Guys, we have some great news. “Riverdale” is just peaches. The CW’s new re-imagining of the “Archie” comics is beautifully shot, well-acted and intelligently-written. It pays wonderful homage to the comics while providing some very necessary updates. The result is a smart teen drama that manages to tackle current social issues while simultaneously weaving in a pretty creepy mystery.
It’s also chock full of Easter Eggs from the comics, so if you’re an “Archie” fan and you like the CW, boy is this ever your show. We’re having so much fun with this series that it’s only been four weeks and we already have a list a mile long of things we love about it. Okay, not a mile, just our standard 15-entry-long list. Read on and let us know if you agree or if we’re fanning out way too much.
WARNING: The following list contains spoilers for Season One of CW’s “Riverdale.”
15. JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS ARE LEGIT
Is the first season soundtrack out, yet? Because not since “Glee” have we wanted to walk around with a show’s music pouring into our brains. Josie and the Pussycats are a seriously talented band we’d actually listen to. Plus they’re a decent tribute to the comics band, writing their own songs, playing their own instruments and sporting the group’s trademark cat ears.
The supremely talented Ashleigh Murray leads the Pussycats as Josie McCoy, and she’s backed up by Asha Bromfield (Melody) and Hayley Law (Valerie). When poor Archie tries to timidly ask for some songwriting guidance on his own heartthrob compositions, Josie shuts him down right quick, telling him the band is too busy trying to build a brand to futz around with his small-town B.S. Poor Archie looks like he’s about to cry, but Pussycats don’t care! They’re there to work, and it shows. At the band’s first appearance they nail a killer hip-hop/marching band cover of The Archies’ classic, “Sugar Sugar,” and then later drop an original recording, “All For Me,” that’s just as dang catchy. Slay on, Pussycats.
14. MRS. GRUNDY’S MAKEOVER
Don’t get us wrong, Miss Grundy was an amazing teacher in the comics. She believed in her students, encouraged them and didn’t come down on them as hard as Wetherbee. But she’s also a little two-dimensional (pun totally intended). Since the “Riverdale” kids are set to spend a lot of time at high school, they’re going to need to interact with a teacher on a regular basis.
Turning her into a conflicted, smoldering, very inappropriate music teacher gives her some serious narrative weight and longevity. She’s already at the center of the main mystery, not to mention the very uncomfortable object of affection of the main character, who she’s totally taking advantage of. She’s still incredibly supportive of her students… just in a far more complicated way. It’ll be interesting to see what the show does with her. It’s also funny to imagine her comic book inspiration clutching her pearls at what her new iteration is up to.
13. THE RETRO DESIGN
While a re-imagining for sure, “Riverdale” is faithful to its source material in several key ways, one of which is its design. The show’s set in the present, but the costumes and sets hearken back to the dreamy 1950s backdrop of the original comics. Betty’s pastel palate, topped with perky blond ponytail, Veronica’s Audrey Hepburn/Betty Page-Lite wardrobe and Archie’s trademark letterman jacket all pay homage to, without imitating, the classic Archie look.
“Riverdale” itself does much the same thing. It embraces the identity of sleepy small town outside the mainstream, so Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, Riverdale High, heck, even Betty’s house, all look like they’re happily stuck mid-century. That’s not to say there’s no modernity on the show — smartphones abound, as do current pop culture references and some modern architecture. The subtle ’50s throwbacks work because they’re just that: subtle. The show’s aiming to update, not mimic, after all, and it toes the line between the two very well.
12. HIGH-BROWED REFERENCES
Here’s to Truman Capote, Toni Morrison, Thornton Wilder and more! These were just a few of the smarty-pants literary names dropped in the pilot. This makes us happy for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that the writers on “Riverdale” aren’t shying away from the fact that the high school students on their show actually, you know, go to school. Aside from “Gilmore Girls,” not many characters on CW teen dramas actually make a point of referencing what they’re studying. It detracts from the realism when curriculum isn’t part of normal student conversation.
On top of that, if Toni Morrison’s gettin’ dropped in the pilot, we’re taking that as a signal that “Riverdale” is going to assume its audience is going to appreciate more complex storytelling. If the first three episodes are any indication, “Riverdale” is going to be far more “Veronica Mars” than it will be “Gossip Girl.”
11. MRS. COOPER’S LOONEY TUNES SOAP OPERA VILLAINY
Betty Cooper’s mom has all sorts of weirdness going on, and we love every minute of it. Mädchen Amick’s punny Alice Cooper is both daffy and frighteningly intense at the same time, and it makes for a hardcore conservative mom that’s as entertaining as she is awful. She simultaneously wishes death upon Jason Blossom for whatever he did to her daughter, Polly, but she also can’t seem to stand Polly, either. Polly did, after all, go “bad,” as they say.
