Riverdale Recap (Chapter 1: The River’s Edge)

So since the next project I’m working on is a YA mystery the next few blog postings you read about will most likely touch upon YA subjects . . . so with that in mind let’s hit up my first blogging on the subject.

Confession time. I don’t think I can rightfully claim to have ever read a panel (let alone a full issue) of an Archie comic in my life. And this coming from someone who both collected and read numerous comics growing up. Sure, I’m familiar with the Archie world, so far as that knowledge is limited to the names Archie, Betty, Veronica & Jughead. I was aware of the hoopla that surrounded the introduction of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in the Archie world, back when he was first created in 2010. But I don’t think I could have even told you the town they all lived in was Riverdale (until the CW announced their TV show last year).  And so, this review/critique (?) of CW’s Riverdale TV show will be done with less affection for its adaption of the Archie comics (of which I’ve been told is very slim, again depending on who you ask) but more as a TV show as a whole, and more particularly as a YA melodrama and teen mystery (which was what sparked my initial interest for the show).

So let’s start with some of the obvious aspects to this episode. First off, the look (and its companion: the sound). From the opening montage, a very noir-like voice over (from Jughead) is used to both describe the town and introduce a few of the characters that will be important with the ongoing storylines. There’s the somewhat creepy intro to the Blossom twins: Jason (our soon to be victim and main mystery to solve for the season) and his bitchy, queen B sister, Cheryl. They are wonderfully introduced over a very well-used Tell Me by Johnny Jewel featuring Saoirse  Ronan (from the Lost River soundtrack for those of you looking for that type of thing) in what is a fine line between a fifties-type innocent brother/sister love and what could possibly be a more Twin Peaks inspired incestual relationship. Soon Cheryl is found abandoned on the side of a river where her and her brother were boating for the fourth of July, with her brother nowhere to be found, Cheryl’s claim that he fell in and drowned (despite being on the water polo team, no less).  An investigation is begun into finding Jason’s body, townsfolk show up, some with concern for the missing teenager, some in hopes that he truly is dead. The look of the show is excellent, with most of it appearing to be filmed at night while what is filmed during the day has a gloomy, overcast feel to it. Personally I dig it. Its effective and moody and helps set the tone just right.

We then cut to a few months later and school—Sophomore year for most of our teenage cast—is beginning. First there’s our lead, Archie Andrews, who spent the summer hauling cement and building a body that probably would not have developed quite so much for a kid his age, but then again, what do I remember from my freshman/sophomore years? (perhaps they should have started them at least a year later in school, but then they wouldn’t be able to get another year out of the show before turning the kids over to the college years). This is a point brought up by the wonderfully played (thank you Casey Cott)  Kevin Keller as Riverdale’s one and only truly out character and reigning leader of the zingers. Then there’s Archie’s best friend, Betty Cooper, (who also appears to be besties with Kevin) who has finally decided to tell Archie that she has true love feelings for him and would like to move beyond the friend zone. Before that can happen though they are both introduced to newcomer Veronica Lodge, who, along with her mother Hermione, have left the Big Apple for small-time Riverdale in the wake of a scandalous Ponzi scheme that Veronica’s father is being accused of. Veronica’s lines were almost a bit too meta, even for this show, but there is a spunk to the actress that sells the role. The same can be said for the whole cast all around. Though this show probably won’t be winning any Emmys any time soon it’s still a solid effort and everyone in the cast seems fully committed to their parts.

Fortunately, this show isn’t entirely a YA effort, as most of the kids’ parents are also given some screen time, with the promise of their own intriguing storylines set to unfold. Archie’s dad, Fred, runs his own construction company and appears to be a rather respectful, and concerned parent without being melodramatic or overbearing. He even has a rather well done scene later in the episode where he lays out his expectations for Archie and how he should behave if wanting to be treated as a man. It’s a good scene, emotional and effective, again without being overly melodramatic. That’s slightly more than can be said for the two female adult characters that were introduced: Veronica’s mother Hermione Lodge—who is trying to start over while probably trying her best to keep her expensive  tastes not too far behind her—and Betty’s mother, Alice Cooper, who has high/strict expectations for her youngest daughter (complete with pills to help her focus), especially in light of her oldest daughter Polly’s breakdown (of some sort) after her breakup with Jason Blossoms some time the previous year. Neither were given more than two scenes but I expect much more from both actresses in the future of the show.

Now, overall, I highly enjoyed this show. It’s exactly what I was hoping and expecting it to be. Was it perfect? No. Were there flaws? Yes. But can I overlook the little nitpicking problems for the greater good? Without any problems. Some of the little problems that kinda nagged at me are:

—the meta/social references. Thanks to Kevin Williamson and the creation of Scream and Dawson’s Creek we now live in a world where self-references are abundant. That being said there were a lot of them crammed into the one hour as if there was a contest to see how many the writer(s) could get in there. And several from the same show (someone sure loves Mad Men). Again, not a deal breaker for me so much as it was just a little distracting to have quite so many being made in just a 40 minute show time). There had to be at least four (or more) different ways in which Archie himself was referred to (Justin Gingerlake, Teenage  Outlander, etc).

—the central mystery. Don’t ask me how David Lynch and Mark Frost did it (with Twin Peaks for those not familiar with them) but somehow they introduced a mystery (Who Killed Laura Palmer?) without having a second of screen time showing Laura alive before her body was discovered and yet somehow we really did care about who killed her and why? Maybe it was the time period. Maybe it was that it really hadn’t been done before then. Maybe it was the brilliant cast of characters that we wanted to get to know better. Whatever the reason, rarely has it ever worked so effectively, especially without the central victim having been established to the core audience (as a personal note I think The Killing managed to make us care—public outcry over the season one finale would sure have us believe that). And that’s a problem here. Jason Blossoms. Sorry, but don’t know the kid and why should I care that he’s dead? Or who killed him? What little we actually know about him so far doesn’t exactly make him a prince worth mourning over. But again, could be wrong here. I’m sure this will be laid out and more fully developed as the show goes on, but for a pilot episode, while I would like to know who killed him, I probably don’t care who did it based on who all was introduced so far.

—Josie & The Pussycats. Again, I’m not 100% familiar with this world (I only found out a month or so ago that Sabrina the Teenage Witch originated from this comic series) but knew about Josie. I’m not a diehard fan of theirs and based on their two scene intro in the pilot I can’t say that I am now. I know they’re supposed to be strong, independent, fierce women . . . and perhaps that’s how they’ll be developed as the show goes on, but based on the first scene interaction with Archie they came off across more as bitchy and stuck up. Even unapproachable. I liked the song they sang at the Back to School Semi-Formal and I’m hoping they will be more developed as fully functioning characters and not simply around to sing a song each week, but I have to be honest, my first introduction to the characters left a somewhat bitter taste.

I feel like this could go on for a lot more so for now that’s more or less what I’ve got to say on the subject so far. I’m sure other things will pop into my mind as the weeks go on and I’ll cover them here and there (both pros and cons). Bottom line is I really enjoyed this show, both as a YA drama (with that bar being set by The OC) and as a teenage mystery (a very high bar set by Veronica Mars). Since none of this show’s central characters appear to be a detective-type character it will be interesting to see how the mystery progresses with the characters remaining involved, but considering one of their schoolmates was the victim I’m sure that won’t be a problem.


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