With a premiere date of January 27, 2017, Riverdale is the CW’s first new show of the year. Loosely based on the Archie comics series, Riverdale follows the ensemble cast of Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Jughead Jones, Veronica Lodge, and Cheryl Blossom as they navigate their way through a murder mystery that sets their small town on edge.
I say loosely based because this show is not your grandfather’s Archie comics. The original comics were lighter, tamer, and just funnier, with slapstick humor and sitcom-like misunderstandings that drive most of the plots. Archie comics were revamped in 2015 from the traditional style to something that resembles more of the Marvel style, and plots and characters were developed further than their vintage counterparts. Despite this, the characters and stories remained more or less the same: Archie is clumsy and loves music and girls, Jughead loves food, Betty is the girl next door, and Veronica is the classy rich girl.
However, Riverdale takes all of this and adds a Twin Peaks-esque vibe to it all. The show centers around the death of Jason Blossom, Cheryl Blossom’s twin brother, and as a result is much darker and edgier. I personally think it’s a really great way to take a well-loved franchise; I grew up reading the original Archie comics, and it’s an absolute dream to see all my favorite characters reimagined this way. Some people don’t love this darker tone, but keep in mind that it’s supposed to be a modernization meant for young adults. Although an Archie cartoon was made in the 1960s, audiences now are more complex and demand more from a show. From a purely business standpoint, a show in this style in 2017 is only logical.
For Riverdale, the characters are more or less the same, but they each have a twist that fits into the plot. Spoilers ahead.
- Archie Andrews: His head’s in the game, but his heart’s in the song. He’s the star football player at Riverdale High … but he really wants to pursue a career in music, much to his father’s initial dismay. I’ll admit, this characterization really reminded me of High School Musical’s Troy Bolton. But here’s the twist: Archie’s secretly seeing his music teacher, Miss Grundy, for … “tutoring.”
As much as I love Riverdale, this arc was by far my least favorite. In the comics, Miss Grundy is still Archie’s teacher, but she’s much, much older than him and their relationship is something akin to Professor Mcgonagall and Harry. So having her and Archie in a sexual relationship was just … wrong. Not only that, but I feel the whole student/teacher trope has been overdone to the point where it’s 1) lazy and 2) glamorized. Student/teacher relationships are never okay — it’s pedophilia, even statutory rape! Forget Betty & Veronica, the first half of season 1 had viewers chanting say no to Grundy. Marketing the Archie/Grundy arc as a “sexy forbidden romance” when it’s thinly veiled statutory rape is a huge faux pas on the CW’s end.
In later episodes, it’s revealed that Grundy is not Grundy at all, but “Jennifer Gibson.” She is on the run from her abusive husband. Okayyyy. That still doesn’t excuse your pedophilia, Jennifer. She does leave Riverdale eventually after Betty’s mother catches her and Archie together. However, in her last scene, she’s shown checking out some high school boys walking by, suggesting that Jennifer Gibson will certainly not change her taste in men. Yuck yuck yuck.
- Betty Cooper: The quintessential girl-next-door with a crush on her best friend, Archie Andrews. In the comics, Betty was a part-time mechanic and top of the honor roll, and more or less remains this way for the show. However, in the pilot, Betty’s mother is shown pressing a bottle of pills into her daughter’s hand, implying that Betty has some kind of mental illness and must be cared for (however, this has yet to come up again in the show). What’s interesting is not Betty, but her mother, Alice. In the comics, her parents take a backseat; for the show, her mother is front and center in controlling virtually every aspect of her daughter’s life. When Betty made the cheerleading squad, Alice almost has her quit. Alice also disapproves of Betty’s friendship (and crush) with Archie.
Although Betty’s parents were simply placeholders in the comics, I really enjoy their beefed up roles for the show. Tiger moms and controlling parents are a serious concern for today’s youth, with 86% of those surveyed stating that they felt pleasing their parents was more important than pleasing themselves. Parents on TV, particularly teen TV, seem way too permissive or absent altogether. Usually this is done for writing purposes — it’s harder to make interesting plots if a realistic parent is in the way, but then, the realism suffers. So seeing parents on the other side of the spectrum is very refreshing.