To that end, she attempts to control every inch of poor Betty’s life, from the clothes her daughter wears to her friends to doping her up on Adderall so Betty can continue to be an overachiever. Never mind that Betty isn’t happy and might have an alternate personality. On top of all that, Alice works for the town paper and isn’t above bribing coroners so she can get a first look at Jason Blossom’s corpse when it surfaces. This woman has some strange demons lurking beneath her perfect, blond exterior. Can’t wait to see them come out!
10. LUKE PERRY
Who better to serve as a bridge between old and new demographics than former teen idol, Sir Smolderpants himself, Luke Perry? As Archie’s dad, Fred Andrews, he lends a bit of street cred to this young new series. It’s a smart move on the show’s part considering they have the unique opportunity to grab a slightly older group of fans given their roots in the long-running “Archie” comics.
More importantly, however, he’s a phenomenal actor and a great addition to an already killer adult cast. Once they start moving into a soap opera territory of their own (we’re already shipping Fred and Hermione Lodge), it’ll be a blast watching a grown-up Dylan McKay get up to similar tricks. If he does, that is, he’s proven to be a decidedly straight-laced dad to Archie, which is its own kind of funny. Watching him police his son against Archie’s ridiculously benign interest in music should make anyone over 30 with their eyes rolling out of their head.
9. IT’S TWIN PEAKS FOR KIDS
Anyone who’s seen David Lynch’s cult series can see its fingerprints all over “Riverdale.” Filmed in Vancouver, the teen drama has the look and feel of the Pacific Northwest “Twin Peaks” was set in. The town is surrounded by evergreen mountains and features the same misty mornings and cloudy skies. The overall feel is similar, too, with eerie music and long indulgent exterior shots.
Both series begin with the scandalous murders of prominent, but troubled teens (Laura Palmer and Jason Blossom). The search for Laura Palmer’s killer overturned a lot of rocks in Twin Peaks and revealed a very seedy underbelly. Given the first four episodes of Riverdale and the shady business that’s already popped up (Mrs. Cooper’s weird zealotry, Archie and Jughead’s feud, the football team’s “score” book), we’re guessing we can expect the same from “Riverdale.” While there’s no chance of the show going full Lynch and plunging us all into surrealism, echoes of his iconic series serve to make this CW show stand out from the crowd.
8. KILLER MYSTERIES
Jason Blossom’s murder is a dreamy/nightmarish backdrop to the first season of “Riverdale.” It’s frightening and it stars a victim of seriously questionable moral fiber. And the eerie beginning of the series featuring him and his twin, Cheryl, sailing off all in white to what looked like it was about to become a murder/suicide or twincest certainly set the precedent for weird high and early. This is almost as good as Lily’s murder on “Veronica Mars.”
But in addition to that, the show features a couple of other curiosities brewing a little further under the radar. Like, what happened between Archie and Jughead? There’s Taylor Swift levels of bad blood there, at least in the pilot, and while it’s eventually resolved, we have no idea what it was about. Also, what in the heck happened to Polly Cooper? Was it just her entry in the football team’s disgusting playbook that sent her over the edge? And what’s up with Veronica’s dad? So many questions.
7. GREAT ACTING
Let’s face it — a lot of teen soap operas are long on drama and short on acting skills. It comes from a long history of casting pretty faces instead of skilled performers. We won’t name names, but we’re sure you have a few in your Eyeroll Hall of Fame. “Riverdale” on the other hand, has managed to hit a bit of a Holy Grail. Not only is their cast easy on the eyes, but these kids got chops.
Lili Reinhart’s Betty is an overachieving nice girl, but you can tell there’s something deeply damaged beneath the surface. Her eerie transformation into her sister Polly while she and Veronica boil them up a football player (long story) is genuinely disturbing. K.J. Apa’s Archie managing to convey real feelings for Miss Grundy while also struggling with similar ones for Veronica is kind of masterful in its balance. Meanwhile, Jughead’s weirdo cynicism is as yet unexplained, but we can feel that it’s grounded in something real. The rest of the cast is at the same level, and they all succeed at playing real people, not stereotypes.
6. CHERYL BLOSSOM’S MEAN GIRL GAME IS ON POINT
Madelaine Petsch is just straight killing it as resident HBIC, Cheryl Blossom. Since Veronica’s been declawed a bit in the adaptation from comics to TV, that left some room for Riverdale High’s resident “un-sisterly” Queen Bee. By all accounts she was an elitist little brat before her brother died, and now that he’s gone, she’s rockin’ some serious deep-seeded rage and control issues.
As a result, she doesn’t react well when Veronica insists on choosing Betty’s earnest friendship in the face of Cheryl’s superficial clique. In a pretty skillful manipulation, she finagles Veronica and Archie to spend Seven Minutes in Heaven in front of Betty’s heartbroken eyes. You can practically taste her glee while watching Betty’s lower lip tremble. But the real reason this performance is working as well as it is, is that Cheryl isn’t two-dimensional. She has her issues for sure, but she doesn’t hate the other girls so much that she won’t help them take down the football team for their sicko slut-shaming activities. She’s also not above admitting that her brother might not have been a prince, though she’s devastated by his death. Keep up the good work, Cheryl — you’re the good kind of bad.
