The creation of Riverdale all started with the publication of Afterlife with Archie, released in 2013. It was sort of a darker, edgier take on Archie and the gang set during a zombie apocalypse.
During that year, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who wrote Afterlife with Archie, alongside director Jason Moore was working on two pitches involving the Archie characters. One was a teen comedy in the vein of a John Hughes film. The other involved time travel which would star Louis C.K. as an older version of Archie. My money is on the former. However, those projects stalled and they decided to pitch it as a T.V. series instead. From 2012-2015, teen shows such as Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars were fading out and I guess the CW wanted a new teen hit. So that's when Riverdale was made.
To start the show in progress, they decided to go for a murder mystery in the vein of Twin Peaks, which seems to be popular nowadays. So the creators of the show had to kill off a major character who happens to be Cheryl Blossom's twin brother Jason. Okay, here's my take. This kind of concept isn't new. I just wished they would've tried something different. Maybe, build up the character before his death? One example of this is in the British T.V. series Night and Day where it focuses on the disappearance of a local popular girl, very much similar to Twin Peaks. But unlike Twin Peaks where it introduces the Laura Palmer character through flashbacks and dream sequences, in this show, the girl is the one who narrates the events of the story and therefore becomes a lingering presence among the main characters.
Now what they should've done with Riverdale could be equally as clever. Furthermore, let's talk about marketing. Let say, during this process, the makers of the show would have it as a mystery as to who would get killed off in the show.
This is where the pilot hits. Of course, Jughead being the aspiring writer narrates everything and introduce the characters as the show plays out and Jason is introduced as a typical arrogant jock but around this time, his demeanor changes as he anxiously informs his sister to meet out in the lake. Then before everything plays out like it should...Boom! The end of the pilot. Jason is found dead. I just thought that would add a little more flow to it and keep everybody invested in the show.
So, much like the show Twin Peaks and Night and Day, Jason's death is interconnected into the main character's lives.
Which will be my next focus.
Here's Archie Andrews played by KJ Apa. Archie's kind of meh. I didn't think KJ Apa was bad at his performance and he's good for what he's working with but Archie is what I call the Generic Male Lead. Of course, there is always a Generic Male Lead in teen dramas, however, Archie is a very vanilla protagonist. From what I gather, most of these types of male leads had a character to them, had a flair about them. But there's just not anything relatable about Archie or at least the writers didn't put any effort of trying to make him relatable. I know this show is trying to do its own thing and it's impossible to compare it to the comics yet the thing about Archie is that he was this shy, kind of geeky guy evolving into his true self. He's suddenly popular, has two girls pining after him, he's on the football team, he's a reliable leader, etc. But the point is, he's still his geeky, awkward, self.
Now I know it was inevitable for the makers of this show to cast a hunky male lead for the character of Archie. Unfortunately, his character doesn't ring true. I guess they're trying to make him into sensitive brooding type like Luke from One Tree Hill but it just doesn't work for me. Part of his story arc involves whether he should play football or play music. The result is terribly predictable. To be honest, I don't think his music is even that good.
But here is where things get really disturbing. There is another story arc which involves Archie's affair with Ms. Grundy. I repeat. Archie has an affair with Ms. Fucking. Grundy. It's like some bad fan fiction has come to life. Granted, that she is not the real Ms. Grundy but it's still wrong on so many levels. Everything about this just seems...so forced. As if it was a way for the creators to try to make it edgy and sexy. "Oh no", they would say, "this isn't your grandma's Archie. We're gonna make this hot! We're gonna make this sizzling!" That makes it even more wrong and plus, isn't Archie supposed to be 15 or something? I mean gross! I don't even want to put that in my head. But I guess it's a way for the creators to give Archie a storyline since he was basically coming close to becoming a background character in his own show.
Like I said, KJ Apa's acting is good enough but he has nothing to work with. Archie doesn't have a personality. He doesn't have that spark, that wit, he had in the comics. In this show, he is anything but the typical generic, brooding, teen hunk.
