Review: Riverdale, the Show, Not the Bronx Neighborhood

Jughead: ex-best friend…sad!

by Maureen Shelley
Staff Television Enthusiast

The Archie comic series may have begun in 1941, but the new spinoff TV drama series, Riverdale, feels modern and original. The series premiered on The CW on January 26, 2017 and has aired four episodes to date, with each 42 minute installation intensifying the mysteries and secrets of a small town and a cast of characters with familiar names but newly updated personalities.

Riverdale has the aesthetic appeal of Twin Peaks with, at times, the narrative grace of MTV’s Teen Wolf, leading some to unofficially dub the series “Teen Peaks,” a title that fits and defines the series almost too well considering it has only been on air for four weeks. The fictional town of Riverdale mirrors aspects of the fictional Twin Peaks that David Lynch introduced us to in 1990; the seclusion of a heavily forested small town, a hotspot diner only a local could truly appreciate, and an unsolved murder that begs the question, “Who killed Jason Blossom?” in a 21st Century spin on the infamous tagline “Who killed Laura Palmer?” The series seeks to prompt the notion that appearances are not always what they seem, and what may look like a wholesome town at a glance could be a facade for a less idealistic community that has simply become accustomed to covering up dirty little secrets for too long.

 

riverdale2
Oh, just look at these HIP TEENS

 

While Riverdale may feel, at times, like a Twin Peaks knock-off, it has a unique quality far removed from Lynchian on the post-Gossip Girl network that makes it endearing, enigmatic, and still wonderfully quirky. From a neon-lit diner booth, narrator and ex-best friend of leading man Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa), Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), opens the series with a retelling of the events that led to the mysterious disappearance and assumed death of their classmate, Jason, on the weekend of July 4. The narration is presented in the form of a novel being written by Jughead, and while at times such a storytelling format can feel trite or unoriginal, it recalls the original print format comic fans know, creating a nostalgic essence in a new world.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Riverdale is that it takes characters that people are familiar with and reshapes them into something unfamiliar and new, giving them fresh life and proving the show has its own beat outside of the world of the Archie comics. For instance, it only takes twenty minutes for the female leads, Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes), to start making out in a bid to get on the cheerleading squad, a feat of queerbaiting that would feel strangely inappropriate if it weren’t for the following line deadpanned by head cheerleader, Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), “Check your sell-by date ladies, faux-lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.” The self-awareness to reinvent what the comics depict, who the characters are, and what subject matter is relevant in 2017 is where Riverdale hits its stride. The Archie comics are 75 years old, but have always done well to adapt to the current times for an ever-changing modern fan-base, and Riverdale feels like a well-polished screen adaptation of the newer comics. In this way, the series distinguishes itself as pleasing to modern audiences by building strong female characters and tackling social issues such as slut-shaming and flirting with race relations.

The quick-witted and seamlessly delivered dry humor and phenomenal one-liners give the show a terrifically campy appeal, but this is not to say the acting is bad. In fact, considering how young the majority of the cast is, the dialogue feels authentic, even if some of the references do not (i.e. Veronica describing the town of Riverdale: “Are you familiar with the works of Truman Capote? [Archie and Betty nod] I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but this place is strictly In Cold Blood”). Very few teens are going to even understand that sentence without seeing it written out, but I digress.
Riverdale very much feels like the CW drama that it is, but still in its early days and judging by the first four episodes, it is certainly one of the most appealing young dramas to air in a while. Riverdale airs Thursdays at 9:00pm on The CW.

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