Review: 'Riverdale' ditches wholesomeness for an edgy twist on a classic comic
This is not your father's — or your grandfather's — Archie comics.
On paper it seems like a bonkers idea: Classic characters Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge and Jughead Jones are modernized for a teen murder mystery.
But on screen, Riverdale plays out like a noirish melodrama combining elements from all your soapy favorites like Twin Peaks, Gossip Girl and Dawson's Creek.
Archie (K.J. Apa) is the handsome, red-headed football player who is more abs than awkward. He comes back buff after a long break working for his dad (Luke Perry), yet pines for the scandalous summer fling with teacher Ms. Grundy (Sarah Habel) and the freedom to explore his musical talents.
Supposed goody-two-shoes Betty (Lili Reinhart) isn't all cotton candy and sunshine. She's constantly stifled by her journalist mother (Twin Peaks' Madchen Amick), who tries to keep Betty on the straight and narrow path with an Adderall prescription and strict rules on who she can be friends with.
The arrival of New York socialite Veronica (Camila Mendes) shakes up Betty and Archie's lives as well as Riverdale High. Veronica's mother Hermione (Marisol Nichols) returns to her hometown of Riverdale to start over after her husband's financial fraud scandal tainted the Lodge name.
Riverdale cold opens with the death of the high school football star and twin to the fiery redhead Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines). Clearly this is no accidental death. It's also a bit weird that Cheryl and Jason take a romantic boat ride in matching crisp white linens.
And who better to narrate this seedy mystery than Jughead (Cole Sprouse), the demure, beanie-wearing writer who lives in the old drive-in theater.
The story quickly turns into an old fashioned whodunit wrapped in a surreal drama led by pretty teenagers and horrible parents.
This is an Archie story above all else, but with hints of David Lynch surrealism and moody aesthetics. The characters retain much of their iconic personality and physical traits, but without the cartoonish expression and goofy dialogue. They're all inherently good kids who often get placed in more adult situations than you would find in the comics.
Gone is the perky Americana and antiquated love triangle between Betty, Veronica and Archie. Despite a bumpy start, Veronica and Betty became fast friends hell bent on avenging those who were slut-shamed by a block-headed jock and sticking up for each other in the face of manipulative mean girl Cheryl.
Even local band Josie and the Pussycats gets a dynamic twist. The all-black trio, led by Ashleigh Murray, and their iconic cat ears rock Riverdale pep rallies like an episode of Friday Night Lights.
Series creator and executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Glee, Looking, Big Love) brings much of the pop-culture saturated and sardonic dialogue seen in his other shows to Riverdale. It also helps that Aguirre-Sacasa has history writing for Marvel Comics and is the Chief Creative Officer for Archie Comics. Archie and the gang are definitely in good hands.
Don't let the show's comic book roots deter you, Riverdale won't disorient viewers with too many hat tips to decades-old comic book panels.The show's smart and surprising choices temper the teen angst and wholesome origins. It's not another paperback teen drama.
On Thursday night, Riverdale — The town with pep! — is the place to be.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at email@example.com. Follow @chelseatatham.
If you watch
Riverdale premieres at 9 p.m. on the CW.