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Gotham & Riverdale: When A Bad Idea Becomes A Good Show

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Gotham & Riverdale: When A Bad Idea Becomes A Good Show

In his afterward to Archie: Collector’s Edition #1 (a digital-only reprint of the first three issues of Archie Vol.2 with art by Fiona Staples, colorists Andre Szymanowicz & Jen Vaughn, and letterer Jack Morelli), writer Mark Waid explains his and Archie Comics’ approach to starting a new era for comics’ oldest teenagers. “All the term ‘updating’ meant, to me, to us, was digging a little more deeply into the kids and their personalities. It meant allowing actual, permanent conflict between them so that there’s a greater, more dramatic sense of consequence to their interactions and their choices.”

Waid and Archie’s angle in rebooting one of the oldest settings in American comics is similar to what governs the CW’s hit TV series Riverdale (whose first season is available on Netflix and returns on Wednesday, October 11 at 8 PM EST).

RELATED: Josie & the Pussycats Snag More Of Riverdale’s Spotlight In Season 2

What’s fascinating about Riverdale is that, for all the out-there dramatic turns it throws at Archie, Jughead and everyone else — from “Archie’s sleeping with a much younger Ms. Grundy” to “The Coopers and Blossoms have hated each other for generations but they’re secretly related and also the Blossom’s maple syrup empire is cover for a drug ring” — the show is honestly doesn’t stray far from what 75+ years of comics have established for these characters. Betty’s committed to doing the right thing for herself and everyone else; Veronica isn’t above being a shallow rich kid but strives to be more; and Archie is naively well-meaning to a fault.

All these qualities are amplified in Riverdale. Here, Betty is a determined truth-seeker determined to uncover the truth about what happened to her older sister Polly. Veronica is struggling to be a better person now that she knows how corrupt her father is, and Archie is someone who believes in absolute right and wrong…but still can’t see how he ruined his friendship with Jughead and how abusive his relationship with Ms. Grundy is. The core of these characters are still there, but now amped-up to match the series’ knowingly melodramatic tone.

That word “knowingly’ is key to understanding this show. The show’s staff — from showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa on down — and cast understand perfectly that this show is, in one sense, an elaborate joke. How could “It’s Archie, but all the parents are goddamn terrible and also there’s murder” not be? But the important thing is that, while the show knows its premise is silly, it plays it perfectly straight, which is the best way to do it. For as goofy as it is to have a survivalist Dilton Doiley or a Cheryl Blossom who’s eternally recreating Cruel Intentions and Crimson Peak, for the show to acknowledge this, be it through one of Jughead’s oh-so-perfectly melodramatic voiceovers or some other method, would tip the balance and kill the tension.

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gotham, riverdale
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