In February last year, Bleeding Cool got hold of a script of the then-to-be-filmed Riverdale pilot for the CW, which got a full series, starting airing tonight. Three of us read the script – in the full knowledge it may change between writing and shooting, and had our own takes, which I’m running again, now. Because.
Starting with me.
I’ve Read The Pilot Script For Riverdale – Archie Comics With F-Bombs, Murder Noir And Sex With Teachers
It’s about that time of year when Bleeding Cool finds itself with a few pilot screenplays to read. Last year we gave you first read reactions to Fear The Walking Dead, Preacher, Powers, Lucifer and Scream.
Archie Comics never came to Britain. It is such an intrinsic part of the American pop culture it seems, but so is Dad’s Army in the UK which remains an utter mystery to the Americans.
I only encountered Archie when it was being mocked, parodied or transformed by other Americans. I didn’t see the Dan DeCarlo influence on Love And Rockets or Cudbecause I wasn’t as familiar with Archie. References to Bettie and Veronica went over my head initially, though I started to get an idea of what Archie was from the many references in the Americana I consumed.
I got that I wouldn’t like it though. A saccharine, un-self-examined, humourless Happy Days that jumped its own shark decades ago. It was a curiosity, a piece of nostalgia for something that never was, maintained by inertia alone, a cultural anathema that should be understood but then dismissed.
In recent years however, the Archie comics have utterly transformed themselves, from conservative middle-of-the-road pap to progressive, headline grabbing riveting drama. Which meant, for the first time, I could read an Archie comic and make it to the end. I couldn’t get all the references to the decades I’d missed but Life With Archie and the subsequent and utterly amazing Afterlife With Archie were essential comics. The hyperviolent Archie/Predator crossover and the recent revamp of Archie and Jughead with A-list comics creators have continued that trend, and exploring a more modern mid-town America have made for engrossing reads.
But the screenplay for the pilot episode of Riverdale, the upcoming CW series by Archie comic book regular writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa takes all that and does something even cleverer. Titled “The River’s Edge”, it dives in all the way. I’ve just read the third revised Network draft dated 30th October last year. The idea that the network had made two runs of notes and all this was still in, is frankly remarkable.
It is the irony of ironies that in 2003, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s stage play Archie’s Weird Fantasy, which depicted Archie coming out of the closet and moving to New York, was hit by cease and desist notices from Archie Comics the day before it opened in Atlanta. A hasty rewrite saw it renamed Weird Comic Book Fantasy with newly named but strangely familiar characters.
I get a similar feeling reading Riverdale.
Oh yes, from this point on, there are spoilers. Lots of spoilers. Not, I believe enough to ruin the show for you, and there is plenty I am being careful not to mention, but in order to convey what a remarkable show this is, I’m going to have to say stuff. Otherwise you probably wouldn’t believe me.
The script begins with a narrator talking about the town of Riverdale, and how it isn’t what people think. We are shown what may be familiar locations, the city hall, the cinema, Pop’s Chok’lit Shoppe Diner, but also derelict buildings with boarded up walls, graffiti and meth addicts. Because this is the real Riverdale, all of it, folks. This isn’t just Archie the TV series. It’s Betty & Veronica Mars.
It starts with the death of Jason Blossom, Cheryl Blossom’s twin brother and doesn’t stop. This is a Riverdale with kids who talk about Rainbow parties, a Reggie who gets badly drunk, a Riverdale of strip joints, and, yes, a just-16 year old Archie sleeping with his music teacher and then using it to blackmail her. And suggestions of twincest too.
So who do we have, and how does the script describe them? Jughead is an “emo-heartthrob”. Jason and Cheryl Blossom could have stepped from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. Pop Tate is Greek. Veronica and her divorced mother are “two dark haired beauties”, Betty is “Blonde, pretty, 16”, Kevin Keller, her gay confident is “16 cute”, sexually active on Grindr and dealing with a homophobic military dad. Keller is the Archie Comics main gay character, but rather the passive character of the comics, here he is a little more in your face- though slightly reserved when he gets down to it . And Archie Andrews is 16, red haired – indeed his hair colour is constantly mentioned, Josie refers to him as “Justin Gingerlake” – recently buffed up after working for his dad’s construction company over the summer and lives next door to Betty, who is madly in love with him. And Veronica? She just wants a boy toy to pass the summer and she’s never gone ginge before.
