Riverdale Chapter One: The River’s Edge
KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
Riverdale looks like it’ll be a nice place to visit for a few seasons.
If your only experience with Archie and the Riverdale gang was the occasional Double Digest thrown your way as a kid to keep you occupied on a long car trip, this updated take from the CW (Netflix in our neck of the woods) might come as something of a shock. If nothing else, there’s a lot more sex and murder. There’s one openly gay character, one closet case, and one ambiguous sapphic moment. And while Archie (Kiwi actor KJ Apa) isn’t fucking Mr Weatherbee, to paraphrase Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy, he is dealing with the aftermath of a summer fling with Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel), the comics’ steely spinster having been re-imagined as someone considerably younger and more attractive.
This isn’t a “dark and gritty” reboot, though – that would be a lazy label to apply. Series writer (and Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and producer Greg Berlanti (who honchos the CW DC supers shows) have really taken the bull by the horns here, reconfiguring the wholesome, episodic and largely continuity-free teen comics into something that a) might reflect or at least engage with some of the concerns of Young People Today* and b) has enough narrative meat and emotional punch to at least get us through a season or two.
So welcome to Riverdale, a town reeling from the tragic and purportedly accidental death of rich kid, Jason Blossom. His sister, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) has no qualms about milking his death for social advantage. Meanwhile, good girl Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) nurses a crush on her BFF, Archie – something she has in common with new girl, the wealthy Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), who is struggling to cope with a downturn in lifestyle after her father was arrested for embezzlement.
In the background lurk a number of mysteries: Archie’s parents (Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald, and if that isn’t bravura casting, then what is?) are separated; Veronica’s mother, Hermione (Marisol Nichols) receives a bag full of cash courtesy of her husband, for reasons yet to be divulged; Usual BFFs Archie and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) are on the outs; and, perhaps most importantly, Betty’s mother (Twin Peaks alum Madchen Amick, and we’ll get to that in a second) harbours a deep grudge against the Blossom family because of the way Jason treated Betty’s sister while thy were dating.
Whew. That’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, but this is a soap opera after all, no matter how glossy it looks. Twin Peaks was a soap opera too, and Riverdale has drawn a number of comparisons, some earned, some trifling – we do get a body in the water before the episode draws to a close, after all. In truth, though, Riverdale is drawing on a number of textual inspirations – that episode title is no mistake, and future eps are named “A Touch of Evil”, “Body Double”, and “The Last Picture Show” – make of that what you will.
For all that “darkness” though, there’s plenty of light here, too. Archie is Archie – a good kid struggling with the usual raft of problems and trying to do right by everyone, including himself. The Betty/Veronica friendship makes sense, as does the B/V/A love triangle – in fact, this might be the most sympathetic representation of Veronica Lodge in the history of the character, in that regard. The characters we’re supposed to like are likable, and that counts for a lot. If Riverdale manages to not descend into completely overwrought melodrama – always a risk with these kind of things – it looks like it’ll be a nice place to visit for a few seasons.
We definitely need more Jughead, though.
*Sex, I’m given to understand.