Riverdale: A Critic of the Pilot

By Carter Glace, Staff Writer

If I am being perfectly honest, I am not especially versed in the ‘Archie’ universe. Introduced to the series by my girlfriend in high school, I was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of lore, spin offs, characters, and continuity (which, to be fair, is an issue in super hero comics as well, but they arbitrarily streamline the continuity from time to time).

This overwhelming lore is one of the reasons I was incredibly interested in a television series based around the long running comic. Getting to enjoy the chipper 50s tone and eclectic cast of characters from ground zero was an exciting opportunity. Unfortunately though, it looks like I will have to wait a little longer for that opportunity, because “Riverdale” is certainly not that show.

You see, this isn’t your grandmother’s “Archie,” but rather a smoldering young adult drama set in a dour vision of the titular town. The creators have likened their series to Twin Peaks, but thus far it is mostly in the cosmetic realm, as Riverdale is now a misty, anachronistic town shaken from a high profile murder. Arriving at the town following the disappearance of a high school student over the summer, the series follows the lives of Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty, new-girl-with-a-troubled-past Veronica, writer Jughead, Jason’s twin, and their respected parents. From there, romance, juggling school and social life, gossip, teacher-student affairs and occasional hijinks ensue.

As far as adaptations go, “Riverdale” vaguely follows the source material, only filtered through your standard 2000s ‘dark and dour’ filter. Archie alternates between the ‘aw shucks’ awkwardness of the comic character and an Edward Cullen-like pale skinned brooder (I do appreciate that the series acknowledges the fact that they’ve turned him into a ripped sex symbol). Betty’s still the good girl, but growingly bitter and overwhelmed by an overbearing mom and expectations.  Veronica’s bad girl nature extends to her entire family now. And Jughead still likes burgers. Again, I’m not especially versed in Archie lore, but I know enough to recognize the characters in this adaptation.

The tone, unfortunately, has been butchered. As you could probably tell from my descriptions thus far, this is not a light hearted romp, but rather aspires to be a murder procedural. I do admire the commitment to drowning the town in a 1950s style, but it is ultimately detrimental to the source material, turning charm into creepy anachronism.

Beyond turning the pages to screen, the rest of the series is fine. It’s perfectly serviceable, well shot, occasionally engaging mystery series. It’s well enough acted, it occasional succeeds in being steamy or tense, and the art direction is admittedly impressive. Otherwise, it’s a song and dance you’ve seen before, the kind of television show you’ve seen several times before.

Unfortunately, it looks like I will have to wait for the true blue Archie television show or film, because “Riverdale” is not going to be that, and I do question its ambitions. With such an old property, if you’re alienating fans of the original series by revising anything, and younger audiences won’t be familiar with the characters and might not be invested, who are you making this for?

Oh, also, Josie and the Pussy Cats show up, which I find delightful. I honestly wouldn’t mind them getting their own show.

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