – maybe that’s why she’s so crazy?), do have some redeeming moments but it’s disheartening that we continue to see women portrayed so badly.
But once the show lets go of the trite Betty-Archie-Veronica love triangle, it starts to find its rhythm. It still seems like it can’t decide whether or not to highlight the Archie stereotypes or focus on the murder mystery, but as it develops its characters (of which there are a lot to develop, making the plot often jump from story to story), it actually does pull you in.
And then there’s Jughead.
I love Jughead!! While K.J. Apa as Archie may be dull and lifeless most of the time, Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones is magic. He’s an outsider with insight. He’s vulnerable and yet driven with an intelligent fire. And having Betty recognize the magic of Jughead makes the show so much better. I just hope it doesn’t fall back into the Archie archetype and somehow twist Betty’s relationship with Jughead as a way to get Archie (who I also like better developing a relationship with Valerie (Hayley Law).
It remains to be seen whether they can pull all the plot points back into a cohesive story, but for the time being, I’m enjoying the ride. I’m not normally a fan of the teen angsty dramas. I never really liked One Tree Hill or The O.C. I never got into The Vampire Diaries. But something about Veronica’s struggles with her mom and feelings for her dad (which a one-shot comic helps illuminate a bit ) feels real. Betty’s love for her missing and recently found sister is touching. And the question of sanity for both sisters is intriguing. Can Jughead’s father be redeemed? Will Josie’s father ever be proud of her achievements?
And who killed Jason Blossom?
As you can see from how many moving parts there are, that main question that initiated the series, that made the series feel a little like Twin Peaks, has lost its importance in the midst of everything else. Riverdale is a bit of a messy, jolting, roundabout ride, but I’ll stay on it for the time being. The costumes, the music, and Cole Sprouse make it worth an hour of my time each week.