SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the series premiere of “Riverdale,” which as of publication has not yet aired on the west coast.
More than two years after it was first announced as being in development, “Riverdale” premiered on The CW Thursday night, delivering upon its stated promise of “Archie meets David Lynch;” exactly how Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer and “Riverdale” showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa billed the series in an interview with CBR back in 2014.
While it’s not yet apparent if combining the perennially wholesome world of Archie Comics with a grisly murder and an illicit teacher-student affair is a formula built to last, it’s certainly captured the attention of observers curious exactly how Aguirre-Sacasa, executive producer Greg Berlanti and the rest of the show’s creative team will pull it off, or if it was even a good idea in the first place. So far, that answer is mostly a yes, with a first episode that unabashedly “goes for it” and succeeds in being a bonkers version of Archie that is still, somehow, reminiscent of “Archie.” (Not nearly enough Reggie, though — here’s hoping for way more Ross Butler in future installments.)
The series premiere (ominously titled “Chapter One: The River’s Edge”) definitely challenges what the world at large expects from Archie’s pals and gals, in the first live-action venture featuring the core Riverdale characters since 1990’s uniquely regrettable “Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again” TV movie. Even in a post-“Afterlife with Archie” world where comics readers have now seen Archie shot to death when saving his friend from an assassination attempt and stuck in the midst of a bleak zombie apocalypse, “Riverdale” manages to do some surprising things with these characters. Here are the five biggest from the debut.
Moose is curious
In Archie comic books, lovable oaf Moose Mason (played on “Riverdale” by Cody Kearsley) is always romantically linked to Midge Klump, typically exerting his possessiveness to an extreme — alright, disturbing — degree. There’s no Midge in “Riverdale” yet, and if there was, she might not be Moose’s type. Moose sets up a secret rendezvous towards the end of the episode with the openly gay Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), where Moose (who Kevin describes as a “closet case”) lets it known that he’s not gay, but OK with “everything but kissing.”
They don’t get to that, though — the fun is quickly ruined by the discovery of Jason Blossom’s sodden, bullet-pierced corpse, which kicks off the central “Riverdale” mystery. That’s right, a bullet-pierced corpse is what drives the action of a TV show based on Archie Comics. The future remains interesting.
Incest? Is that incest?
Seemingly on a mission to shatter every taboo in as efficient of a manner as possible, the opening minutes of “Riverdale” detail the last time the Blossom twins saw each other, before Jason Blossom became the aforementioned bullet-pierced corpse. Turns out, shortly before Jason died, he and Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) were together in what sure seemed like a distinctly romantic boat ride for a brother and a sister to share. If that was too subtle, there’s also a rather deliberate shot of the two holding hands.
Yep — though no incest is directly confirmed, that’s definitely the implication. And it actually shouldn’t be surprising to those familiar with Aguirre-Sacasa’s work, as the writer makes the exact same implication in the excellent (and sorely missed) “Afterlife with Archie.” It remains to be seen if this will be spelled out more at any point in the series, but it’s clear that the show wanted to send a message very early on that this is a different type of story than you’ll find in a Double Digest.
Betty and Veronica share a smooch
Some of the “Riverdale” teasers showed Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) kissing, suggesting that the classic Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle could have a rather different dimension to it. Those teasers, as such things often are, were actually misleading — rather than a romantic moment, Veronica kisses Betty in a oddly out-of-place desperation move when Cheryl says there isn’t any “heat” to their cheerleading audition (it’s not clear why Veronica thought that would help their chances). Cheryl isn’t impressed, declaring that “faux-lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994” — which makes you wonder why it was included in the show’s marketing, then. Meta!
Betty and Veronica’s (platonic) friendship is one of the highlights of the “Riverdale” pilot, portraying them as actual friends who have each other’s backs (despite having just met) rather than “frenemies” (though, and this may seem like a long shot, Archie may end up causing some drama between them!). It’s especially important given that Archie and Jughead, the other major friendship of the Archie world, are estranged when the action of “Riverdale” starts.
Archie and Miss Grundy totally did it
In Archie comic books, Miss Grundy is portrayed as an elderly schoolmarm, with a long pointy nose identical to Jughead’s. In “Riverdale,” she’s played by Sarah Habel, who is 34 and attractive, and the character is now a hip music teacher. So while it would surely be more surprising if “Riverdale” put Archie (K.J. Apa) in a romantic relationship with a comics-accurate version of Miss Grundy, it’s still a little shocking that the a major part of this show is the fact that the de facto protagonist — Archie Andrews himself — had sex with his teacher (especially when they make it a point that Archie and the gang are sophomores, meaning their 4th of July tryst happened shortly after his freshman year).
While there does appear to be some regret and hesitance on both sides, it’s mostly because the two heard a gunshot the morning after hooking up (don’t forget the bullet-pierced corpse) and hadn’t come forward with that information, and not because of the nature of the crime. Hopefully future episodes will contain a lot less glamorization of statutory rape and more dealing with consequences.
It actually kind of feels like Archie
The biggest surprise of “Riverdale” is that despite all of the above, it doesn’t just feel like a teen soap opera where the characters happen to have the names of Archie characters. At least from the pilot, it justifies its place in the bizarre landscape of Archie history right alongside “Archie’s R/C Racers” and the licensed Christian comics from the ’70s. For the most part, the characters act how you’d want quasi-real world versions of these characters to act — though a giant plate of burgers next to Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) laptop when Archie finds him at Pop’s would have been been a welcome touch. The dynamics are all about right, and if they’re not, it feels like they’re that way for a reason. It’s to the credit of Aguirre-Sacasa, who pulled off something very similar with “Afterlife with Archie.”
The only real exception is Archie himself — while the show does do an admirable job of balancing his everyman persona (a football player and a songwriter!), he’s so moody and humorless that it’s hard to reconcile him with the goofball riding around in a jalopy. With a dad like Luke Perry — er, Fred Andrews — it’s no wonder this Archie is so brooding, but let’s hope future episodes show him with the charm to justify Betty and Veronica both falling for him.
“Riverdale” airs 9 p.m. Thursdays on The CW.