From the DC Comics-inspired Arrowverse to the world of vampires and “The Originals,” The CW is home to some of television’s most notable shared universes. With the arrival of Archie and “Riverdale,” the network is poised to launch yet another connected universe that could include characters like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josie and the Pussycats.
The CW’s hopes to spin off Archie characters was confirmed just last week at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. With so much potential on the table, “Riverdale” can learn a lot from “Arrow,” which smartly laid the groundwork for “The Flash,” “Supergirl” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.” Not only do these shows stand powerfully on their own, but they brilliantly cross over and sync up with the other series — a task not easily achieved.
As the network looks to the future of the Riverdale gang, here are five things the budding Archieverse can learn from the Arrowverse:
Write a Compelling Spinoff Character
When Barry Allen made his debut on “Arrow” in Season Two, he was wasn’t merely a background character; he was needed, he even saved Oliver’s life. Barry was also well-written, with a tragic backstory — one that drove him to Star City in search of Green Arrow. Barry needed Oliver and Felicity, just as they needed him. He became an integral part of the Season Two winter finale, as Slade Wilson’s mirakuru army was beginning to rise. Barry’s appearance on “Arrow” was a well-conceived backdoor pilot for “The Flash,” which was in the early stages of development, but while this approach may not suit Josie and the Pussycats, as they’re pat of “Riverdale” from the beginning, it may work for Sabrina, who has yet to be introduced. The magic of Barry Allen’s introduction was that, as an audience member, you wanted to know more about him, and what happened to him once he returned to Central City. It was this creativity and character delivery that landed “The Flash” its first season.
Cast an Outstanding Future Lead
No one else could play DCTV’s version of Barry Allen but Grant Gustin. No one could play Ray Palmer except for Brandon Routh. No one could play Sara Lance besides Caity Lotz. All of these actors elevated their guest characters and made their spinoffs almost a guarantee. The same thing needs to happen if Josie, Sabrina or other Archie characters are going to lead their own shows. In the case of Josie, this is already happening. Having seen the first four episode of “Riverdale,” I can say with confidence that Ashleigh Murray is destined to be a leading lady. She grabs the focus of every scene she’s in; she’s a compelling character, and she leads her band, The Pussycats, with tenacity. Murray could easily headline a “Josie” spinoff.
Keep the Door Open for Crossover Episodes
For a shared universe to work, obviously shows must cross over with each other. Part of the difficulty with “Supergirl’s” first season was its presence on CBS. While technically part of the Arrowverse, “Supergirl” felt segregated from “The Flash,” “Arrow” and “Legends of Tomorrow.” The writers made it work by saying Kara was in another universe, but there remained a clear disconnect. If “Supergirl” had started on the same fictional world as the other DCTV shows, the in-universe continuity would have flowed more seamlessly. When Archie does launch its spinoffs, like Sabrina, which is being discussed as set in Salem, it needs to directly connect to “Riverdale.” Whether Sabrina visits the town or Archie visits Salem, there needs to be continuity, otherwise it won’t work.
Plan Ahead for an Engaging Backstory
When Barry Allen arrived in Star City, he was looking for clues about his mother’s murder. When Sara Lance arrived in Star City, she had survived the island and spent time training with the League of Assassins. When Kendra Saunders arrived in Central City, she had just discovered she was an immortal priestess. Whoever is getting set up on “Riverdale” to lead a spinoff needs a compelling backstory. While Josie’s backstory isn’t explored in the first four episodes, her family definitely has some interesting secrets to hide. Beyond Josie’s role leading Riverdale High’s teen girl band, her mother is the town’s mayor, Sierra McCoy. In an upcoming episode, Mayor McCoy reveals her role in an interesting land deal, which may or may not be legal. Why is she involved in something nefarious? Does Josie know? What’s driving Josie’s passion for songwriting? What emotional wounds is she trying to express? While Josie may not have come back from the dead (like Sara Lance), she can have an interesting background, that if hinted to in “Riverdale,” could lead audiences to want to know more.
Don’t Gut “Riverdale” of Any Essential Characters
Betty. Veronica. Archie. Jughead. While all of these characters could lead their own shows, they’re what makes “Riverdale” what it is. They can lead their own comics, sure, but not their own shows outside of “Riverdale.” If a key character is given a spinoff, it could dramatically change “Riverdale.” A prime example would be Sara Lance leaving “Arrow.” Since her death in the Season Three opener, “Arrow” hasn’t felt the same. Did her death create a way for Laurel to don the Canary costume? Sure, but then Laurel was killed, so really, Sara’s death was completely erroneous. Sara was an amazing character on “Arrow,” as she was the only person who could relate to war-torn, island Oliver. While Felicity and Laurel both loved Oliver, neither of them could forgive his dark side. Sara, on the other hand, had her own dark side, and the pair made a force to be reckoned with. Is Sara doing awesome on “Legends of Tomorrow”? Absolutely, because she fits all the previously listed requirements for a successful spinoff character — except for this one. It’s clear Sara should have remained on “Arrow.” Ray Palmer, on the other hand, was introduced to “Arrow” in Season Three, and while he was a great recurring character, he wasn’t essential to “Arrow.” He was perfectly set up for a spinoff and didn’t leave “Arrow” with a gaping hole. When “Riverdale” launches its spinoffs, it can’t be a character that is essential to “Riverdale.”
If “Riverdale” can accomplish these things, with Josie or Sabrina or any other well-written, well-cast character, then it could be poised to launch a fun, John Hughes-meets-“Twin Peaks” shared universe that could give DCTV a run for its money.
Premiering Thursday, Jan. 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW, “Riverdale” stars K.J. Apa as Archie Andrews, Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom, Ashleigh Murray as Josie McCoy, Casey Cott as Kevin Keller and Ross Butler as Reggie Mantle.
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