A quick recap in case you didn’t grow up on Archie comics. Archie and its many spinoffs were the stories of a typical teenage boy who played guitar and football. He liked to hang out with his best buddy Jughead at the local diner, and he would do absolutely anything to impress the girl of his dreams, which was Betty… no wait… it was Veronica… or maybe Valerie Brown… no definitely Betty… er Veronica. You get the idea. Whether you love the trend of taking classics and making them into gritty, relatable and modern versions or not (cough cough Pokemon and Dora the Explorer) some things never change. Archie is still just a guy who wants to play music, toss the ball around, hang out with friends and “Netflix & chill” with any girl who will have him. Thus ends the similarity.
You know how we all had that one friend who had their mind in the gutter and that other friend who was a total nerdy conspiracy nut who was into fan theories about everything? Well someone gave them Archie and what came out the other side of their brainstorming sessions is a beautifully dark seedy universe where things are nothing like the 1950’s veneer of perfection that everyone wants to pull over real life. Archie was good, and no one is going ever to deny that. Riverdale, on the other hand, is just on a whole different level.
* Warning So-Many-Spoilers Ahead:
1. Narrated by Jughead
The one-dimensional burger loving doofus grew up. He’s not the comic relief anymore; in fact, he couldn’t be further from it if he tried. He got a makeover, a new hat, a motorcycle, and a typewriter. Though he’s not the only narrator throughout the series, Jughead Jones is writing a book about Riverdale. When he’s not joining a gang, outwitting criminals, cleaning up Archie’s messes or taking his alcoholic father down a peg or two, he also finds time to write for the school newspaper and become a social activist.
2. Jughead and Betty Are Everything
She’s the girl next door, and he’s the guy from the wrong side of the tracks, sort of. Nothing in Riverdale is ever as simple as it seems. This Romeo and Juliette have a stormy on-and-off relationship. Sometimes they go to the same school and write for the paper together. Sometimes they go crime solving and apparently have somewhat kinky sex that involves cosplay. Other times they fight, break up, make out with other people (or sleep with them) and generally spend their time miserable and getting into a world of trouble.
3. Murder Isn’t Even the Worst Thing That Happens
The new series begins with the death of one of the Blossom Twins. There’s plenty of blood and drama in the new Riverdale, but there’s always a twist. Then the twist gets a twist. If the series were a straight-up crime solver where the kids turned a killer into the sheriff at the end of every episode, it would be trite and canceled.
4. Modern Families
The original Archie evolved a lot over the years, but in Riverdale, family diversity is the order of the day. From single parents to mixed and blended families all the diversity the comics lacked is right out front. Gone are the days of nuclear family centric stories.
5. The Southside Serpents
Even fans of the Archie Comics aren’t always familiar with these characters. They debuted in the Little Archie spinoff as adorably troublesome children who went to school with the Riverdale regulars. In the new Riverdale, they are a fully realized wrong side of the tracks biker gang. They have a clubhouse and get into plenty of illegal activities. Jugheads father leads the ne’er do wells in their criminal activities, at least until he gets arrested, and again once he’s freed.
6. Creepy Blossom Incest
Perhaps every set of twins in the world gets the creep treatment, at least in the heads of a few perverts. So it’s no surprise that there are implications from the get-go that point to Cheryl and her brother possibly being a lot closer than siblings should be, and we do mean sexually if you had any doubts. If that’s not bad enough, we eventually find out that not long before his untimely death Jason Blossom fathered a child with Betty’s sister. If that wasn’t bad enough, the two families eventually get outed as relatives. Just to take it a step further into the dark, the series also implies that Cheryls’ parents may be related.
7. Cherry Bomb
In the second season, the remarkably cruel and cold Cheryl Blossom drops a bomb we did not see coming. After a particularly abusive event with her mother where she is accused of being loveless, she finally breaks down. There’s a rather touching scene where Cheryl breaks into tears and confesses to a hot girl from the wrong side of the tracks that she does indeed know what love feels like because she had it with her first girlfriend. Her mother quashed that relationship, which makes the earlier scene all the worse.
8. Betty the Bad
Betty, sweet Betty, she is not the girl you thought you knew. From catching killers to outing con artists publicly at considerable personal risk, she’s not sweet and straightforward anymore. If you aren’t ready to see her hide a body in the woods and strip in front of a room full of bikers, then you don’t need to watch this show. It’s your loss, truly. Betty is a dynamo and a complete [email protected]%$. Unfortunately, we’re a little worried about her sanity because of her behavior.
9. Dark Betty
Remember when we mentioned the fact that Betty and Jughead have sexy roleplay? Her costume is kind of frightening when it comes down to facts. The black bob wig and matching black lingerie she wears for her boyfriend were purchased initially to drug and torture a fellow student. Admittedly he was a lousy person with a long history of abusing and demeaning teenage girls, but she steps way over the line. Betty nearly drowns him for a confession and loses it so ultimately she seems to think she’s another person for a minute.
10. Veronica Isn’t So Affluent
When she’s first introduced, Veronica Lodge has come down in the world. She grew up a spoiled and self-centered socialite, in the big city, but things have changed. Her father Hiram is in jail leaving Veronica and her mother Hermione to fend for themselves with but a single classy apartment in this tiny out of the way town. Hermione takes a job at Pops Choc Lit Shop as a waitress when they first arrive. Though they always have the attitude of women who expect to return to their fortune, there’s no mansion to go home to at night.
