'Riverdale' Review: Archie Gets Hot And Gritty, And We're Into It
“Archie got hot!” This has been the main focus of the CW’s steamy ad campaign for Riverdale, a new teen drama inspired by the iconic Archie comics line. And the whole “Archie goes gritty and also shirtless” caused a lot of eye-rolling. But last week, we finally got our first taste of Archie comic writer turned showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s strange new vision. Gang, Riverdale is great. Here’s why we’re crushing on it.
Jughead As Teen Detective
The series is set in a sort of Twin Peaks spin on this once wholesome American town. If you’ve been reading Aguirre-Sacasa’s recent horror comics, Afterlife with Archie or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, you know the guy has a gift for transferring Archie’s gang into dark scenarios. This one is a stylish noir, complete with sex, scandal, secrets, and a murder mystery. Jughead Jones (The Suite Life with Zack and Cody’s Cole Sprouse) is its narrator and amateur sleuth. In a clever twist, he’s no longer the goofball, but a misfit who’s on the outs with Archie at the show’s start. He’s basically Veronica Mars minus the enviable fashion sense. Just as she sought to uncover who killed her best friend, Jughead is on the hunt for who murdered wealthy jock Jason Blossom. But more on the victim in a bit.
Not Your Childhood’s Archie
Rather than an awe-shucks expression and a dorky haircut, K.J. Apa (A Dog’s Purpose) delivers a hunky Archie, who is driven blindly by passion, and often shirtless. Sure, the series will play into the love triangle of him, Betty, and Veronica. But in this pilot ep, Archie is all about his music…and his music teacher, Miss Grundy. No longer looking like old Olive Oyl, Geraldine Grundy makes Archie hot for teacher, and so unspools one scandalous thread.
Betty is Corey Mason pre-meltdown.
In the underrated coming-of-age in a record store masterpiece Empire Records, Corey seemed to have her life all together. She was smart, determined (to bang has-been pop star Rex Manning), and looked killer in a pleated mini-skirt. [SHUT UP, REBECCA!] But under that cheery veneer was a girl on the verge of a breakdown. Ditch the cashmere crop top and wedge in a hell-bitch helicopter mom, and you’ve got Betty Cooper, who’s striving to be the perfect daughter—especially after her sister Polly got committed for some unspoken transgression with the late Jason Blossom. But Betty’s coping—for now—with the help of pills, her gay bestie Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), and fantasizing about the hunk next door. As Kevin quips, “He’s got abs now. Six more reasons for you to take that ginger bull by the horns tonight.”
Veronica’s A Bitch Who Gets Shit Done
When I read Archie, Veronica and Reggie were often villains, mercilessly mean and endlessly condescending. But in Riverdale, Reggie (Ross Butler) is a barely-there bully while Veronica (Camila Mendes) is that badass bitch who doesn’t care about ruffling feathers in defense of herself and her friends. When Betty is harassed, Veronica is her fearsome protector, pushing the bubbly blonde out of her comfort zone and into a rebellious streak. But of course, she’s also competition for the attention of Archie-kins.
The Requisite Love Triangle
Veronica’s new to town, chased out of a posh New York existence by her daddy’s Bernie Madoff-style blow-up. But she swans into this seemingly quaint community like a mysterious femme fatale—with a cape! And as Betty fails to flirt with Archie, Veronica makes a big impression by declaring of Riverdale, “Are you familiar with the works of Truman Capote? I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but this place is strictly In Cold Blood.” She later describes herself as “the Blue Jasmine of Riverdale High!” She’s pretentious as hell, but glamorous and fearless. Who could blame a boy (or a lady recapper) for falling for her?
Thankfully though, the love triangle takes a back seat to Betty and Veronica’s blossoming friendship. Parents are a disappointment. Archie is a doof. These girls need each other. And occasionally they’ll kiss, because even though “faux lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994,” this is still a teen drama. I know it won’t happen, but I ship it.
“Cheryl Blossom is the Anti-Christ.”
Her skin is snow-white, her hair red like cherries, and her tongue as wicked as sin. Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) is the mean queen bee who rules Riverdale High with an iron fist. She’s essentially Cersei Lannister, thinking herself above everyone, playing games of manipulation, but overestimating her own intelligence. Also she was probably/definitely fucking her twin brother.
From their first shared frame, there’s something off about Jason and Cheryl Blossom’s bond. Why are they holding hands as they take what seems like a romantic boat trip on a remote river? Why is Cheryl so angry that her brother dated Betty’s sister? And why does a flashback show the twins sharing a strawberry milkshake like Norman Rockwell lovers might, same glass, twin straws that pull their faces together. Lannister-style sibling love seems a very real possibility. After all, it was a twisted element Aguirre-Sacasa employed in the zombie-laced Afterlife with Archie.
Josie Brings Black Girl Magic.
Rather than casting another redhead, Aguirre-Sacasa envisioned Josie and the Pussycats as Riverdale’s answer to Destiny’s Child, with Josie as the Beyoncé. Enter Ashleigh Murray as Josie McCoy, who not only is determined to build a brand with her band’s cute cat-ears, but also has no problem speaking truth to privilege. See, Archie wants to be a songwriter. So he immediately goes to the most popular band in school and volunteers his services. Josie tears him down with side-eye and a fiery speech, telling Archie they’re called the Pussycats because “we have to claw our way into the same rooms that you can just waltz into.” While Archie is still fumbling over demos, it’s Josie and the Pussycats who get to sing a new take on the Archie classic “Sugar Sugar.”
As in Beverly Hills 90210. As in the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer. As in the star of many girlhood fantasies, Luke Perry. He plays Archie’s loving single-dad. And it’s a bit of a mind-fuck to see Dylan McKay all grown up and lecturing hot, angsty Archie about responsibility. But I am here for scruffy Luke Perry.*
Style, Sex Appeal, And Substance
There’s a lot of groundwork laid in episode one. While the center of the show will be the mystery of who killed Jason Blossom, Riverdale also offers up the Archie-Grundy romance, Betty and Veronica as frenemies, Cheryl as a queen bee who needs to be toppled, and even an arc of Kevin trying to find a boyfriend in a cruelly small town. And all of this is slick with sex appeal thanks to the swoon-worthy fashions, a production design that takes Archie and dips it in smoke and neon, and a slick cinematography that plays to noir inspirations. Fittingly, each Riverdale episode is named after a noir film. And as we were sucked in by “The River’s Edge,” you can bet we’ll return for next week’s “Touch of Evil.”
Riverdale airs on the CW, 9PM Thursdays.