Now let's get to Betty Cooper played by Lili Reinhart. I find Betty to be way more interesting than Archie. I think Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and his team put more thought into Betty by giving sort of an edge to her. Though, unfortunately, it's a rather cliche trope I've seen in too many soap operas. They give Betty...get this...A split personality. How typical. I never really got the whole Dark Betty thing but I'll get to that soon. I would say that Lili Reinhart does a solid performance as Betty. She often is able to give the Betty character more depth through her acting abilities than the writers do with their pens and their pads. To my surprise, I found Betty to be very relatable in the comics. She was way beyond this perfect girl next door archetype, she had a bit of spunk to her. Hell, there was that one time where Betty was dressed as a goth. I would often picture Betty as a cool, laidback, tomboy compared to the more sophisticated and glamorous Veronica.
With Riverdale's approach to things, they write Betty as a typical "Mary Sue" type and she is, as I would call, PPB. Prim, Proper, and Boring. They even go so far as dressing her in these retro 1950's outfits with the ponytail hairstyle. I don't know. Some part of me wanted her to play off as this laidback rocker chick like Watts from Some Kind Of Wonderful or spunky and independent like Joey from Dawson's Creek. Instead, they give her the trophy for Generic Girl Next Door, in which the writers are so quick to point that out. But at least they give her better storylines.
One of her story arcs involves her sister Polly. The story goes like this: Polly was in a secret relationship with Jason Blossom and *spoiler alert* Polly is suddenly pregnant. So Jason and Polly decide to run off and get married but it's too late. Polly is sent to a convent by her parents. It isn't long until Jason goes missing and, therefore, is found dead. It's not so much of Betty's storyline than Polly's but at least the writers give Betty something to do, branding her as a pseudo "Nancy Drew," while uncovering some family secrets, which involves *again, spoiler alert* Betty possibly having a third sibling out there (which for some odd reason, she's perfectly fine with).
Her second story arc is about her dealing with her dark side known as Dark Betty. Yeah, I don't really get this. I think giving Betty a split personality is such an asspull to me. It's like the writers would say, "Quick! We must give this Generic Girl Next Door something to do!" other than just developing Betty as an actual, fully realized character. The writers try to make her into a normal teenage girl but I guess that wouldn't make her interesting enough. So here we have Dark Betty. We only get a few and between when it comes to this split personality but in contrast to "Light" Betty's Peggy Sue getups, Dark Betty dons a black bobbed wig and wears sexy, dominatrix outfits. This whole concept comes off kind of cheesy to me. We're never given a chance to explore Dark Betty other than just being treated as Betty's alter ego who would come out during Betty's emotional outburst. If they're going on this route with Betty, the creators should at least treat it with more care.
So, overall, Betty is...okay. I wish the writers did more justice by utilizing her but considering how elevated Lili Reinhart's (and how she's better than this show) acting, Betty becomes better through her performance.
Now let's get to Veronica, who is my favorite interpretation of this character. The thing is, Veronica has good character development, you know, there's more to her. She is used to be this snobby rich bitch akin to the universe of Gossip Girl, but somehow between the downfall of her father's empire and subsequent arrest including bullying a girl to the point of exile, Veronica reinvents herself by gaining a new reputation at Riverdale. I like that. It makes her flawed but human.
However, there is the good and the bad with this character. Now Camila Mendes does a splendid job with Veronica. She definitely has a presence about her and a wit to match. But the problem is, the writers keep giving her horrible dialogue. It's like they're trying to make her sound woke to add through her witty oneliners, it comes as incredibly forced. Besides that, Veronica is actually one of my favorite characters on this show. She goes on sort of this redemption arc similar to Jen from Dawson's Creek (there I go with the Dawson's Creek comparisons but how can I help it?) and it works for her, garnishing the character with much more dimension than Archie and Betty.
Camilla Mendes was delightfully cast, blending in the fierceness and also the vulnerability of Veronica.
