Review: For starter, Riverdale “borrows” super-likable characters from your childhood Archie comics – from red-haired jock-musician wannabe, Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), the good girl Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), smoky hot rich Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), quirky Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) to the thorn girl, Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), throws them into a bleak, neon-bathed YA world, and give them a completely new storyline. While appearing campy and soapy for the whole season, the series has proven to be another guilty pleasure entry from the CW, which surprisingly works.
Set in a fictional town named Riverdale – hence the title – this series practically kicks off with the mysterious murder of Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines), a brother to Cheryl and a lover to Betty’s sister. From there, Riverdale quickly escalates into a provincial-townie, coming-of-age murder whodunit, which is often overshadowed by toned-down Game of Thrones/The Sopranos-esque faux complexities. Stories have never been an aspect this series excels in, but they’re important to make those likable characters shine like cents.
Call it Veronica Mars in group or dark Breakfast Club or murder-laced Mean Girls, Riverdale might give such impressions at the start, but soon as the mystery unravels (rather unconvincingly), it becomes apparent that this show tries a bit too hard to be an anti-young-adult young adult fiction. The main young characters are deviant from similar young adult stories; but, they’re not different like in a completely different polar. Those characters are sometimes over-complicated and, some other times, over-simplified, but they always keep the charms.
Despite coming out unsteady, characters have always been Riverdale’s ace of spade through and through. Archie starts as a typical jock who ‘had just grown’ into a clueless handsome over the summer; but, there’s something about him (aside from his Casanova-esque desire) that tells him to pursue his interest in music. There’s something that makes Archie distant from Betty, his old friend. They should’ve been lovers, but they aren’t. Betty here is a more typical girl next window, the passionate hidden gem, who apparently has a wild Chicago’s Velma Kelly-ish persona. Veronica a.k.a. Ronnie is a new posh girl in town, who at first looks like either the mean girl or the Latina sidekick, but turns out to be both of it at once. Most interesting character in the show is Jughead Jones, a gangster’s son and a male Veronica Mars wannabe. He always looks gothic and distant social pariah, especially with his offbeat hat, but he isn’t the ignorant one you’ll accuse him to be. Also, Juggy is Archie’s best friend (although their bromance might be the biggest mismatch in the show, but they’re proven to be the show’s biggest black hole).
Aside from those popular four, Riverdale still owns the rosters of Archie comic characters to make over. Princess of Thorn, Cheryl, is the real mean girl at some point, but who knows if she’s not the cancerous type? She has compassions, too. Another Archie comic’s property is Josie and the Pussycat – the Destiny’s Child of Riverdale; Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), an openly gay friend; Reggie Mantle (Ross Butler – recasted for the second season), Archie’s fellow jock; and other. None of them is too stereotypical, surprisingly.
When you think Riverdale is going to be a major coming-of-age bravura, the show proves you wrong immediately. As the season approaching half-time, parent figures are slowly infused into the storyline creating Game of Thrones constellation in this small town murder whodunit. While we think the show is only gonna put them in background, once again Riverdale proves you wrong. Gradually, those infused apparitions (including grown-up Molly Ringwald) grow into a full-sized intervention before finally become an integral part of the storytelling – both the whodunit and subplots.
As I mentioned previously, Riverdale handles the murder mystery rather unconvincingly. There are intrigues here and there, involving conflict of interests, personal grudge and all the clichés you could expect in a CW’s series; but, Riverdale doesn’t bother giving away clues about the murder. Instead of trying to gather information and connect dots to find out who the murderer is, it jumps further than that (assuming that audiences do not need that details) and attempts to find out what the murderer’s motivation of killing Jason Blossom. When the mystery is eventually unraveled, of course, they unravel it instantly with a mediocre revelations saying “We never actually drop any clue to you, but, hey, we find the murderer.”
Yet, again, Riverdale isn’t being addictive for the storylines, but for the characters. Most importantly, this show is self-aware of its campiness and embraces the soapy quirks and the pleasant absurdity quite fastidiously. Riverdale, despite all, has established itself as the guiltiest pleasure of the year.
Riverdale (2017) – Season 1