Riverdale Pilot Review/Recap: Welcoming You To A Darker Side Of Archie

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Riverdale Is Where David Lynch Meets Dawson’s Creek

A staple of American culture and the magazine rack at the checkout of your local supermarket, the adventures of Archie Andrews and his friends makes its way onto television with Riverdale and a pilot that definitely isn’t your average Archie comic.

Entitled The River’s Edge, this adaptation of the comics takes a much darker tone, one that channels the recent more mature divisions of the Archie brand like the Life with Archie or the Waid/Staples run that has garnered critical praise. Opening with a montage over the small town of Riverdale, we learn through extended narration (by Cole Sprouse’s Jughead Jones) that this small piece of timeless americana carries with it a darker underbelly. This grittier thematic turn is further emphasized by its visuals that draw comparisons to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks moving away from the vibrant colors of the comics and using a much more subdued palate. Using this tone, the pilot  is able to effectively establish that everyone in this town is seemingly harbouring a few secrets before unveiling the grand mystery that should drive the rest of the season: The disappearance of Jason Blossom.

Along with its forbidding mystery, Riverdale mixes in a heavy dose of teen melodrama, an element that functions as a call to Archie’s roots depicting the life of an average American teenager and to the CW’s roots that used shows heavy on teen melodrama like the OC and Dawson’s Creek to launch itself into public consciousness. The issue with melodrama however, is that the line between cheesy and compelling is very thin making it a delicate tightrope act that could tilt with one wrong push.

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Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones

Familiar storylines from the comics are established in the pilot including Betty’s (Lili Reinhart) long time infatuation with our ginger protagonist Archie Andrews (K.J Apa), the arrival of wealthy socialite Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) to Riverdale and the seed for  infamous love triangle between the three is planted. Outside of the realm of familiarity is Archie’s illicit affair with music teacher Ms Grundy (who is not an elderly lady like in the comics but rather a 30 something stunner played by Sarah Habel), The Lodges’ questionable past, the divide between Jughead and Archie and the status of Betty’s sister Polly. Those are just a few of the storylines that are setup in the pilot which should make for quite the juggling act from creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and his team of writers.

Some of the notable departures from the comics are welcome. Veronica’s presence as a friend to Betty rather than a competitor – an aspect the comics often ignored in service of the love triangle – is a highlight as it allows the audience to not draw lines of division immediately (though who doesn’t feel for  poor loveable Betty?).  Others like the Archie-Grundy relationship and the presence of Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) as a central character rather than the occasional one shot are already wearing out its welcome. Where focus is placed will be telling in determining the fate of this series.

Whether or not Riverdale can deliver on its many concurrent storylines it has planted this episode while upholding the integrity of its source material remains a lofty task to say the least. However with its Lynch like style and the CW’s known success at delivering on teenage melodrama, Riverdale has the makings of an intriguing show that if nothing else has shown a propensity to take a risk in order to separate itself  from the rest of a stacked television landscape.

Spare Parts

  • Archie is now ripped and missing his familiar freckles
  • Jughead was my favourite character growing up, not a big fan of him as the moody starving novelist. Hoping we get more of the wit and sarcasm he is known for
  • I like the look of both Betty and Veronica here
  • Like most CW shows there are few people of color save for Pop Tate and Josie and the Pussycats (who are now all black unlike their comic counterparts) and Reggie Mantle (played by Ross Butler who is half asian)
Nate Lam
Nate Lamhttp://beforethecyborgs.com
Editor-in-chief of Before The Cyborgs. Part-time filmmaker and occasional short story author. One day he hopes to be as cool as Bill Murray.

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