A chilly morning in New Orleans. It’s been in the fifties the last few days, but no worries, Constant Reader: the new car has an astonishingly powerful heater (something I am also not used to) and I no longer have any fears about my drive to the Frigid Territories North of I-10 anymore. (The Buick’s heater was erratic; which was fine for New Orleans–not so much for anywhere north of I-10.) Today I have some errands to run, and then I am going to try to get that essay finished in draft form today so I can edit it tomorrow. I also want to finish reading my Pelecanos novel; I am not taking it with me to Kentucky so if I don’t finish it this weekend I most likely never will. I’ll also probably finish reading Gore Vidal’s Empire today or tomorrow; I only have one chapter left so I may take it to the easy chair with me to finish today so I can start reading something new–non-fiction, most likely–in the bathroom.
Today, though, I am going to talk about the new CW show, Riverdale, which debuted this past week.
I will admit I went into the show wanting to like it. I grew up with Archie comics; despite the sweet nostalgia the comics had–they were really throwbacks to an imaginary 1950’s kind of teen life that never really existed in truth, the same kind of imaginary world created by shows like Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show; worlds that never existed yet people always feel nostalgia for (which is a topic for another time). I won’t deny that as a kid I kind of thought being a teenager was going to be like an Archie comic book, and was vastly disappointed when it wasn’t. When the comic books went through a sort of ‘reboot’ (a term I am really tired of, frankly, but in this case it actually fits) a few years back and made news, I downloaded some of the new comics to my iPad, and was pleasantly surprised with the update.
I won’t recap or rehash how the company reinvented itself and made itself actually topical and modern and fresh and expanded its audience; there are plenty of articles out there about this and everyone can access Google, plus I would just be rehashing the information and might get some things wrong. But it’s a world with which I am very familiar–Archie, Betty and Veronica, Jughead, Hot Dog, Dilton Doiley, Reggie, Big Moose and Midge, Big Ethel, Miss Grundy, Principal Weatherbee, Pop Tate–and they also added a gay character several years ago, Kevin Keller (I bought the mini-series he featured in)–which would have been not only unimaginable as a kid but would have made an enormous difference in my life. So, I was kind of interested when I heard that Greg Berlanti (responsible for the DC television universe, and did a great job) was developing a TV show based on Archie called Riverdale, which would feature all the known elements of the comic books, give them a modern twist, and also make it dark and brooding; Archie meets Twin Peaks, is what it was described as. (I did watch Twin Peaks, and loved Season One; it lost me about an episode or two into Season 2.)
But I was also afraid it would be awful; just as I was afraid Arrow and The Flash would be. I am very happy to report that it was, in fact, not awful.
All the old elements of Archie are there: Pop Tate’s Choklit Shop; Betty’s unrequited passion for Archie, who only sees her as his best friend; Archie and his music; Josie and the Pussycats are even there. The script was flipped a bit in having Veronica no longer wealthy AND new in town; her father has been jailed for embezzlement and fraud, and she and her mother–originally from Riverdale–have returned to escape the glare.
But the show is structured with a noirish sensibility; the way the show is shot is absolutely gorgeous, and the bright colors also give it a comic book like feel at the same time. There is a murder mystery at the heart of the story; who killed Jason Blossom? And everyone in Riverdale seems to have had a reason to kill him, or is hiding something. It’s very soapy, yet very well done.
But, for me, the strongest part of the show is the appeal of the young cast–the older characters aren’t as well developed, but I’ll give that time. A. J. Apa is appealing enough, and of course, he is very nice looking; really, that’s all that’s required of Archie: good guy, kind of bland and a bit oblivious to everything around him, appealing. Archie never had abs before, though.
It’s extremely well cast; all of the young actors are appealing, the dialogue is snappy and clever (Veronica gets the best lines and I think is going to be the breakout character/star), and it was also fun to see former teen idol (and star of Beverly Hills 90210) Luke Perry as Archie’s father; in a nod to Twin Peaks, Madchen Amick is cast as Betty’s mother.
Usually, pilots have weaknesses that are corrected in the series; I detected none in Riverdale, and I was immediately caught up in the story. I liked it a lot, and am looking forward to continuing to watch.