5. DARK SUBJECT MATTER
“Riverdale” hasn’t pulled any punches when it comes to darker themes. It opened with a murder and followed that up with some statutory rape, a mother over-medicating her child, mental illness and a close-up of Jason Blossom’s corpse with a bullet hole in his forehead. And all that was just the pilot episode. If the first few episodes are any indication, it doesn’t look like things are going to become any lighter and/or fluffier in Riverdale anytime soon, and that’s just fine with us.
While the “Archie” comics were great in their own right, there’s no way a television adaptation of the shallow, often saccharine themes would’ve been picked up, much less made it through a full season. Plus, everyday teen drama is rarely the only drama in the lives of actual teens. By inserting some grittier themes (if a bit over-dramatic), “Riverdale’s” positioned to become a teen drama that not only entertains, but also disturbs from time to time.
4. ITS TREATMENT OF SEXUALITY
Hey, did you guys notice there was a gay guy on “Riverdale” who wasn’t getting shoved into lockers, beaten up, thrown out by his parents or otherwise traumatized for his sexual orientation? So did we! And it was awesome. Casey Cott’s Kevin Keller is a sweet, not too Jack McFarland gay kid who seems pretty at home with himself. He’s probably no stranger to the odd nasty comment, but the show’s made it a point to make Riverdale High on the more evolved side of things, even when it comes to closeted teens. Moose isn’t completely out, but he doesn’t look like he’s harboring any deep self-loathing.
Why do we like this? Because by not giving anyone’s sexual preference the “very special episode” treatment, “Riverdale” sneakily normalizes it. That’s just as valuable a social statement as a popular show like “Glee” putting very milestone a gay high schooler could take front and center at every opportunity.
3. VERONICA’S TRANSFORMATION
Mad props to whomever is responsible for the evolution of Veronica Lodge from spoiled princess brat to boss bitch from NYC. The new and improved Veronica Lodge absolutely has a taste for the finer things, but she inherited none of her namesake’s superficial, self-centered snobbery. And thank goodness, because while we love comic Veronica on the page, we absolutely wouldn’t want to spend any time with her. At her house? Yes. With her there? No.
However, “Riverdale’s” Veronica is another story. She’s proud, strong, has excellent taste and her head is on remarkably straight. She doesn’t let people push her around and seems to know that friendships are more important than popularity (within reason). Her embarrassment at her father’s scandal is certainly apparent, but the writers have taken the original Veronica’s conceited nature and reworked that into a fierce “don’t f**k with me” ensemble. She’s loyal to the Lodge name, though we’re sure it’ll wind up breaking her heart at some point if it hasn’t already. Until then, it’s enjoyable to watch her take no prisoners attitude. Comic-Veronica was put together fashion-wise, but “Riverdale’s” V has a put together personality (and wardrobe. Her wardrobe is so put together.).
2. JUGHEAD’S CYNICISM
Another round of mad props to whoever decided the Archie comics’ resident
stoner loafer should become this next generation’s voice of reason. Jughead is arguably one of the most (if not the most) popular character in the Archie pantheon, so subverting his character while still giving him a place of prominence was a stroke of genius. Casting Jughead as the angry, cynical outcast is far more interesting than casting him in his normal light as comic relief. It’s also kind of fun that he’s effectively the show’s “Gossip Girl.”
His mopey, bitter outlook on life makes us automatically curious as to why he’s so dejected, but “Riverdale” hasn’t seen fit to tell us exactly what’s eating Jughead Jones. We know he had some kind of falling out with Archie, but there’s been no explanation for it. Maybe he’s in love with Betty and is jealous that Archie’s the one she likes. Maybe Archie ditched him for cool kids. Whatever the reason, flipping Jughead on his side, and making him angry and mysterious, breathed new life into a beloved, but two-dimensional character. More please.
1. BETTY AND VERONICA’S FRIENDSHIP
Slow. Freaking. Clap. For B. And V. Not that it wasn’t impressive that the comic version of our dynamic lady duo managed to stay pretty good friends despite constantly fighting over the same guy, but come on. At some point, both of them should’ve ditched the indecisive ginger and just got busy being better friends. In “Riverdale,” that’s exactly what they’re doing! Veronica is attracted to Archie, but way more respectful of Betty’s feelings for him. Therefore, when Cheryl successfully manufactures drama between the two girls, Veronica feels terrible and whips out one hell of an apology (flowers, mani-pedi, spa day, actual remorse).
Why is this good, you ask? Well, TV doesn’t have an awesome history of depicting healthy, rational relationships between young women. Usually things are fine until they like the same boy, then all sanity goes out the window. It’s tedious and unrealistic. Friendships are interesting when there’s dramatic discord, but not constant competition. Betty and Veronica rarely supported each other in the comics, but on “Riverdale” they have each other’s backs. It’s a vast improvement, trust us. These are girls we want to hang out with, all of a sudden.
Are you already hooked on “Riverdale?” Tell us what you love or hate about the series in the comments!
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