Here we have Jughead Jones played by Cole Sprouse. Oh boy, what a misguided character. The Jughead I know is the quirky comic relief who couldn't let go of childhood things and whose favorite food is hamburgers. But that's not what the creators went with the Jughead character. Instead, they made him into a brooding bad boy, the typical greaser. This doesn't work for me. I just don't see Jughead as a bad boy type. I wish they could've placed him off as the quirky comic relief like he was in the comics, similar to Seth from The O.C. or Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But no, he's now a mopey dopey outsider who's on the wrong side of the tracks. Jughead also serves as the narrator as he is writing a novel based on the events of Riverdale. It was somewhat interesting, though, it got a bit grating whenever I kept hearing his voiceover in every minute of the show.
So in addition to making Jughead more darker and edgier, the writers give him a tragic backstory. In this version, they turn his father F.P. into an alcoholic and a leader of a biker gang called The Serpents, which prompts his mother to leave off with his sister. This leaves Jughead in a predicament. While his father is out binge-drinking and indulging in a life of crime, Jughead is left homeless, usually living at a broken-down drive-in and crashing at the janitor's closet from school. Sure, this kind of storyline would make him sympathetic but I still wonder why the creators have to go this route with him. In conclusion, there is another issue I have with this character.
As the season progress, Jughead joins Betty in the investigation of Jason's murder while helping her run the school newspaper. This soon leads to a...romance. To be honest, I don't really see Betty and Jughead together and how it was done was really rushed. It would've been interesting if Betty was dating Reggie but oh well. Considering the chemistry between the two actors and how they're dating in real life, the matchup was bound to happen. But everything isn't all roses with Bughead (lol, really?), which leads me to one of the weaker episodes of this season, The Lost Weekend.
It goes like this: It's Jughead's birthday. So, Betty does a nice gesture and throws a small get-together at Archie's pad. But soon word gets out about the party and half of the school arrives. Jughead. Is. Not. Pleased. Which leads to one of the worst monologues I ever heard: Clip Here. It's cringy yet self-aware at the same time, breaking the fourth wall to the audience. It's like the writers just gave up at this point. Eventually, Betty and Jughead work things out once they see that they're both damaged.
Jughead's characterization is zig-zaggy. He's a cross between badass biker boy and quirky best friend, which is a weird mix. Cole Sprouse is...okay. He hits some places and then he misses it. I don't know, his performance is usually what strength the script gives him and the majority of his acting is mediocre at best.
Let's just say, I don't particularly gravitate towards Jughead on this show.
We have Cheryl Blossom played by Madeline Petsch. The writers seem pretty consistent with her character but then her personality always switches back and forth. I never can quite figure her out. Yes, I like underneath Cheryl's high-strung nature, she's actually in grief over brother's death. Though once you take a glimpse at her family life, Jason seemed to be the only that truly cared about her. I'll talk about the parents later. Oh boy, that's gonna be a lot.
Anywho, Cheryl's personality switches back and forth through her grieving. But it just comes off weird sometimes. Her emotions are all over the place. She's perky, she's sassy, she's mad, she's sad. It kind of makes me think she has some sort of mental disorder but judging from what kind of family she has, yeah, it's a possibility. Cheryl is sympathetic in some places but the creators frame her in a way where she comes off like a typical schemer. Let's not forget that she is grieving over her brother, getting involved in high school shenanigans would be the last thing on her mind.
Madeline Petsch's acting is a mixed bag. She hits the right notes when she's vulnerable but when she's sassy and high-strung, it's forced and robotic. Cheryl's dialogue is even worse than Veronica's, in which the script really wanes down her performance.
Although the portrayal of Cheryl was accurate to the comics, I wish the writers could've given her proper development.
Not much to say about Reggie Mantle played by Ross Butler. He didn't have much of a bigger role than I anticipated but like I said, the show would have given him more to do if he was dating Betty or somehow he was best buddies with Jason and they had a spat with each other which ties him to the investigation. He gets more screen time in the second season, though I wish they would've put more work into him in this season.
