Many have referred to The CW’s Riverdale as Gossip Girl meets Twin Peaks and those comparisons couldn’t be more accurate. Having seen the first four episodes of the freshman drama, I can promise you that Riverdale will be your new TV obsession.
I admittedly balked at the idea of a gritty, subversive take on Archie Comics when it was first announced by The CW. My experience with Archie was limited but, like most people, I was familiar with the wholesome, golly-gee Riverdale crew led by titular redhead Archie Andrews. Centered on the love triangle between Archie, sweet Betty Cooper, and vixen Veronica Lodge, the comics were lighthearted and full of important life lessons. While Archie, Betty, and the gang are all present in Riverdale, this take is decidedly more grown-up.
Set in present day, Riverdale opens with the death of Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines) – the town’s golden boy and resident mean girl Cheryl Blossom’s (Madelaine Petsch) twin brother. Exactly what happened to Jason at Sweetwater River on July 4th? That’s the question the town and viewers will be speculating on all season long. The mystery is instantly intriguing and I have a suspicion ‘Who Killed Jason Blossom?’ will be watercooler talk for months to come. The writers have promised we’ll get an answer to that question by season’s end, which means audiences will be getting payoff sooner rather than later (Pretty Little Liars, take note).
From there we are introduced to our main cast of characters: conflicted redhead Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), who’s spent the summer developing abs and dallying with his music teacher Ms. Grundy (Sarah Habel); Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), the girl next door harboring a crush on an unknowing Archie; Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), the posh new girl from New York who rolls into town after a scandal involving her father; aspiring writer Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), Archie’s former best friend and narrator of our twisted tale; sheriff’s son Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), the sole gay teen at Riverdale High; and Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray), lead singer of Josie and the Pussycats and daughter of the mayor.
As news of Jason’s death spreads, more information surrounding that fateful July 4th is revealed, leading the citizens of Riverdale deeper into the town’s underbelly of secrets and lies. Although Riverdale’s take on Archie is uncharted territory, fans of the comics will find sly references throughout – mentions of Greendale, Madam Satan, and others are peppered in as nods to longtime readers.
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One of the hallmarks of the Archie Comics is the central love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica. While it is certainly a plot point running throughout the series, the writers have crafted the TV adaptation in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or cliché. Reinhart and Mendes perfectly capture Betty and Veronica’s complicated friendship and bring their respective characters to life in a way that will make you root for both ladies. Make no mistake: these girls are more than just Archie-obsessed.
One of the highlights of Riverdale is its stellar cast. Led by New Zealand import KJ Apa as Archie, the characters you know and love from the comics are all here – only with much more depth and plenty more secrets. To stereotype these characters down to clichés just isn’t fair (a point made by Veronica early on), as they are so much more than that.
After just the first four episodes I found myself truly caring for each character because they are all given full, fleshed out personalities. Betty may be the girl next door, but she’s struggling with an overbearing mother; Veronica is a former mean girl who’s come to Riverdale to start anew; Jughead isn’t just a food-obsessed goofball, he’s the central narrator of our mystery with an interest in cinema. You identify with and understand who these people are, thanks to the writers and the actors that bring them to life.
While Riverdale’s central cast is full of actors that imbue their characters with heart, the early standouts for me are Mendes and Murray. Veronica Lodge is given some of the best lines I’ve heard on teen TV in a long time (“You want fire? Sorry CherylBombshell, my specialty’s ice”) and Mendes infuses her with an expert blend of sex appeal and heart – a testament to her understanding of the character. In lesser hands, the role of Veronica could have been one note, but Mendes never loses sight of who Veronica is or what she stands for. Murray shines as Josie, bringing spirit and vocal talent to the iconic character. Viewers are treated to multiple Josie and the Pussycats performances early on and I’m certain I’m not the only one waiting (im)patiently for full versions of those songs to appear on iTunes.
Riverdale is developed and led by showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who is the Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics. Because of this, you get a true sense that Aguirre-Sacasa understands and cares for these characters – a major part of why viewers will want to continue tuning in and learning more about the denizens of Riverdale. Sacasa is also responsible for a new wave of modern Archie Comics, Afterlife with Archie and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Both tales are much darker, grown-up takes on the characters, infusing new life into a brand with over 75 years of history – and he’s done the same with Riverdale. Aguirre-Sacasa and the Riverdale writers masterfully understand how to give the audience enough information to reward viewers, while also leaving you wanting more – it’s addictive television at its best.
With an instantly engaging mystery, a stellar cast, and a talented host of writers, Riverdale is sure to be your new TV obsession. You might come to Riverdale for Pop Tate’s famous burgers, but you’ll stay for the intrigue.