Riverdale presents gritty rendering of Archie Comics

Back in the 1940s, Archie Comics debuted the happy-go-lucky teenage adventures of Archie Andrews and his friends as they live through high school life in their town of Riverdale. It was a colorful, innocent and carefree story about Archie and the love triangle with the girl next door, Betty Cooper, and the new girl, Veronica Lodge. So what happens when the tale of Andrews and his friends are brought into the modern times? Well, it transforms into a dark, scandalous, mystery-thriller in the form of the brand new show, named after their hometown, “Riverdale” on the CW.

Given the movie and television industry’s desire to take long, beloved franchises and transform them for the modern audience with a darker and grittier take, it was only a matter of time before the colorful characters of Archie Comics had their turn. And fortunately, “Riverdale” adapts the timeless characters into a narrative that’s equal parts thrilling and engaging, with only a few mishaps down the road.

The first two episodes, directed by Lee Toland Krieger, deal with the initial fallout of the mysterious death of one of the most popular students at Riverdale High, Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines). In the midst of all this, Archie Andrews (K. J. Apa) balances life as a popular high school footballer and his passion for music, while his best friend Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) comes to terms with the long-time crush she has had on Archie. All that is changed when the new “spoiled-rich kid” Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) moves to Riverdale. Besides a mysterious death, the premise does sound a bit too generic and boring right?

It’s what happens when you try to adapt something so cheery from the 1940s. But rest assured, the modern thriller aspect of the show makes it its saving grace, making it worth watching amongst the newer shows of the year.

It’s a little hard to believe that putting these colorful characters in a bleak, dark setting defies all odds by feeling so natural. For example, Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), while a friend of Archie in the comics, becomes a former best friend on the show. Given the atmosphere of the show, having this rift between them layers mystery on top of mystery and leaves the audience to fill in the gaps themselves.

But amongst the cast, Mendes as Veronica Lodge becomes the show’s standout character due to her “rich-bitch” persona. However, she fully embraces it and becomes self-aware of her nature as she tries to completely absolve that part of her persona. It’s a tad meta, and it defies how the normally happy characters are usually viewed.

The most interesting aspect of the show is the fact that the town itself serves as an important character as well. From the first episode, you can tell it’s been lived in and that it has history. There’s already questions to have about what happened in Riverdale before events of the show transpired. Why are some characters distant from each other and was there a relationship there before? Why do some characters act a certain way? It adds depth of history in a way that makes the audience become the investigator to find the deep, dark secrets that lie within the quiet town. It adds a whole dynamic that breathes life into the show and makes it infinitely more interesting.

But among the good things is some less-than-stellar material. And unfortunately, one of those is the lead character himself. Apa plays Archie as best as he can, but amongst the cast and other mysteries that surround Riverdale, Archie becomes the least exciting character on the show. He’s a popular footballer and he plays music and everybody likes him and that’s about it. There’s another subplot that vitalizes Archie’s character, but ends up being confusing and a little unnecessary. But for the sake of spoilers, there isn’t much interesting material for Archie at this point, which is less than ideal considering he’s the main character of the show.

Considering the show is aimed at an older teen demographic, it’s not lost without its cliches and too-coincidental plot points. It’s something that almost made the show feel like any other teenage soap-opera, and it was almost to the point of becoming one of those.

Thankfully, most of the cast is interesting and the town even more so. Add some layers of death, deceit, mystery, sex and scandal, and you might just have a recipe for a brand new hit show. It isn’t without its faults, but “Riverdale” is engaging and thrilling and with more episodes on its way, the secrets of Riverdale are ready to be unlocked.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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