There's Josie McCoy played by Ashleigh Murray, who gets out of focus as the show goes on. She's introduced as a bit of diva at first but it stems from having an overbearing stage mom who happens to the town mayor and her jerkass dad who walks out on one of her performances. Other than that, Josie's storyline usually gets entangled with everybody else's, particularly Archie's, who wants to pursue music. Therefore, she mainly fades to the background for the rest of the show.
Special mention goes to Valarie Brown, who begins to date Archie in the middle of the season. Their relationship didn't feel organic to me and then out of nowhere, they just break up, mainly because Valarie felt uncomfortable with Archie escorting Cheryl at a dinner reception. It seems to me that they have been dating at least two weeks. All of this felt really rushed and I think it was the only way for the creators to set up Archie and Veronica together.
The biggest letdown of character accuracy is Chuck Clayton's played by Jordan Calloway. Considering that he was one of the few black characters in the Archie comics is turned into antagonistic, misogynistic jerk jock, raises a lot of red flags for me. In the comics, he is an aspiring comic book artist and all-around nice guy. Hell, he could've been Jughead's remaining friends after Archie ghosted him. But no, that's not what the creators choose to do. It was pretty jarring to see Chuck portrayed in such an unlikeable manner. By episode 10, he's almost pushed close to the point of being an actual villain of the show. I hear Chuck gets better later on in the second season but I still didn't think the creators made a wise decision.
Lastly, we have Kevin Keller played by Casey Cott. Kevin in the comics gained a lot of attention by being the first gay character in the Archie series but I get the feeling that the makers were going on the comic relief route with him and I just don't picture him like that.
Of course, he does have some storylines to work with as he is the sheriff's son and also has a relationship with one of F.P.'s gang members but the show never really utilize him well. For example (get ready for a Dawson's Creek reference), Jack Mcphee from Dawson's Creek was used sparingly. He wasn't the comic relief, he didn't have cringy one-liners, and he was portrayed as a self-actualized human being. So I wish the creators of this show would've taken a little more time to develop Kevin's character as his role in the comics was a very important one.
Now let's talk about the parents. Oh lord, this is going to take a while.
The only normal parents on the show are Archie's parents, Veronica's mom (for now), and Sheriff Keller.
Special mention goes to both Luke Perry (R.I.P.) and Molly Ringwald, who catapulted their fame as teen idols of the '80s and '90s, now in the central roles of Fred and Mary Andrews. Although they're divorced, Fred and Mary are still good parents as they want the best for Archie with good intentions.
Hermione Lodge played by Marisol Nichols is just trying to keep things together after dealing with her husband's arrest due to alleged mob connections. When it comes to her relationship with Veronica, they seem to be on the right track. Although there are some roadblocks here and there, they have a strong bond (for now that is).
Sheriff Keller played by Martin Cummins gets equal points for accepting his son's sexuality and also being a firm protector of his town.
There's F.P. Jones played by another '90s teen idol Skeet Ulrich is somewhat stable when sober but let's not forget, he's an alcoholic leader of a notorious biker gang that wreaks havoc amongst the town. So he's in the middle ground here.
But here are the bad apples of the bunch.
First, we have the Coopers. There's Alice Cooper played by Madchen Amick, who happens to be a Twin Peaks alum and Hal Cooper played by Lochlyn Munro.
Let's start with Alice. Woah, boy. Alice starts off as cold, controlling, and emotionally abusive at times. I can accept her as an overbearing mom but they made her be extremely unlikeable. But as the show progresses, her character gets better.
Though the real culprit in all of the Cooper family drama is Hal. At first, he comes off as a henpecked husband but that soon cracks through. Since he has a long family feud with the Blossoms, it was his idea to put Polly in an institution and even so far as to force Polly to get an abortion, which didn't go through. So yeah, Betty's parents are nuts. But they are angels compared to the Blossoms. That family is another bag of insanity.
We have Penelope Blossom, who is extremely emotionally and psychologically abusive towards Cheryl, and Clifford Blossom who seems to be emotionally unavailable and only cares about his maple syrup business. I don't want to dwell on the Blossoms too much as it will lead to clues in which I will discuss later.
