“Riverdale” premiered last week on The CW, and no, it’s not comical or goofy or anything else that “Archie” comic readers think of when they think of the series.
Although the show is written by “Archie” comics creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and produced by Greg Berlanti (acclaimed for “Arrow” and “Flash”), it is nothing like the original comics, lacking the cookie-cutter story plots and saccharine moral backbone.
The show derived its name from the town on which the “Archie” universe is based — Riverdale, a nondescript American small town.
The story starts when Jason and Cheryl Blossom, the town’s rich twins, go for a boat ride on the morning of the Fourth of July. An “accident” strikes, their boat capsizes, and Jason dies. This incident starts to unravel the town’s long-tucked-away secrets.
The show retains the original comic series’ classic characters: red-head and freckled Archie; doe-eyed, girl-next-door Betty Cooper; rich and classy Veronica; and gluttony geek Jughead. The sexy, confident brat Cheryl Blossom is there, along with some of the side characters: Mr. Weatherbee, the principal of Riverdale High; Miss Grundy, the music teacher; and Kevin, the only gay character introduced in the comics.
But it seems only the nomenclature remains.
In the comics, Archie is an average American teenager, trying to get through high school but constantly finding ways to mess up. But here in “Riverdale,” he is the perfect guy, a wannabe musician, a popular football player, the handsome hunk with a string of girls trailing him. Jughead, who’s a glutton in the comic, appears in the show as the narrator writing a novel about the events that happen in Riverdale.
The show’s writer has introduced numerous shades of gray in Betty’s character, too. There is a scene with Cheryl Blossom in which sweet Betty says, “Get the hell of my house before I kill you.”
The way the color of her eyes changes emphasizes that Betty Cooper had a dark side all along—something the show promises to explore.
“Riverdale” has the melodrama of a classic high school series, but with the dark mysteries of a drama. There are some catching moments, but if you grew up reading “Archie” comics, this is not for you.
That’s partly because “Riverdale” conflicts with the time in which the comics were originally set.
Kevin refers to Archie as the “millennial straight guy,” and the presence of smartphones and laptops indicates that the show is set in modern times. But the ambiance in Pop Tate’s Shop, Cheryl and Jason’s vintage car, the glove etiquettes by Cheryl and Hermione (Veronica’s mom), all imply that it is in the 1950s. These signs are subtly put in the background, and one can clearly see that “Riverdale” is struggling to find its place in history.
The suspense and thrills are intriguing but at times predictable. As a whole, “Riverdale” is trying hard to be something more than just another young adult drama—but it doesn’t quite cut it.