In “Riverdale,” Archie, Betty, Jughead, Veronica and the rest of Archie Comics’ central characters, find themselves thrust into a murder investigation that will change their lives forever. The death of Jason Blossom — football hero and twin brother to Cheryl Blossom — will gradually progress from accident to suspected murder, forcing the sleepy town’s citizens’ many secrets into the light. Innocence will be “left behind,” as the show’s poster suggests, but also regained, as each character goes on a journey of self-discovery. Archie will discover his passion for music, Veronica will discover her father’s dark business legacy, Jughead will discover his voice as a writer, and Betty will discover that it’s not always worth it be the perfect “girl next door.”
“Riverdale” — which premieres January 26 on The CW — has been described as a modernized version of “Twin Peaks,” the groundbreaking television series from the ’90s that centered on the murder of Prom Queen Laura Palmer. Not only did Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa confirm this influence, but the series’ opening montage has numerous shots that are clear odes to the cult-classic series. Having seen the first four episodes, it’s clear that in addition to channeling “Twin Peaks,” “Riverdale” owes its life to other teen dramas as well, like “Friday Night Lights,” “Everwood,” “One Tree Hill,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Glee.” Taking cues from classic “Archie,” “Afterlife with Archie,” and Mark Waid’s current run of “Archie,” “Riverdale seamlessly pulls Archie characters off the page and brings them to life in a dark yet vibrant teen drama.
The first episode begins with voiceover — much like many other CW comic book adaptations — but the show is not narrated by Archie, the show’s assumed protagonist. Rather, he hear from Jughead Jones, who takes on the role of the town’s biographer. Much like Rod Serling from “The Twilight Zone” and the quirky narrator from “Jane the Virgin,” Jughead tells the story of “Riverdale” from afar, referring to himself in the third person, walking the audience through the “accident” which claimed Jason Blossom’s life and the aftermath that followed. Each episode is titled a “Chapter” — as if pulled from Jughead’s forthcoming novel. The episode titles are also classic movies names, like “The River’s Edge,” “Body Double,” and “The Last Picture Show.”
The premiere episode quickly establishes the show’s cast — Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa), Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), and Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) — how each character spent their summer, and how they feel about starting their sophomore year at Riverdale High. Numerous supporting characters are also introduced, like Betty’s gay best friend Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), Archie’s construction worker father Fred Andrews (Luke Perry, from ’90s teen drama “90210”), leader of Josie and the Pussycats Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray), the self-appointed queen of Riverdale and sister to Jason Blossom, Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), Betty’s overbearing mother Alice Cooper (Mädchen Amick, who co-starred in “Twin Peaks”), and Veronica’s “Good Wife”-esque mother Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols, who guest starred in “90210”). These characters all have secrets of their own, which are hinted at in the premiere and unfold as the series progresses. Ms. Grundy (Sarah Habel) is also introduced, but instead of being a gray-haired homeroom teacher like in the comics, she’s Archie’s young music teacher — the woman with whom he is having an affair.
“Riverdale” captures both the light and dark side of current Americana extremely well. It’s easy to sympathize with these characters as they struggle with classic “Breakfast Club”-like high school scenarios. Jughead is bullied by the jocks, Betty loves and is rejected by the boy next door, Veronica is treated like a princess when she just wants to be normal, Archie wants to pursue music while his father wants him to pursue business. These struggles are relatable, and ground the characters who are grappling with the death of their friend.
“Riverdale” also stays true to its comic roots. Josie and the Pussycats sing classic Archies song “Sugar Sugar” in the second episode at a Pep Rally to honor Jason’s memory. Pop’s Chock’Lit Shoppe is the centerpiece of almost every episode. Veronica and Hermione Lodge are served by their trusty butler Smithers. Ethel Muggs makes her debut in episode three, perfectly played by “Stranger Things” favorite Barb (Sharron Purser). Archie begins to play guitar and write songs, and Betty even mentions working on cars with her dad.
The show even incorporates themes from some newer “Archie” titles, like Adam Hughes’ “Betty & Veronica.” In fact, despite Archie being the default lead character, “Riverdale” spends a lot of time developing Betty and Veronica’s friendship. While their rivalry is introduced in episodes one and two, they are solving puzzles and bringing down bad guys by episodes three and four. There’s even a hint of the Lodge family purchasing a Riverdale landmark to build something new — an issue at the center of the current “Betty & Veronica” comic.
Overall, “Riverdale” in off to an outstanding start. It seamlessly blends the small town high school feel of the Archie Comics world with a mystery that would make David Lynch proud. “Riverdale” does have a dark tone, not in terms of being violent or graphic, but in terms of the emotional effect Jason’s death has on the town. The show also feels fresh and modern. Kevin, Veronica and Cheryl deliver enough movie references and fast talking banter that’s reminiscent of Lorelai Gilmore. The soundtrack and score also fit the show perfectly. Blake Neely (“The Flash,” “Arrow,” “Supergirl,”) has written a score that is light and hopeful, channeling an “I Know What You Did Last Summer” vibe. The soundtrack also features some great hits — both trendy and soon-to-be-discovered talent — especially the opening song, a haunting track from “Lost River” called “Tell Me.” If you love a good mystery, enjoy the tension of love triangles heartbreak, and sexual awakening, and think you can solve the mystery of “Who killed Jason Blossom?” then you will adore “Riverdale.”
“Riverdale” premieres January 26 on The CW at 9/8C.