Oh and there’s the language. I mean it’s relatively tame compared to what, you know, most actual teenagers say, but then so is The Wire. But we get a number of S-bombs, mentions of spank-banks, Archie is asked by Reggie Mantle if he “tapped any MILF ass this summer?” and then…
I know some of you reading this will think I’ve made this up. I have not.
But for all the shock value, and there is plenty of that, this is a clever, well balanced, teen thriller of a TV show. Funny, dark, expressing the confusion of characters who, rather than the sure stereotypes of the classic Archie comics, are teenagers who frankly don’t yet know who they are, so why the hell should we? It’s the beginning of a journey, as people, circumstances, bodies, lives begin to change. It’s not just a coming of age story but a coming of the ages.
The dialogue is the kind of stylised reality we know from the likes of Buffy and Veronica Mars, but errs towards the latter in its darkness. So it’s all clearly fake, as if teenagers had writers rooms helping them with their every line, but it is consistent, engaging, rewarding and creating its own reality that just sucks you in.
And yet many of the plotlines seem utterly familiar. The competition for Archie’s favour. Trying out for the cheerleading squad. Making the sports team. Who takes who to the school dance, and who gets set up with whom against their will. Playing spin the bottle. And going to the diner for strawberry milkshakes. And jughead still has that stupid at – though he is no friend of Archie. Not anymore. He’s also a caffeine addict rather than a hamburglar – and he wears a hearing aid because he’s deaf.
An intentional irony as this Archie has become a songwriter – so not only can we see his angst, we get to hear it too. This is Aguirre-Sacasa’s tale of an outing just like in his banned play all those years ago, rather than just of sexuality, it’s of ambition, of talent, of expression. Though of a fashion rather different to that of Josie and the Pussycats – yes, who are all there sporting their cat ears, and rather dismissive of Archie and his ambitions. His mission is to escape the rather literal destiny of his father’s concrete company, expected to one day take it over. The last thing he wants… is to be set in the same ways as his father. Yes, the allegory is rather sledgehammered home.
Oh and then there’s *that* kiss…
Riverdale is going to be massive. One Million Moms will hate it even more than Lucifer. But the last time I read a script that so convinced me, it was for Preacher. And I’m putting that “Betty & Veronica Mars” line on a T-shirt.
They used to be friends, a long time ago, but…
Then Joe Glass
Much like Rich, I have had the pleasure of reading the pilot script for Riverdale, The CW’s take on the Archie Comics world written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. And like Rich, I was completely blown away by it.
My first thought was ‘Is this for real?’…and it very much is. This is Archie in a post-Scandal/How to Get Away with Murder TV landscape, and The CW know it. This show will cause waves, not least among the long-standing Archie fans who are maybe expecting a weekly dose of bright, classic Americana. This is not going to be Happy Days. This is The OC in Middle-America, with the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll amped up far beyond anything that show ever achieved.
But I’m more specifically wanting to talk about the LGBTQ aspects of this show…or more accurately G for gay I suppose, as the rest of the spectrum of sexuality (aside from heterosexuality) is not really seen that much.
There is a kiss that may get tongues wagging, but even in the show they point out how dated it is to think that such a thing would be shocking. This is an excellent point and shows a level of cultural awareness in the show which is very pleasing, but I am hoping that the other aspects of the spectrum will get covered eventually. After all, in the comics Jughead was just revealed to be asexual, something which is incredibly invisible in media to date, so it would be nice to see this included in the show. But hey, this is just the pilot I’ve read…I hold confidence that they will touch on more.
So what do they touch on? Well, Kevin Keller is a BIG part of this show. The best friend of Betty, and fast-friends with Veronica in a brilliantly shallow and retro moment – I say ‘brilliantly’ because it serves to build Veronica’s character fast – the shallow socialite ideal of having a Gay Best Friend, which is done in the show in an almost mocking, self-referential fashion.
But this is not your comic book Kevin Keller. Certainly, when Kevin was first introduced he was fairly passive, and blessed with an almost perfect gay experience, from openly accepting parents, little to no backlash from his peers, and boundless happiness and enthusiasm.
This Kevin is different. I would argue this Kevin is maybe more real. He is sarcastic, bored, and, it would seem, VERY sexually active. He trawls Grindr for a hook-up in the very first scene we see him in, and when he is getting little joy beyond offers of trysts in truck stop toilets suggests he maybe stay at Betty’s house to watch gay porn.
This is a Kevin whose father belittles and abuses him for being a ‘sissy’, whose mother would rather get angry at her son than the father who berates his son for simply being who he is. This is a Kevin Keller whose character feels like a younger relation to HTGAWM‘s Connor Walsh.
