Hello readers, welcome to my first and last regular Riverdale recap. Now, just to be clear, this isn’t the show’s fault. Last week, I called it the first great show of 2017. It still is, but we all have our paths in life and mine is to recap Arrow until The CW frees me by cancelling it. Anyway, let’s focus on the task at hand. Riverdale‘s pilot was pretty much perfect and while its second episode was strong, it also exposed some of the show’s potential weaknesses going forward.
One of them, unfortunately, is the show’s narrator, Jughead (Cole M. Sprouse). We saw very little of Mr. Jones in the pilot and while his screentime was at least doubled here, he still feels like a bit of an enigma. In the comics, Jughead is the gang’s offbeat voice of reason, dispensing oddly-phrased advice between bites of burger. Here, he’s a moody, emo teenager with a much more direct approach to being Archie’s (K.J. Apa) version of Jiminy Cricket. It’s not necessarily a bad shift (though the fact that he still hasn’t eaten a single burger is downright disturbing), but it’s difficult to contextualize considering we don’t know anything about his home life or why he seems to be documenting his friends’ lives while not really taking any part in them.
The biggest problem with Jughead, though, is that he helps expose issues with the show’s tone. Riverdale‘s plotting is so nighttime soapy that the moments of levity don’t always seem to fit. Like the scene where Archie defends Jughead’s honor in that, bizarre, dimly-lit school rec room. While Reggie’s (Ross Butler) dialogue feels clearly written by an adult with very different pop cultural touchstones, the scene does draw genuine laughs. The problem is that it doesn’t fit with the serious fistfight that follows directly after. The same abrupt tonal shift happens multiple times throughout the episode. Betty’s (Lili Reinhart) mother, Alice (Mädchen Amick), for instance, is sinister one moment and dismissible and ridiculous the next. The episode’s most cringe-worthy moment, though, comes when Josie and the Pussycats perform “Sugar, Sugar” (which appeared on the late-‘60s Archie cartoon as well). The song’s tone is too bright and happy for the foggy, low-lit Riverdale these characters inhabit.
However, all this is fixable. Tone takes time and Riverdale is two episodes in. Dig into Jughead’s past a bit and decide whether or not Alice is evil and the show instantly becomes more even. The more difficult problem to solve–perhaps inevitably–is the Betty/Veronica/Archie dynamic. Last time, I mentioned that the comic’s perpetual issue is making sure Archie seem worthy of the girls’ competition. That’s not the problem here. Instead, it’s that the show is working so hard on Betty and Veronica’s (Camila Mendes) friendship, that you don’t want them to fight at all.
In fact, Riverdale runs the curious risk of getting us to root more for Betty and Veronica to hook up than for either of them to definitively win Archie’ affections. Given that this is The CW and it’s 2017, that outcome is totally possible. If not, then Riverdale has a serious queerbaiting problem on its hands. Regardless, the show has a very thin line to walk and with so much else going on, it’s going to be tough for it to strike the right balance. But, then again, what do I care? Come next week, my main concern is whether the new Black Canary will fulfill everyone’s hopes and dreams on Arrow. Riverdale is just something I get to enjoy, not analyze.