- Veronica Lodge: Hands down, Veronica has the best arc. Hailing from New York, she moves to Riverdale after her father is arrested for embezzlement, and her mother is reduced to working as a waitress to make ends meet. Traditionally, Veronica has been written as something of a snob, using her money and influence to make Archie choose her over Betty. However, Riverdale’s Veronica goes the other way. She is much more amicable and even feels that her and Betty were “destined to be best friends”. In the pilot, her crush on Archie is obvious, and she even goes as far as kissing him — but thinks of Betty and regrets it immediately. Since then, Veronica hasn’t been very active in keeping the classic Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle alive.The CW has, for once, done something really smart here. They could’ve easily, easily pitted Betty and Veronica against each other from the start. But instead, they’ve chosen to keep them as friends — best friends, in fact. Girls supporting girls is seriously so important; it feels like every other show under the sun pits girls against each other, whether it’s a CW drama or reality shows like The Bachelor. While girls fighting is certainly the man’s way of temporarily boosting ratings, shows that revolve around a solid girl friendship — shows like The Golden Girls, or even Girl Meets World — are what endure.
What’s not so great about Veronica is the queerbaiting. In the pilot, she kisses Betty (who she’d only met that day, might I add) to prove to Cheryl Blossom that they are a “package deal.” And of course there isn’t anything wrong with having some LGBT+ representation in a show — but when it’s never addressed again, it’s a problem. Betty never questioned the kiss or either of their sexualities, and Veronica certainly never brings it up again, leaving behind the impression that the CW simply filmed that scene to include in show promos to increase its audience … queerbaiting at its finest. It happens again later in the season, with openly gay character Kevin Keller sharing a kiss with another boy. And so far, the kiss (or even the boy he kissed) has never been brought up again.
- Jughead Jones: Speaking of sexuality, let’s talk about Jughead Jones. Forsythe “Jughead” Jones is obsessed with food in the comics, and is never shown having even the slightest of romantic interest in anyone, boy or girl. In fact, he was confirmed as an aromantic asexual in 2016. However, for the show, he’s been paired up … with Betty Cooper.This choice may seem random to casual viewers, but it’s not: in the comics, Jughead does repeatedly say that if he liked girls, he’d like Betty. However, this blatant asexuality erasure is a problem. While shows today are certainly branching out in terms of race and sexual diversity, there is a serious lack of asexual representation. Riverdale had a golden opportunity to be the first show to have it. What irks me is that for a show that’s had two LGBT kisses (disregard the queerbaiting issue for a moment), an empowering episode that slam dunks slut-shaming, and several scenes addressing racism, you would think Riverdale would be able to keep their one asexual character. But hey, whatever keeps the ratings up, right?
I haven’t given up on this just yet. But I’m hoping … praying … that the CW will use Jughead’s relationship with Betty as a way for him to discover he’s asexual. I’m really grasping at straws here, but I’m hoping that Jughead simply feels pressure from his peers to date, or even like someone. In episode 7 (“In A Lonely Place”), he’s walking with Betty, hand in hand, and says something like “Isn’t this what normal people our age are supposed to do?”
I’m just saying. The CW, you could still fix this …
So Is Riverdale Good?
I’ve really only glossed over the main points of the show — I haven’t even discussed Cheryl Blossom’s twincest-y relationship with her brother, the unfair walking-gay-stereotype that is Kevin Keller, the truly iconic black-girl-magic group that’s Josie and the Pussycats, or how every parent on Riverdale seems totally bonkers. But I’ll leave all of that up to you to discover, and form your own opinions on.
Overall, I think the CW is doing a good job, considering it’s … you know … the CW. There are some truly empowering feminist undertones in this show, as well as a diverse cast (Veronica is Latina, for example, and Reggie Mantle is Asian). There’s a good plot and good character development, and the characters remain true to their vintage counterparts while having some modernizations (with the exception of Grundy). Unfortunately, the show has a pretty serious problem with queerbaiting, and the erasure of Jughead’s asexuality is worrisome. However, I’m holding out for the second half of the season, and hoping that these issues are addressed.
Riverdale returns March 30 at 9 PM EST.