Wednesday, February 08, 2017

After Two Episodes, 'Riverdale' Has Established Itself as a Must-Watch Show

I admit that I wasn’t too keen for Riverdale at first.  Despite being developed by Greg Berlanti – the man behind the DCW Universe – I had doubts.  I love my Archie Comics to be more light-hearted and fun, and Riverdale seemed to be going the route of a teen soap brimming with angst and madness.

Now, I understand that Archie and friends are uniquely malleable and timeless, capable of being packaged in different forms, tones, and settings.  Through decades of publishing history, they have been re-imagined as children (Little Archie), cavemen (Archie 1), spies (The Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.), and superheroes (Super Teens); have been interpreted through various genres like science fiction and horror, both in kid-friendly (Archie’s Weird Mysteries) and mature (Afterlife with Archie, Life with Archie: The Married Life) forms; and have had weird, tone-clashing crossovers (Archie Meets the Punisher, Archie vs. Predator).  Heck, The Archies, despite being a fictional band (from the vintage cartoon, The Archie Show), was even able to have real-world success – “Sugar, Sugar” being their biggest hit.  In a way, Archie transcends medium, genre, and age.

However, even though I know and appreciate Archie’s inherent fluidity as a pop culture property, I wasn’t so sure about what Riverdale was trying to accomplish.  I was probably fearful that it would bastardize Archie the same way Gotham did with Batman (though I understand some people actually enjoy its batshit nature).
Fortunately, though Riverdale indeed turned out being a weird teen soap, I also found it extremely enjoyable and addicting.  Much to my delighted surprise, its reimagining of Archie and friends actually works – fantastically.  As I write this, it has only been two episodes, but it’s already a favorite of mine among this year’s TV offerings.

Riverdale is ambitious.  On top of being a show based on an iconic comic book property, there’s a noticeable feel that it’s trying to be more.  Right off the bat, it’s already looking to be like Dawson’s Creek (a show which Berlanti also created) – with its endearing friendships and complex romances and all that.  But it isn’t satisfied to be just that.  By putting an overarching murder mystery in the storyline, complete with cynical plot-teasing narrations provided by one of the characters, it also attempts to be a teen noir like Veronica Mars.  (Some have described it as a mashup of Gossip Girl and Twin Peaks – two shows I haven’t watched, so I don’t know what that should mean.)  In addition, it has already introduced a ton of subplots, as well as themes and story elements where a multitude of arcs can potentially branch out.  However, it never feels convoluted.   And, again, all these already with only two episodes so far!
But in the end, what I think is the greatest charm of this show is pretty basic: it’s a show that reinvents Archie and friends.   I found it a lot of fun to discover how each character might be different from his or her comic book counterpart.

Archie’s still the all-American high school boy that dabbles into sports and music.  But he’s less clumsy, and a bit more tortured, and way, way hotter.  Seriously, the show makes as much excuse as possible to show his abs.

Betty and Veronica still have the distinctive dynamic that make them “Betty & Veronica.”  However, they don’t immediately start off as BFFs, as the series starts off with Veronica having just moved to Riverdale.  Riverdale’s Betty is the sweet, smart, girl-next-door (literally in this show’s case), Archie-gaga character that she’s always been in the comics.  But unlike the comics’ Betty, she’s wary of taking risks, and it takes the arrival of Veronica to enable her to take the first, tiny steps out of her comfort zone.  On the other hand, Veronica has probably my most favorite departure from the source material.  In the comics, she’s intrinsically narcissistic and spoiled, being the only child of the richest man in town.  Riverdale’s Veronica is “humbled,” as her father’s involvement in a scandal proved to be the family’s downfall.  Hence, TV Veronica is nicer than comic Veronica, but still as chic and silver-tongued.  However, she’s still capable of being an “ice queen” when the need arises – ready to eloquently deliver amazingly scorching remarks.
The reinvention of Jughead turned me off a bit at first.  In Riverdale, he’s a brooding, outcast-type writer.  I like the writer part.  Not so much (initially) of the brooding.  Since he’s not only my favorite Archie Comics character, but one of my all-time favorite comic book characters, I’m cautious and bothered by any departure from his happy-go-lucky, food-loving, and laid-backed personality.  I also didn’t like that in the pilot, he and Archie are estranged (thank God, that was resolved by episode two).  But a little while later, I realized that among the characters, he’s still the most interesting.  Just like in the comics.  He might be interesting in a different manner, but he’s interesting nonetheless.  So as long as the series sustains this, I’m fine with what it did with Jughead.  I especially like the fact that he’s the one who provides the noir-style narration of the show – meaning he’s still the smartest of the gang, or he’s going the be the main “detective” character.

