Ignoring Your Source Material: Riverdale (TV Showcase #46)

This is one of those shows that I can’t say much about here in the intro without delving into my thoughts on it. All I can say is that I went in expecting to like it. I tried to like it. At the moment, I kind of like it. But mostly, I don’t. There’s quite a bit about it to not like. Let me just get to the actual review. This is a brand-new show called “Riverdale”. 

“Riverdale” aired in 2017, broadcasting 13 hour-long episodes over one season, with a second one scheduled to air at the time of this writing. The series focuses on the characters from the classic Archie Comics series in the modern-day version of small-town Riverdale, and they are all connected in the mystery of teenager Jason Blossom, who was mysteriously murdered by someone in Riverdale. Everyone has a part to play in solving the mystery: the teens, their parents, a teacher, and the last people you’d expect. But of course, that’s how mysteries work, right?

Archie Comics began in 1939 and still continues to this day, but like many of the classic comics, it’s on the decline in terms of popularity. The series gave us several spinoffs, such as “Josie and the Pussycats”, and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. I grew up reading Archie, but I’m realising that a whole lot of people my age have no clue what Archie is, and I may be among the last generation who grew up reading it as it came out. So when I found out about “Riverdale”, which I heard described as Archie but the gang solving mysteries, I was really excited. I thought it might be like “Scooby-Doo” but more mature. And then I found out it was a CW series, the network responsible for such television masterpieces as “The Vampire Diaries”, “Supernatural”, “Jane the Virgin”, “iZombie”, and their newest brilliant idea, “Supergirl”. And then all my expectations for “Riverdale” went out the window. But still, if you write a show based on a comic book series, you want to do it justice, right (except if you’re Marvel, DC, or anyone else who’s put out a superhero movie in the last five years)? So I thought that maybe “Riverdale” would at least keep the true Archie spirit alive. And then I watched it.

As far as the mystery itself goes, I suppose it’s pretty decent, finding out how all the kids and parents are connected, and the motives behind the murder. But the show could’ve been cut in more than half, and the entire mystery would have been there. Mostly, it’s full of that teen drama that the CW just loves, with lots of sex, irrational behaviour by the dumb high-schoolers that’s somehow justifiable , and parents who are blown way out proportion to look insane so that when the teens tell them off it feels right and makes the target audience cheer on the rebellion. All this I was expecting from the get-go. That’s not even my biggest qualm with the series.

My biggest complaint about “Riverdale” is that it isn’t Archie Comics at all. Sure, all the characters are there, and the sets are there, and the costuming is there, with a fresh modern look to it. Visually, it looks like Archie. But every single character felt like a complete stranger to me, not like an Archie character. It’s not just that their backstory was different, or they had family problems that weren’t in the books; I’d just consider those new perspectives on the characters. It’s that their personalities and values weren’t there at all. Jughead came pretty close, but near the end, even he devolved into emotional goo like everybody else. I can handle some romance between characters that didn’t have chemistry in the books, but for heaven’s sake, when Archie is having an affair with Ms. Grundy, I’ve got to draw the line. Yeah, remember her from the books? Ms. Freaking Grundy, the schoolteacher. There’s no rivalry for Archie between Betty and Veronica, no fun misadventures with Jughead, and absolutely no morals from the traditionally upstanding Archie, who in “Riverdale” is so thirsty that he’ll go for any female that bats an eye in his direction. Is this the Archie you remember? Not me.

So, is “Rvierdale” worth watching? I’d say only if you’re not an Archie Comics fan. If you’ve never read or heard of Archie, and if you can handle the emotional messiness that comes with any CW show, then sure, go for it. The mystery is pretty interesting. But if you’d consider yourself a fan of Archie Comics and all the charm of the books, then save yourself the raging and ranting and just skip it. Go watch “Poirot” or “Sherlock”, mystery shows that actually make something out of their source material, not merely stealing characters and sets and then making something completely different out of them.

“Riverdale” to me is disappointing all around, and in my opinion completely trashed something clean and wholesome from my childhood, all for the sake of making it look “cool”. What do you think?

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