The Problems With Riverdale

Now that I’ve watched the first episode of Riverdale, the dark-and-moody teen-focused Archie comic adaptation, I had some thoughts on issues with the show.

KJ Apa looks too old. Press says he’s just 19, but he looks mid-20s, a man, not a teenager. They play this off with comments about how Archie “got hot” doing manual labor on a summer job, but visually, he doesn’t fit in with the other “high schoolers”. As of yet, he also doesn’t have the presence for me to believe that he’s got three women after him. Sadly, also lacking substantial screen presence is Lili Reinhart as Betty; she’s more of a space than a character so far. I do like Veronica (Camila Mendes) — she handles dialogue overstuffed with pop culture references well — and Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), making her “mean girl” role more substantial.

Everyone talks too much. I know, a first episode needs to explain a lot of characters (particularly since they’re not the versions we know) and events to the viewer, but it would be nice if the characters didn’t speak to each other in paragraphs of exposition so often, especially since we’ve already got Jughead as a narrator.

Veronica, Archie, and Betty at the Riverdale high school dance

Too many clichés. Even though the writing tries to be self-aware about it all, making fun of the clichés you’re using still means you’re using clichés. Most obvious is the scene where Betty and Veronica kiss, which seems to exist just to give more salacious material for the promo clips. Cheryl tells them off as past their “sell-by date” for “faux-lesbian kissing”, but it’s still a ridiculous insertion trying to artificially sex things up. Much like calling the cheerleaders for the Bulldogs “Vixens”.

What happened to the parents, and why do we see so much of them? Archie comics are teen humor stories, with mom and dad in the background. Only none of these characters have a functional family. Archie’s mom has split. Veronica’s dad is elsewhere, suspected of or committing crimes. Betty manages to have both parents present, but Mom is a controlling dictator who’s pushing drugs on her daughter. They all have storylines, but why do we need to see them this much? (Other than the older cast members providing the star power, or at least the acting experience.) I miss Archie families with both parents present and comforting.

Reggie is unrecognizable. I’m cool with him being Asian — more diversity is welcome — but he shouldn’t be taller than Moose! (Who’s apparently, by the way, a “closet case” getting it on secretly with Kevin.) He’s also superficial and bro-dumb, asking Archie if he “tap[ped] some cougar ass this summer” instead of scheming or plotting or focusing only on himself.

Riverdale promo poster

Finally, why does this show exist? The CW teens they’re so eager to attract are going to react as Veronica does: “What is a ‘chok’lit shoppe’ and why does it sell burgers?” These references don’t have any currency for them, while those who know the 75-year-old characters are likely to wonder why they’re all sex-crazed murder suspects. I know Archie Comics (the company) really wants some media projects to succeed, but desire isn’t sufficient here.

The ratings were not great. Particularly since Thursday is normally a really competitive night, and CBS and NBC had reruns (although ABC had the delayed season debut of Scandal, still popular). Riverdale lost a few viewers from its Supernatural lead-in. A lot will depend on how viewership picks up on apps and other non-live viewing options.

Now, all that said, I’d watch more. It’s weirdly compulsive at its best. Although it would be even more interesting if Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa went with his original Archie idea (as this Variety review remembers): “Riverdale’s showrunner, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, is Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comic Publications — a position he obtained, bizarrely, a decade after the company sent him a cease-and-desist order for a play he wrote that had Archie himself coming out of the closet.”

Riverdale Free Comic Book Day issue

On Free Comic Book Day, May 6, Archie Comics will release a Riverdale one-shot that contains two stories filling in some of the backstory of the show. (I believe the two writers are on the show staff.)

Writer Brian E. Paterson and artist Elliot Fernandez will reveal the hidden tales from Archie’s summer working at his father’s construction company and how things change during a fateful encounter with his music teacher, Ms. Grundy. In the second story, writer James DeWille and artist Thomas Pitilli explore the mysterious circumstances surrounding Veronica’s move from New York to Riverdale.



6 comments

  • Jim Perreault

    One of the things I felt was lacking was humor. I think Kevin was supposed to be the comic relief character, but he came off as such a cliche that he was not funny. Jughead would have been a better choice for comic relief. The reporter narrator bit struck me as unoriginal.

    I totally agree with the Betty/Veronica kiss. It came out of nowhere and had nothing to do with the plot. It looked like it was inserted to make the show seem edgy, but it just came off as forced.

    I also agree with the lack of a good family life. I think Robert handled that aspect way better in Afterlife with Archie.

    What did work for me, though, was the Betty/Veronica relationship. It was believable that these polar opposites would be friends.

    I also liked the theme of your high school years shaping who you are and what you will become.

    Overall, the show struck me as a combination of “Bring it On!” and “Twin Peaks”, but nowhere near as good or moving.

  • Jim Kosmicki

    Betty’s mom is there to make the Twin Peaks connection through the actress.

    The faux-lesbian kiss scene (and most of Cheryl Blossom’s actions in the high school) strike me as being an attempt to get some Ryan Murphy/Glee attention. But as Glee showed in the early seasons, for that to work, you have to go all in.

    My wife and I were also oddly entertained and will watch at least a few more episodes, but my 23 year old son was at our house as we were watching it, and his main reaction was also “these kids are sophomores in high school? not college?”

  • James Schee

    I liked the first ep pretty well, I’m sort of used to and actually prefer(if there’s going to be very adult themes) for them to take that course with their acting choices. Same way as in comics with the Legion I preferred them drawn as young adults instead of teens if story is dark.

    The second episode really grabbed me though s you got to see the characters interact more and show off their core better, Can’t wait to hear what you and KC think of Josie and the Pussycats update to Sugar, Sugar.

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