The first episode of Riverdale, based on Archie comics, premiered Thursday on the CW.
The thing is, this show doesn’t seem to really know how the world and characters of Archie Comics is supposed to work. Or how teenagers act. Or sometimes it doesn’t even seem to understand human interaction.
News of this show was exciting because I am a lifetime fan of Archie Comics. I love them so much that I have watched many shows and movies based on the characters. Not just things like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Josie and the Pussycats, that had mainstream success in my youth, but also things like Return to Riverdale (which is not good). In fact, I bonded with one of my best friends over an obscure Archie Comics ship when we first met. I had Betty and Veronica Barbie dolls. Archie Comics was a part of my childhood but a major problem with this show is it doesn’t seem to care about anyone that grew up with these comics.
The writing is awkward for many of the characters. Apart from Betty, most of the girls seem more like caricatures of their characters than real people. Both Cheryl and Veronica have lines that are just confusing. In an awkward reference to his red hair Veronica called Archie “Teen Outlander” and at one point Cheryl refers to her deceased twin brother as her “soulmate” making me worry that the show might be about to go down a Game of Thrones path. Veronica makes several references that just seem forced and the show is trying so hard to make her Blair from Gossip Girl, she literally calls herself “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” at one point.
Having Veronica be the new girl in town that shakes things up is a bit confusing, especially since that is the point of Cheryl Blossom. It also makes how protective she is of Betty seem a little more forced since they haven’t been best friends since the where “little” like in the comics. It is nice that Veronica cares more about her friendship with Betty then Archie, which is honestly a welcome change. The comics that had Betty and Veronica off together with no love interests around were always the most fun.
Some of the characters are well done. K. J. Apa’s Archie works well enough. Archie isn’t at his most likable in Riverdale but Archie Andrews was never my favorite character to begin with. His line about him not being good enough for Betty may be the most self-aware Archie has ever been.
[Archie]’s line about him not being good enough for Betty may be the most self-aware Archie has ever been.
Casey Cott does a great job being likable as Kevin Keller despite the fact that he is such a stereotypical “gay best friend” that another character calls him out on it.
It’s to early to judge Cole Sprouse’s Jughead since he was disappointingly absent from the episode besides the narration and one scene, but he did seem like Jughead. The update to his hat (the original was whoopee cap) into a beanie actually works and Jughead being there for his friends and telling them to talk to each other is very in-line with his comic book counterpart.
The stand-out by far is Lili Reinhart as Betty. She felt way more like a real human teenager than everyone else and managed to keep the fun personality of her comic counterpart without seeming too, too perfect. As my friend who was watching with me said, “Betty deserves a better show.”
As my friend who was watching with me said, “Betty deserves a better show.”
Even if I wasn’t a fan of the comics I would think Riverdale was bad television, but as a fan some of it was downright insulting. You could make bingo cards with the teen drama clichés that are in just this first episode. Many of them are probably to make Riverdale more realistic and gritty, but they miss the point of the comics. Archie is supposed to be kind of silly and corny and it is possible to do an update on it without losing its heart. In fact that is being done in the comics right now with the new Archie and Jughead comics.
The show goes for clichés with no regard to how the characters are charged. Having the show start with a murder mystery means that right off the bat the show loses one of the comic’s recurring characters: Jason Blossom. So now, things like the fact that in the comic’s Jason had a crush on Betty will never be able to be explored. The Betty and Veronica kiss could be nice if it seemed like it was there for any other reason than creating buzz for the show. As it is, it just leaves the viewer confused.
Betty’s mother is a pretty sweet, nice lady in the comics. In Riverdale she is nearly psychotic about the Blossom twins, apparently driving Betty’s older sister Polly to a breakdown, and is pushing Ritalin on Betty. I for one would be thrilled if this was the last time there was a storyline about someone being addicted to ADHD medication, or it would at least be nice for a show to acknowledge that the meds are necessary for some teens that actually have ADHD.
Archie’s dad and Veronica’s mom seem to have a history very reminiscent of the parents on Gossip Girl and the show broke up both their marriages from the comics, making the other parents absent in order for this to happen. Having Veronica’s father in jail and her mother being the only one there is an odd choice since her father always had a more prominent role in the comics than her mother.
The worst of the character-ruining choices however, is by far the choice to have a student-teacher affair. Archie apparently had a fling with the music teacher over the summer and he is still hung up on her. This is a very confusing choice since Archie is very famously about a love triangle involving three teenagers, but sure let’s add an adult to the mix to make things illegal. This is made much worse by the fact that the writers don’t make up a new character for this teacher but ruin a pre-existing character by making her sleep with a student.
Miss Grundy is the one having a relationship with her student and it makes me want to throw up. In the comics she was a loving but strict older teacher who sometimes was in love with the principal. The fact she was originally an old lady is sort of obvious in Riverdale because Geraldine isn’t a name people hear everyday. She was dedicated to her students and a good teacher in the comics, and this show threw that all out the window so they could get their check mark for a student teacher relationship.
The show tries to make it a sexy, forbidden romance but that’s not what it is, this is statutory rape. They took one of my favorite fictional teachers and made her a rapist. If people less familiar with Archie comics need help understanding how I feel about this, imagine there was a Boy Meets World storyline with Mr. Feeny was having sex with one of his students. It is truly disgusting.
Archie did need to be modernized for today’s teens, but this show overcorrected. The thing about Archie is that it is supposed to show the silly side of high school. In many ways the comics are a more realistic portrayal. How many high schools have students that are murdered or have student-teacher affairs? This show decides to trade everything unique that Archie comics could have brought to a TV show to be a cliché mess. The thing that really makes me mad is that an Archie TV show could be great, but this has so much wasted potential.
Riverdale airs on The CW on Thursday nights at 9/8 p.m. Central or can be watched on The CW website.