The Riverdale Series Premiere “Chapter One: The River’s Edge” Shows This Could Be the First Hit Show of 2017
Even if you’ve never read an Archie comic, there’s something familiar about Riverdale. On the page, Archie Andrews and his friends are a bunch of normal teenagers, here, however, creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Supergirl, Glee) makes them darker, a little more modern. It’s very CW. Now, you could argue that edginess is antithetical to the whole point of Archie comics. Maybe that’s true, but even so, this show is great.
That said, Riverdale feels a little like a Frankenstein’s monster of other successful CW shows. It has the low lighting and moodiness of The Vampire Diaries, the good-natured ensemble feel of One Tree Hill and a pinch of Gossip Girl‘s sex appeal and sharpness. Most importantly, though, it feels a lot like ABC’s Twin Peaks. Though Riverdale is decidedly less weird (so far), both shows begin the same way: with the mysterious death of a teenager. In this case, the victim is Cheryl Blossom’s (Madelaine Petsch) brother, Jack.
Now, Cheryl isn’t our protagonist, but you could easily make that mistake. Petsch is dynamite in the role. She plays Cheryl with a sadistic edge that makes it clear that she would do anything to make someone else feel small—especially Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart). As Riverdale‘s resident nice girl, Betty could easily come off as a pathetic doormat, but while Reinhart’s facial expressions occasionally have the bruised look of a crumpled flower, there’s more to the character than just girl next door sweetness. This Betty struggles with the demands of her apparent perfection, constantly pushing back her insecurities. For those moments when her own resolve fails, though, there’s Veronica (Camila Mendes). Though this version of Miss Lodge can feel just a bit too mature for a sophomore in high school, she’s got the appropriate amount of fire. The scene where she strong-arms herself and Betty onto the cheerleading squad is one of the episode’s best.
Finally–and most importantly–there’s K. J. Apa as Archie. He could easily get lost among all the other good performances, but Apa turns the usually goofy character into a total heartthrob, utterly dreamy in his constant struggle to be his best self.
However, universally great as the characters and actors are, the sheer number of them begs the question of whether the episode plays as well for viewers who’ve never read an Archie comic. The pilot sets up a lot of characters and storylines and it’s a lot to keep track of even for those who don’t already know that Cheryl Blossom is, “the antichrist,” as Veronica so perfectly puts it. There’s the mystery behind Jack Blossom’s death, there’s the mystery of what soured Archie and Jughead’s friendship and there is, of course, the Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle.
The CW is television’s #1 home for love triangles, but Archie/Betty/Veronica is basically the prototype for them all. However, while the love triangle drives much of the plot and character dynamics in the comic, but it looks like it will take kind of a backseat to the rest of the action here. The episode spends just as much (if not more) time convincing us of Betty and Veronica’s friendship as it does setting up their romantic rivalry over Archie. More often than not, the comics run the risk of underselling the Archie point on this triangle. The character can be such a bumbling goofball that you start to wonder why two such accomplished girls would fight over him at all. Not so here. While the character’s aforementioned hunkiness is undeniable, he’s also pretty accomplished himself. He’s on the varsity football team and a fledgling musician, sure he’s also hiding a pretty juicy secret that might make their rivalry moot anyway, but you get the picture.
See, that the ting about Riverdale, questionable as the show’s edginess is, it’s actually its biggest asset. By taking Archie’s world and adding a little spice, Aguirre-Sacasa has set up a show with enough drama to keep it running for years. We should be so lucky.