11. The Look
Somehow in spite of all the changes to the series, they manage to hold on to the iconic imagery of the 50s. The costumes and scenery all hold fast to the veneer of old fashioned innocence. If there’s one thing that can be said about the 1950s, it’s that the entire era was visually arresting and quite possibly the best America ever looked. Though the naivete of those times is not present in Riverdale circa the 2010s, there is a nostalgic retro gloss that adds to the show instead of holding it back.
12. Josie and the Pussycats Are Not Into Your White Male Privilege
“Do you know why we’re called The Pussycats? Because we have to claw our way into a room that you can just walk into.” The formerly bubbly band isn’t taking any crap from anyone, except their parents. They are out to build a name for themselves, and they don’t need anyone to tell them what it means to struggle for your dreams as young, powerful black women in today’s society.
13. Archie and Ms. Grundy Sitting in a Tree
The snarky white-haired teacher is a totally different person. Though the original does see a nod that we won’t spoil here, the new Ms. Grundy is young and attractive. The music teacher is a bit of a cougar. If you interpret ‘a bit,’ as having a full-on affair with none other than Archie himself. The statutory rape doesn’t go so well with anyone else when they find out, and no amount of argument from Archie can change that.
14. The Beat
Comics are wonderful. Don’t mistake our meaning here; we love a good read. However, taking this series off the page and remaking it for the small screen allows new elements to come into play. We aren’t just talking about the darker and more broody/real worldview. One of the significant advantages of moving pictures is the ability to add a soundtrack. The thirteen-person music department tasked with bringing depth and tempo to Riverdale are geniuses at their job.
15. Small Town Living
Have you ever lived in a small town? There are things about being in close proximity with just a few hundred or a few thousand people that happen everywhere. The familiarity with everyone else’s business. There are always gossips and people who everyone looks to for guidance, both good and bad. Riverdale captures the realistic sense of what it feels like to live in a small town, albeit one with a higher than average crime rate.
16. Chuck Rhymes With
In the comics, this artsy side character barely had a role to play. Not so in new millennium Riverdale. In the new universe, Chuck has become a jock, and not a nice one. He is the worst, a guy who lures in the girls with lies and then adds them to his creepy conquest book, even if they didn’t do anything. He is fond of posting photoshopped images of girls covered in maple syrup, which he calls the ‘sticky maple.’ His new date-rapey vibe and bad behavior lead Betty to go dark and creepy in defense of her friend Veronica.
17. Edgy Ethel
Ethel Muggs is a boy crazy goof who has a thing for Jughead in the comics. After an unfortunate incident with Chuck, she’s a chubby, broody, angry, quiet girl. She goes on revenge trips and is not the sweet gal we used to see around the halls of Riverdale High. So far she’s just a supporting character, but we’d like to see more of her.
18. Archie is Not a Nice Boy
The comics are named after him, and most of the time, other than stringing his girls along, Archie is a thoroughly likable guy. In Riverdale we see a whole new Archie, doing blood rituals to join Hiram Lodges’ family, betraying his friends, not to mention breaking hearts like they were eggs. Archie has taken up lying, to his dad, his friends, and even himself to some extent. In the end, everything selfish about the original has been filtered and magnified into a dark anti-hero who isn’t even really interested in saving anyone.
19. Small Town Love
Kevin is gay. If you aren’t aware of this, then you didn’t follow through on the comics. The gay BFF extraordinaire has his share of dating troubles with such a minuscule pool to draw from. He tussles with Moose occasionally but always sends the closet-case back to his long term girlfriend/beard Midge. Eventually, he takes up with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Everything goes well until he finds that his new beau has ulterior motives.
His only other option is to go ‘night jogging,’ out to the town’s gay hookup spot, where he sometimes sees Moose, but just as often takes a riskier proposition from strangers. Betty finds out and tries to stop him. She tells him it’s ‘disgusting,’ which would shame most people and shut them down.
She wants to protect her friend, but that was just the wrong approach. The new-and-improved Kevin tears into her about how few options young gay men have in small towns. He goes as far as to tell her that if she seriously thinks his sexual choices, vis a vis cruising, are gross and her business, they aren’t friends after all.
20. B&V Get Spicy
Before they know each other for a week, Betty and Veronica end up trying out for the River Vixens Cheerleading Squad. Though they both do well, Cheryl, the team captain wants to keep wealthy Veronica and ditch Betty, whose sister once dated Cheryl’s deceased twin. For a big finale, to show they have ‘fire’ Veronica grabs Betty and makes out with her. Cheryl is unimpressed and tells them that faux lesbian kissing is passe. To be honest, she surprised us there. We thought they’d let that played out bad behavior fly.
There are teen dramas, and then there are dramas that center around teens. Let your preconceptions about Archie go, and try to think Cruel Intentions and Wild Things hijacked the cast and brainwashed them. This show reminds us more of Veronica Mars than The Wonder Years. That said, we like where this is going. Strong females, flawed humans making imperfect decisions under immense pressure in adverse circumstances. Give it a shot, and you might like it too.