Restless ‘Riverdale’ a departure from the fun, funny comics
From “90210” to “Gossip Girl,” American teen drama shows have reflected their respective generation’s issues—primarily the topsy-turvy romantic entanglements of its young protagonists. “Riverdale” is no different; the new series streaming on Netflix is perhaps the quintessential, present-day teen show—and it deals with pretty much the same universal predicaments.
Pretty people with pesky problems, check. It’s also a more mature iteration of the “Archie” line of humor comics. Actually, only the names and basic traits remain the same—it’s practically devoid of humor, and may come as a shock to those who wanted their live-action counterparts light and breezy.
No, “Riverdale,” is heavily influenced by “Twin Peaks” and “Veronica Mars,” in that there’s a murder mystery unraveling in the backdrop of the picturesque town, while its teen denizens find themselves living “Dawson’s Creek” and “The OC” tropes.
The drama developed by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa counts Greg Berlanti (“The Flash,” “Supergirl”) as one of its executive producers. So while it’s not exactly original in the genre department, it’s still fresh and contemporary. And Aguirre-Sacasa penned “Afterlife With Archie,” a horror comic book about the characters in a zombie apocalypse setting, so this more serious take isn’t that surprising to fans of that title.
But this show still stuns and shocks. Archie Andrews, played by KJ Apa, isn’t a goofy klutz, but a more-desired-than-usual hunk. The popular love triangle with the gorgeous blonde Betty (Lili Reinhart, who looks a lot like the late Brittany Murphy) and the rich, vampy Veronica (the perfectly cast Camila Mendes) is recreated well, the two girls becoming “frenemies,” just like in the countless comic books. But Archie—not at all that innocent dope we may have expected—is revealed as the prey of a “cougar” in some steamy scenes! (It’s still statutory rape, though, and repercussions are inevitable.)
The cast choices are adventurous—Archie’s dad is former heartthrob and “90210” cast member Luke Perry, while his mom will be played by ’80s “teen queen” Molly Ringwald. Speaking of “Twin Peaks,” ex-regular Mädchen Amick plays Betty’s controlling mother, while Sarah Habel (“Rush,” “Hostel: Part III”) portrays the nubile, 30-something Miss Grundy.
Not surprisingly (as Berlanti has racially diverse casts), Caucasian characters Reggie and Mr. Weatherbee are played by Asian and African-American actors Ross Butler and Peter James Bryant, respectively.
As for Jughead, he isn’t comically gluttonous or largely unaffected; this version by Cole Sprouse is still inexplicably slim, but brooding and sensitive. He’s still best buds with the increasingly cryptic Archie.
The show isn’t “Skins,” that smart British show populated by unapologetic teen hellions—at least not yet, and it shouldn’t be. “Riverdale’s” topics this early are similarly serious—one of the characters is dealing with depression, while another is going through same-sex experimentation. It’s definitely not the Saturday morning cartoons from the ’80s one may remember. Would it have been more like a sanitized “Friends,” had the creators opted to go with a more faithful, cheerful adaptation?
Maybe, maybe not. But as it is, the 10-episode “Riverdale” will undoubtedly grow into its own era-defining and distinct show, already promising to be as restless as its cool, insecure and potentially dangerous teenagers.