Cheryl Blossom is probably the Riverdale characterization that is closest to the comics.  Only “grittier.”  But, hey, every single Riverdale character is “grittier” than his or her comicbook counterpart anyway.

Some other significant differences of the show from the comics are: Reggie and Moose – being established as jocks like Archie – seem to be best buddies; Mr. Weatherbee isn’t bald and fat, but black; Josie and the Pussycats are also a trio of African-American girls (instead of just Valerie), and that Josie is initially introduced as snobbish; and Kevin is best friends with Betty instead of Veronica.
But the most shocking character that this show re-imagined is, hands-down, Ms. Grundy.  She’s younger and hotter (in a Margot Robbie sort of way).  And she and Archie have this forbidden teacher-student love between them!

Overall, the cast is awesome.  They are attractive, but not too distractingly attractive.  Beyond that, I feel that they all do a great job in committing to make their respective characters as intriguing as they need to be.

Riverdale has characters worth investing on, clever dialogue, plotlines wrapped in mystery, a teen-soap-for-young-adults appeal, and tons of potential.  I’m hooked.

Miscellaneous musings:

→ With Jughead all serious, Kevin might be set as the comic relief of this series.

→ Archie and Ms. Grundy’s relationship is really weird for me.  The whole idea of it sometimes makes me involuntarily picture in my mind their comic book counterparts making out.
These two.  Brrrrr.

→ I understand what the show was trying to accomplish by letting Josie & the Pussycats perform “Sugar, Sugar” in episode two (reference!).  But it’s kind of blasphemous since it’s the most popular song of The Archies.  And since Riverdale’s Josie is supposed to be ardent about exclusively performing their own original songs, I’m slightly annoyed that, in this universe, Josie & the Pussycats composed “Sugar, Sugar.”

→ The thought of the possibility of Sabrina the Teenage Witch entering the already crazy world of Riverdale excites me to no end.

→ I hated that the 2016 Archie Comics reboot made Jughead asexual.  I really hope this isn’t the case with Riverdale, coz I ship Jughead and Betty big time!
In the comics, Jughead is never interested with girls, and Betty completes the love triangle with Archie and Veronica.  But they do have heavy chemistry.  Whenever Archie hurts Betty’s feelings because of continually ignoring her for Veronica, or if there is a dispute between the two, Jughead always sides with Betty.  Betty easily confides to Jughead with her problems, and Jughead is always able to encourage her.  And if Jughead needs to be righted, it’s Betty who helps him.

Jughead has always been quite fond of Betty (or, rather, more accurately, her cooking), and arguably vice versa.

There are plenty of hints about a potential relationship developing between Jughead (who only has his eyes on food) and Betty (who only has her eyes on Archie) in the comics.  This chemistry’s a running element of the comics’ fluid canon.  But affection is never definite.  Any romance between them is just a potential, all speculative, and not a certainty. That's what makes this “couple” so fun.

That said, I’m ready to see something happen between them.  And my greatest wish to see in this series is these two finally becoming a couple.  If it actually delivers this, regardless of whatever else happens, I’ll already consider Riverdale a pop cultural success.

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