When I first saw the advertisements for the TV show RIVERDALE, I was incredibly skeptical. An adult version of the ARCHIE comics? Oh I’d seen that before, and there were zombies. While I’d been mildly amused by some of the prior, more sophisticated inceptions of the Jughead, Veronica, and Archie universe, I was quite cynical about whether or not this concept would be sustainable for a TV episode, let alone an entire series… Then I watched it.
RIVERDALE has become one of my new favorite shows. It is TWIN PEAKS-ish, dark, and somehow offers a rather pointed social commentary. I’ll call it “horror light”, but if you enjoyed TWIN PEAKS, then RIVERDALE is the next town to which you should head.
Yes, it is based off the old ARCHIE comics, but not religiously. All the characters are there- Archie, Veronica, Betty, Reggie, and even Ms. Grundy, but things are vastly differently from the squeaky-clean comics and cartoon most associate with the Archie name. This town has a deep, dark, twisted underbelly, and all the kids see it. The adults however often try to cover it, creating a glossy suburban utopia, or sometimes they surreptitiously delve into the darkness (which the kids all totally know about). And it is shot like a noir film. So expect a lot of moody shadows.
Part of the reason the show seems TWIN PEAKS-esque is that it opens with a very mysterious murder mystery which is propelling the season forward. On July 4th, town dreamboat and football star Jason Blossom went missing while boating with his sister on the local river. While at first the town guessed Jason must have drowned, details emerge which indicate that Jason not only had a lot of secrets, but also multiple people in the town who wanted him dead. With each episode, the show answers some questions surrounding the web of murder and deceit, but also raises new ones keeping the viewer endlessly hooked.
RIVERDALE is sleazy as hell! Seriously. Again, in the same vein as TWIN PEAKS, with a smidge of 90210 mixed in, this is one shady fucking town with a cast of shifty characters. There is embezzlement, motorcycle gangs, underage sexual trysts, nods at incest, and more. This is an ARCHIE you’ve never seen before.
Hidden underneath all the murder and scandal, RIVERDALE is a shockingly stereotype-busting show. The mayor of the town is an African American female who is constantly battling social walls of both gender and race. Her daughter is the lead singer of Josie and the Pussycats, a very multi-cultural band in this show’s interpretation. One of the lead characters is gay, and his father (the Riverdale sheriff) may be the most accepting father in the history of TV, even telling him the best nights to go cruising. Jughead is homeless, Reggie is Asian, and Betty’s white “all-American” suburban life proves to be one of the most unsettling parts of the show. RIVERDALE is somehow breaking racial and gender boundaries without ever calling direct attention to it.
The show also seems quite aware that just as many adults are watching as the normal CW teen crowd. The cast is full of notable icons from prior similarly-themed media including Skeet Ulrich from SCREAM who plays a member of the local biker gang, Madchen Amick who folks know as Shelly on TWIN PEAKS, and also 90210 star Luke Perry who plays Archie’s dad.
At this point, I have no idea where RIVERDALE is headed. The murder mystery is becoming even more complex and tantalizing with each episode, and the web of lies in the community is also expanding. I just hope that RIVERDALE takes a lesson from TWIN PEAKS in that a murder mystery, though riveting for a season, may not have the same pull as the show ventures into a second season. After a while, people just want to know who the killer is, which seemed to be the downfall of TWIN PEAKS season 2. But so far, the writers of RIVERDALE have proven quite smart and savvy. So here is to hoping that RIVERDALE continues to entice and torment with a wonderfully bastardized back story, sleaze, and murder.