Is this a good thing? Well, until the previously mentioned Mr. Walsh, gay sex is still something rather hidden away on TV. Instead, we tend to have gay characters who are rather sexless, who don’t talk about their romantic or sexual desires at all (whereas the heterosexual characters will talk about them incessantly). And whilst we now have Connor Walsh to show a sexually active young, gay man on prime time TV, we can’t expect true, honest representation of that aspect from one character. And given that we already have a Kurt Hummel from Glee in the TV landscape, maybe it is about time to be honest that GAY TEEN BOYS have these thoughts and desires too and sometimes action upon them recklessly too.
I would hope that Kevin’s home life will be focused on too, and that we might have something on air to show the awfulness of that situation, and either provide a ray of hope, or at least a sense of visibility, to the hundreds if not thousands of teens who go through the same thing.
In terms of equality of representation, Kevin’s sexuality and actions upon those desires are given pretty much equal screen time and visibility in the show as the heterosexual encounters of the same nature. Not as graphic (as relatively softcore graphic as they are) as How To Get Away With Murder, but certainly not hidden away more than the heterosexual trysts – at least in the script. When filmed, it could be a wholly different story.
However, by the end of this script, Kevin does have a romantic interest. And it is certainly suggested that this is a hot and heavy one, as they quickly discuss their preferred roles in the bedroom.
But certainly, thus far, Riverdale is presenting a fantastic use of gay representation, at least in terms of sexual desires and teenage recklessness. There is set up to explore more aspects, in a truthful, maybe at times harsh, light that is needed in teen televised drama. I also am hopeful that they have scope to explore other aspects of the LGBTQ spectrum, but as yet that is not as blatantly clear.
In short, we’ve had the sweet, idyllic Kevin Keller – bring on Kevin Keller the teenage horndog.
Then Tee Franklin,
The Archie Comics I remember were very…pale, the only “color” in the comics were the outfits. Ok, exaggerating a little bit. Chuck Clayton was introduced in 1971 and many could say Chuck was the “token” black guy. Over the years, very few characters of color resided in Riverdale. This does not hold true in this Riverdale series. Let’s take a look at the diversity casting (so far) on the series shall we?
African-American actress, Ashleigh Murray, plays Josie, the leader of the Pussycats.
Half-Samoan, KJ Apa, plays Archie Andrews.
Latina, Camila Mendes, grabbed the part of Veronica Lodge.
When the casting of Josie and Veronica was announced, I was extremely worried if these two ladies would be cast in a stereotypical role. Judging by the pilot episode, I was right. There’s a scene where Archie, who’s new to the songwriter game, asks Josie if the Pussycats can perform one of his songs. The way it’s set up, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a bit of eye rolling and neck action involved as Josie basically tells Archie to screw off.
Without telling my age, I remember watching Josie and the Pussycats cartoon and not once did I remember Josie having a diva attitude. She was the leader, who was always level-headed. Gotta say, that definitely doesn’t describe any of the scenes I read with this new and improved(?) Josie.
Judging by the “girl-group of color” statement Josie said to Archie, I’m going to safely assume that Melody and Valerie will also be cast as women of color.
Now let’s move on to the other woman of color, Veronica Lodge. Will Veronica be the “spicy” Latina in Riverdale and take all your boyfriends (and maybe girlfriends) because she’s better than you? Short answer; basically. In the comics, Veronica always wanted Archie, and Betty was unconditionally and irrevocably in love in Archie. In Riverdale, Betty is basically Bella Swan (btw, Twilight is referenced in this script, but that’s a whole ‘nutha topic) and Veronica, described as a dark-haired beauty, uses her beauty and weasels her way into meeting Archie who’s on a “date” with Betty and of course he’s lowkey smitten.
Latina women in the media are always hypersexual and promiscuous and in Riverdale, there’s no difference. I mean, Veronica kisses both Betty and Archie in the pilot episode.
Don’t get it wrong, I’m here for diversity in Riverdale – I truly am – just not at the expense of the same stereotypical tropes that have been around since forever. Contrary to popular belief, not all African-American women are angry, have attitudes, roll their eyes or necks, and not all Latin women speak Spanish, have an accent, are great dancers, promiscuous and are loud. I truly hope that these stereotypes are removed from Riverdale.
Riverdale has murder, strip clubs, diversity, disability, Scandal and even How to Get Away with Murder. It’s a regular #TGIT lineup with teenagers; perfect for The CW.