Like I said, the writing is all over the place. There are times when there is a flow but then it stops and becomes clunky. Relationships are rushed, storylines are wrapped up out of nowhere, and certain situations are left unresolved. And let's not forget the cringy dialogue. It's getting worse in seasons 2 and 3.
The directing is actually quite sleek and sets the tone for the show. I especially like the colors in the cinematography, particularly the lake scenes.
Speaking of tone, that's one of my main problems of the show. The creators are trying their damnest to make this show edgy and it comes off jarring. It's dark, dour and depressing. When it comes to the comparisons of Twin Peaks, that TV series was able to have lighter comedic moments to balance out the show's more disturbing moments. Riverdale tries that but not only the humor doesn't work, but it also comes in at the most inappropriate times. That also goes for the darker elements, in which the creators take it too far. This all leads to the final moments of the last two episodes.
So, it turns out that F.P. was the one who killed Jason since his letterman's jacket was found in F.P.'s closet. But it's actually revealed that F.P. was framed and he knew was framed. When Archie and the gang go into the evidence locker with Kevin, they start to examine it. Betty puts on the jacket and finds a flash drive hidden under the left pocket. To any wonder why the police didn't examine the jacket while it was in custody is anyone's guess. Oh well.
Once they uncover that it's actually video footage, it shows Jason being beaten and tied to a chair, presumably by one of the serpents gang who was found dead by drug overdose. But he suddenly leaves and the real culprit turns out to be...
Clifford Blossom himself! Turns out, he was actually running a drug ring to cover up his maple business while the serpents did his bidding. It's unbelievable. It's like they're trying to make this guy into a supervillain. But here's the real kicker. Once he appears in the video, Clifford pulls out a gun and shoots Jason in cold blood. Woah! That's when I thought the show was going way too dark. I knew when I read the Afterlife with Archie, it had a lot of blood, gore, and violence but this was way more out of bounds. Clifford kills his own son with no remorse. It's like the writers are trying to make the Blossoms into sociopaths. WTF! This would work if this was its own thing but not in the world of Archie. It's just too surreal.
So once the mystery is solved and as the police come to arrest Clifford, he is found hanging in his maple farm barn from an apparent suicide.
This leads to the last episode where everything is supposedly back to normal. Betty and Jughead are together, Archie and Veronica are together. Everyone's happy and light, blah, blah, blah. This episode was kind of drag and was just there to wrap things up.
But just wait! There's a cliffhanger in the end. Yes, a cliffhanger just comes out of nowhere. What happens is Archie and his dad are hanging out at Pops' when suddenly an intruder comes in with a gun. Once the intruder fires his gun at Fred, Archie races in to block his way and...boom! end of episode.
Okay, here are my thoughts on how the two episodes should've played out.
What if the killer turned out to be Hal Cooper. Judging from the intense animosity he has for the Blossom family, what if Hal was the one who knew about Clifford's drug cover-up and his connections to The Serpents, in which he uses to frame F.P. Then when it comes to the murder of Jason, it makes sense that he would have him killed because Jason, of course, had Polly impregnated and was planning to run away with her. Therefore, that also leads to Hal framing Clifford because of his criminal connections, which leads to Hal killing him by hanging and writing a confessional suicide note. Case in point, nobody knows where Hal is. And then, that leads to the cliffhanger. Now that would've had the audience enthralled. Just my suggestion.
Now here are my final thoughts.
Riverdale is okay for what it is if you ignore the fact these are Archie characters. I'm not trying to take this seriously or anything, I know it's a guilty pleasure. But the thing is, this would worked as its own original show or better yet, a remake of Night and Day. I don't think the first season of Riverdale is terrible, I mean it does have it's cheesy moments, but it's not god-awful. However, it is pretty run-of-the-mill for a teen drama, though not without potential. Unfornately, that potential gets wasted in the final few episodes, leading to the second season.
Oh boy, that means I have to review the second season. Yikes!
I'll see ya there!