Let me tell you right now: this is not Bob Montana's Archie. The idealistic town of Riverdale is deeply flawed but still not a bad place to live. That is until July 4th, when Jason Blossom dies.
We open with twins Jason and Cheryl blossom driving to Sweet Water River, in a stunning vintage red convertible. As they walk hand in hand to a small boat, we get the feeling that all not is as it should be. For me personally, hints of Afterlife With Archie are peeking in, which would make sense since show writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, also wrote Afterlife. Shortly after we see Dilton Doily leading his scout pack through a hike, where they come across a distressed Cheryl Blossom sitting by the river's edge. According to Cheryl, he was reaching into the river to retrieve his sister's glove, fell in, and his body was taken by the current.
The death rocks small town Riverdale even up until school is about to begin. As Jughead puts it, "a new mystery" arrives in the form of Veronica Lodge. Veronica and her mother Hermoine have moved down to Riverdale from New York, but her father is no where to be found. The overbearing father we've all come to love is currently on trial for fraud and embezzlement, so clearly not all is as it should be. But Hermoine is determined to give Veronica a normal life, and you really can't get any more normal than Riverdale. Meanwhile at Betty's house, Betty and Kevin are recapping their summer, and discussing what Betty should do about Archie. Kevin insists that Betty should as him out, especially now that Archie has been blessed by the puberty gods and became hot over the summer. I hope you like somewhat gratuitous shots of Archie actor KJ Apa shirtless, because his abs are a common theme in this show.
That same night, Archie and Betty are catching up at Pop Tate's. We learn Betty just came back from an internship where she got to meet Toni Morrison, and Archie worked for his father construction company all summer. It's pretty obvious that Archie doesn't have feelings outside of friendship for Betty. It's made even more obvious when Veronica walks into Pops to pick up a to go order. Archie is smitten. Veronica introduces herself to the two, and thus the love triangle begins. At school the next day, Veronica does ask about Archie. When Kevin interjects that Betty has a thing for him, Veronica lays off and insists Betty ask him out. Camille Mendes is a flawless Veronica. She is proud and confident, but she's also caring and smart. My favorite scene with her was during the cheerleader tryouts. As Cheryl is interviewing (rather, grilling) Betty, Veronica steps in and puts (a very, almost unnecessarily super bitchy) Cheryl in her place. Veronica understands Cheryl's cold and calculating nature, but Veronica is really having none of her shit. In her own words, "Betty and I come as a matching set".
The many sub-plots in this episode are also important. We know that over the summer, Archie and Ms. Grundy had an affair. This will possibly put off a lot of old time fans, as Geraldine Grundy was always an older lady who was better at scolding than seducing Archie. Archie is trying to move past this, but it's clear Grundy still harbors something for him. It's only made more awkward since the two of them were by the river the day Jason was murdered, and they heard a gunshot. If they say something, the whole town will start to ask why they were together, but if they don't, then no one will know. We also learn that Moose may be gay, as he propositions Kevin in the school bathroom. There's a few more I would love to talk about, but I want to see them become more fleshed out as the series progresses.
In the 25 years I've been a die-hard Archie fan, I never once thought I would say this. Betty Cooper steals the show. Lili Reinhart is the perfect Betty. She's sweet, smart, pretty, accepting, and is trying to keep her sanity while her overbearing mother tries desperately to drag her down. Her mother insists she needs to take adderall to stay focused in school, but I don't think that's the case. Betty's insecurities are deep, and clearly come from a troubled home. Her sister Polly, as we learn early on, was dating Jason Blossom before his death. When he broke up with her, Polly had a mental breakdown and is now living in a group home. But after seeing how their mother acts, I wonder if it was an act of defiance, and not a breakdown, that led Polly to be sent away.
I wish we had gotten to see more of Cole Sprouse's Jughead. He is the narrator, but we see very little screen time from him. His narration is great, though. It's not overbearing and provides just enough context for viewers. Lack of screen time may be due to Jughead and Archie having had a spat sometime in the past, and not working things out.
Overall, I am stunned. I grew up reading classic Archie, and obsessing over anything Archie related. When they rebooted in 2015 I was sad to see my childhood comics go (almost) extinct, but new Archie is great. Afterlife is by far one of my favorite comics of all time, and the Jughead series is a winner. When the TV show was announced, I was hesitant. Archie has attempted live action TV in the past, but it didn't work out.
Riverdale is exactly what the Archie brand needs to give them new life. The show is reminiscent of Pretty Little Liars meets Twin Peaks. The first episode will draw you in, and you will be surprised at how fleshed out these characters are. I was. The little plot twists and surprises are planted perfectly, setting up what I hope will be a long running CW show. Congrats Archie, you've finally made a proper TV debut. I am genuinely proud to be a lifelong Archie fan, especially now that we have Riverdale.
Riverdale premiers Thursday January 26th at 9pm on the CW.
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