RIVERDALE Reimagines Archie And The Gang Into A Fun, Soapy Mystery
The CW does it again

riverdale

In recent years, Archie Comics has decided to to move past telling simple, fun tales about a group of teenagers in Riverdale and instead focus on telling bizarre, interesting stories. At one point a couple years ago, Archie died to save a friend. There’s also a spinoff story where the gang battles zombies. There are also stories in alternate dimensions. Seriously!

Riverdale, the new CW show based on the characters of Archie Comics, doesn’t pretend to be a 1-for-1 adaptation of any comic book storyline. Instead, it takes these characters and decides to do what these new, bizarre stories do: it drops them into crazy situations.

In this case, one of their classmates dies. This, coupled with Veronica Lodge moving into town after her father goes to jail for some white collar crimes, leaving her and her mother broke, sets off a series of chain reactions in the lives of Archie and the gang.

However, unlike other mystery shows that rely on twists and turns to keep things going, Riverdale spends most of the first two episodes making sure you understand that this is a show built on characters. These are very much people in a town bouncing off each other, and the two characters that make it all work are Betty and Veronica.

Lili Reinhart’s Betty and Camila Mendes’ Veronica are the Betty and Veronica you know. One is nice and one isn’t. One is blonde and one is a brunette. However, Riverdale has a lot of fun playing with these two. Rather than having them at odds for the entire series, Riverdale decides to play it differently. These two girls are destined to be best friends, and they want to put their friendship over anything. It realizes that their yin and yang relationship to Archie shouldn’t be what defines them, what defines them is their effect on each other.

Betty is the nicest girl in the world. She gives everyone a chance, she forgives easily and she puts on a good face so other people don’t get offended. Riverdale quickly decides to play with this, treating her niceness as an extremism that she needs to work through. She can’t always let people walk over her, sometimes she needs to take action and do what she needs to for herself, and not for other people.

Veronica, on the other hand, is going through the same thing on the other side. Veronica was the Veronica you know from the comics, but she’s trying to recover. She’s trying to be nice and to do things for other people instead of herself. In Betty, she sees an ideal to strive toward, and in her, Betty sees something she can move toward.

The two girls are essentially pulling each other to a sort of equilibrium. They need each other more than they need anyone else. Riverdale knows this, and it decides to complicate this relationship by using everything it can. In the first two episodes, it constantly throws doubt and obstacles in their way. You will root for Veronica to not revert to her old self because you know that if she does she’ll sabotage the relationship. At the same time, when Betty oversteps her trend toward the center, she also has the potential to sabotage the relationship. It’s a fun tightrope to watch these characters walk, and the writing staff and Reinhart and Mendes play it beautifully.

Archie is one of those complications, and in becoming that complication he’s also not as Archie as you remember him. Instead of being a goofy everyteen, he’s kind of perfect? He’s got an 8-pack, he’s chiseled and handsome, he has every girl fawning over him and he’s good at everything. He plays football, he’s good at making music. He’s kind of boring. The saving grace here is that he’s pretty dumb, and he gives in to his impulses way too much. He still does dumb stuff that sets Betty and Veronica on a collision course, and he also happens to have an affair with a teacher.

That affair places him in some compromising situations, ones that you genuinely feel bad about because he’s so dumb that he can’t see past his own nose. Archie does have good intentions,¬†and he wants to do the right thing, but sometimes he just does the wrong thing because he’s dumb. It’s a little weird, but it feels correctable because sometimes Archie will do what he thinks is the right think but it just gets him into bigger trouble. That’s the stuff that makes him interesting, and I hope Riverdale shifts over to that in future episodes.

Riverdale has a background plot about the murder of a student, and there are a bunch of side characters tied into that plot, but in the first two episodes it hasn’t dived into that with any depth. Thus far, it’s focused on how that event has impacted these characters. It’ll be interesting to see how it balances the push and pull of the characters and the murder mystery when it actually gets started. There are some hints of that in the second episode, but the primary goal of these first two episodes is to set up the relationships. And it does that really, really well.

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