I never watch shows like Riverdale. Like, I don’t even know what genre this show is supposed to be. It’s some kind of luridly neon noir mystery teen soap opera based on Archie Comics. Is that a genre? That’s like five genres.
I have no idea. Here’s what I do know: I love this show.
I didn’t expect to. Why would I? Archie Comics were a thing I read when I was 14 years old. When I had nothing else to read, no less. Archie Comics were the thing I grabbed randomly in the checkout line at the grocery store. It was the controversy-free blandertainment module I earned as a reward for not being an asshole while Mom was shopping.
Apparently, at some point after I stopped reading them, Archie Comics got cool. There’s been serial murderer Archie Comics and supernatural Archie Comics and like Archie vs. Predator and all kinds of awesome stuff and I’m shocked. The Archie Comics I read growing up never had anything more wild than Veronica dating Reggie because she was mad at Archie that month.
Last year they announced that the CW was gonna do a TV show based on Archie Comics and my response was “Meh. Whatever.” I barely registered it as a thing. I think we watched the first episode during the mid-winter break when we were bored one night, but I didn’t think much of it. There was a murder mystery and Archie was banging a teacher (eew). Meh. Whatever.
Sometime last summer, deep in the TV-free doldrums when there’s just nothing new with a plot to watch, the guy behind Movies with Mikey, Mike Neumann, came out with a new podcast about Riverdale, called Cry Me A Riverdale. I really like Movies with Mikey. It’s a pretty awesome YouTube channel. And I really like podcasts, although not usually episodic podcasts about TV shows. But I had a lot of Sims that needed playing one Saturday afternoon, so we listened to Cry Me A Riverdale while we played video games.
Two things: 1. Cry Me A Riverdale is a lot of fun. It features Mike Neumann and Jon Risinger (of Rooster Teeth fame) dissecting and fanboying out over each episode of Riverdale. 2. These two guys had clearly gotten a lot more out of Riverdale than I had on first viewing.
So, based on their enjoyment, we checked out Riverdale again. And by episode two, I was hooked. I don’t even know why. There’s just something about this bizarre re-imagining of the Archie Comics world.
Maybe it’s Betty, and the fact that she’s so sweet and wholesome despite her sister being a hot mess and her parents being petty, rotten monsters. Maybe it’s the fact that Betty is not as sweet and wholesome as she puts on, and somewhere around season five she’s gonna go on a spree killer rampage, starting with her mom. (Calling it now, kids.)
Maybe it’s the fact that this version of Veronica Lodge is a high-society 40-year-old crammed into a 17-year-old’s body and making it work despite a mobster-style dad in prison and a possibly-sociopathic mother. Or that Jughead is a young J.D. Salinger-type with a biker dad, absent mom, and a penchant for purple, noir prose. Or that Archie is a complete moron with a heart of gold who’s probably going to knock up half the senior class of Riverdale High before winter break. It might just be Cheryl Blossom, who is some kind of Flowers in the Attic crazysauce in high heels.
I don’t know, you guys, but this show is melodramatic magic.
Season One revolved around the murder of Cheryl Blossom’s twin brother, Jason, weaving the mystery into the fabric of the perfect little Pleasantville-style town of Riverdale. As the Archie Comics gang follow the trail of the mystery, Riverdale is revealed as a weird, bubbling morass of unhealthy issues, feuds, corruption and incompetence.
So, you know, just like every small town, except covered in that plastic Barbie Doll CW veneer. There’s a gang, there’s some light class warfare, there are sinister fathers with unpleasant motives and domineering, overbearing mothers, there’s an evil industry that controls the town, semi-regular murders and mayhem, child abuse, some mild pedophilia… you know, all the standard small town stuff.
The S1 plot isn’t particularly original, especially compared to your standard CW soap opera fare. If the hero was blandly handsome John Smith instead of the brilliantly-redheaded Archie Andrews, you wouldn’t give this show a second glance. What makes it eye catching is the fact that all this is happening to the wholesome Archie Comics gang you grew up with. It’s innocent childhood nostalgia combined with the CW’s signature angsty drama, with a splash of Twin Peaks-style weird for flavor.
The whole thing is held together by killer casting, talented acting, and some pretty tight writing skills, to boot.
Season Two just kicked off last night (with, may I just say, an excellent premiere), so you don’t even have to work that hard to catch up. S1 is a fast thirteen episodes that you can tear through like a bag of chips – you can knock it out this weekend, if you’ve a mind to. I highly suggest pairing it with Cry Me A Riverdale – it makes for a fantastic combo.