The CW’s newest drama, Riverdale, is a dark and twisted take on the Archie Comics characters you grew up reading (and that the late Hamptonite Stan Goldberg drew). Transforming the titular sunny suburb into a small town recalling Twin Peaks, Riverdale is one part teen drama and one part murder mystery. Riverdale is a show that takes big risks, and nearly all of them pay off—as long as you are able to accept your favorite characters from childhood having sex and possibly killing people.
Riverdale opens up with the tragic (or not-so-tragic, if you ask most of the town) death of rich kid Jason Blossom on July 4. The entire town is abuzz, speculating on how the teen drowned, and some people seem to know more than they’re letting on. Archie Andrews, our sweet-faced but hormonal hero, has just spent the summer working for his dad’s construction company and is newly ripped and toned. His best friend and all-American girl next door, Betty Cooper, is back from a summer internship and ready to profess her love to Archie. Both are shocked when they meet Veronica Lodge, the new girl from New York whose father committed a Madoff-like crime. Veronica has moved to Riverdale, where her mother grew up, to start over. Betty and Veronica become friends and have a common enemy in Cheryl Blossom, the acid-tongued queen bee who is mourning the loss of her twin brother. All of the drama is narrated by the quirky and quiet Jughead Jones, Archie’s former best friend, who is writing a novel about Jason’s death.
The casting is spot on. KJ Apa is equal parts sweet and sexy as teen heartthrob Archie, while Lili Reinhart shows many layers of the seemingly perfect Betty. The warm, feisty Camila Mendes is a find as Veronica, a former mean girl who wants to become a better person in the wake of her life falling apart. Familiar faces, like Luke Perry as Archie’s dad Fred and Mädchen Amick as Betty’s mother Alice, are well-matched with the cast of newcomers.
What is so surprising and refreshing about Riverdale is that it still feels like Archie, despite the edgy makeover. The classic love triangle of Archie, Betty and Veronica is still front and center, but the two girls are close and the show wisely focuses on their friendship. Archie is still an impressionable boy next door, with his raging hormones causing all sorts of trouble. Other characters are twisted just enough to be relevant in the Riverdale universe, such as Kevin Keller (Casey Cott). In the comics, Kevin is a squeaky clean, openly gay kid whose family supports and advocates for him. In Riverdale, he’s sexually active and sassy, but still open and proud of who he is. The one character Riverdale misses the mark with is music teacher Geraldine Grundy (Sarah Habel), transformed from old and wise to young and predatory. Here, she feels forced and is more like a plot device than a fleshed out character.
Riverdale is definitely worth a watch, unless you can’t stand teen drama. The pilot episode moves at a brisk pace, has plenty of inside jokes that Archie fans will get a kick out of and introduces a world of interesting, colorful characters. It remains to be seen if the show’s central mystery will be interesting enough to sustain an entire season, or if the show will rely too much on “shocking” twists, but if it can sustain the momentum gained by the excellent first episode, Riverdale will be a hit.