Archie Reloaded – Riverdale

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Pho­to cred­it: Twit­ter @CW_Riverdale

“Our sto­ry is about a town. A small town. And the peo­ple who live in that town” are the first words we hear on Riverdale (2017 – present). These words are spo­ken by a nar­ra­tor who turns out to be a sev­en­teen-year-old boy – with a beanie that looks sort of like a crown – sit­ting in a din­er booth, typ­ing away at his nov­el in the works.

His name is Jug­head Jones (Cole Sprouse), and the peo­ple liv­ing in the small town of Riverdale are Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), who’s torn between being a high school jock and a sen­si­tive musi­cian; the good girl Bet­ty Coop­er (Lili Rein­hart) as well as rich rebel Veron­i­ca Lodge (Cami­la Mendes). And, of course, all their friends, ene­mies, fren­e­mies, and parents.

These names may or may not ring a bell because Riverdale and its ensem­ble of char­ac­ters are based on the Archie Comics, which have been pub­lished since 1942 and have reached icon­ic fame in the USA. Since then, the char­ac­ters have appeared in sev­er­al shapes and forms, even as a vir­tu­al band called “The Archies” with their most pop­u­lar hit song “Sug­ar, Sug­ar” from 1969. 

This 2017 Archie reboot begins with a mur­der mys­tery: Wealthy Jason Blos­som (Trevor Stines) was mur­dered on the night of July 4; appar­ent­ly, the last per­son who saw him was his twin sis­ter Cheryl Blos­som (Madeleine Petsch). In each episode, the mys­tery gets more sus­pense­ful, and the view­er encoun­ters shock­ing rev­e­la­tions about Riverdale’s inhab­i­tants, all in line with the premise that there are “shad­ows under­neath”  this inno­cent small town’s façade, as our broody din­er nov­el­ist Jug­head puts it.

At this point, I must admit that I’ve nev­er read Archie Comics, so I don’t know how watch­ing this series feels to fans of the comics or to peo­ple who’ve grown up with Archie and his friends. How­ev­er, some research reveals that not all of them are too hap­py with this reboot because too many aspects of the comics have been changed. One exam­ple is the fam­i­ly life shown in the series: Most of the fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships are high­ly dys­func­tion­al. The dis­turbing­ly socio­path­ic mem­bers of the Blos­som fam­i­ly, Riverdale’s wealthy maple syrup dynasty, are only the tip of the ice­berg. Bet­ty Cooper’s moth­er Alice (Mäd­chen Amick) is a self-cen­tered jour­nal­ist devoid of integri­ty who’s emo­tion­al­ly abu­sive towards her daugh­ter; Jughead’s father FP (Skeet Ulrich) is the leader of a local gang of crim­i­nals; and Veronica’s par­ents are dis­hon­est, greedy, real estate moguls. Accord­ing to fans of the comics, this is very un-Archielike, and in the speech bub­ble-ver­sion, Riverdale’s fam­i­lies aren’t evil and dys­func­tion­al, but safe havens. Appar­ent­ly, only Archie’s father Fred Andrews (Luke Per­ry) lives up to that pos­i­tive image in recent Riverdale episodes. But maybe that’s what it takes to trans­late a mid-20th-cen­tu­ry con­cept into mod­ern times. It’s cer­tain­ly nec­es­sary for this kind of show since its main premise seems to be rosy façades con­ceal­ing dark­er truths.

It’s safe to say the world of Riverdale feels … hm, spe­cial. It feels unre­al in an aes­thet­ic way: There are many relics from the 1950s, for instance Pop’s Din­er and the Twi­light Dri­ve-In Movie The­ater. Then again, there are cell­phones, com­put­ers, and a per­pet­u­al flow of mod­ern cul­tur­al ref­er­ences. On the whole, this cre­ates the com­pelling­ly para­dox­i­cal effect that Riverdale feels like the present and not quite like the present at the same time. This jux­ta­po­si­tion feels right for a series based on some­thing as vin­tage as the Archie Comics and fits the ear­li­er men­tioned premise well.

At times, how­ev­er, Riverdale also feels unre­al in a prob­a­bly unin­ten­tion­al­ly corny and weird way: Some of the things the char­ac­ters say don’t sound nat­ur­al. Also, some of the char­ac­ters’ actions and con­flicts seem forced and lack cred­i­bil­i­ty. To me, the series tries too much to be shock­ing and sus­pense­ful at times.

But then again, maybe these lat­ter points are just gen­uine parts of the show. Maybe Riverdale is exact­ly what it needs to be because it works well and is fun to watch. Right now, we’re in the sec­ond half of sea­son two, and it looks like mil­lions of view­ers aren’t going to leave Riverdale any­time soon. And maybe Riverdale’s neigh­bor­ing city Green­dale will be worth a vis­it in the near future: Net­flix has recent­ly announced a Riverdale spin-off called The Chill­ing Adven­tures of Sab­ri­na, focus­ing on the famous teenage witch who also orig­i­nat­ed from the Archie Comics.

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