Season One, Episode One — “Chapter One: The Rivers Edge”
By Jarrod Jones. There was never any real chance that Riverdale would politely nod to the corn-fed wholesomeness that kept Archie Comics in the American consciousness for over seventy years. If Archibald Andrews, Betty Cooper, and our friend Jughead Jones kept upright and plucky through a steady diet of records, milkshakes and Pop’s burgers, the cast of The CW’s latest comic book adaptation maintains its moody glower through soulful lyrics, extended sequences of longing, and, for one character anyway, a bottle of Adderall.
Even when Archie and his crew saunter over to Pop’s in “The River’s Edge”, it’s strictly to be seen. Jughead, our show’s earnest narrator, keeps late hours at the sleepy town’s iconic diner hammering away at his first novel, a crystal ball account of the mysterious disappearance that has the entire town clucking in hushed, Moscato-sweetened tones. It seems that Pop’s is Riverdale’s one-stop shop for teen angst and murderous intrigue. It’s a wonder if ol’ Pop should even keep the griddles hot.
K.J. Apa is Archie Andrews, whose orange strands stop being silly once our eyes get to the actor’s broodily thick eyebrows and expertly-placed dimples. (Even Miss Grundy — historically a grousing schoolmarm, here a smoldering sexpot — can’t seem to refrain from jumping all over Arch’s chiseled six-pack.) In Riverdale, Archie is a cement mixin’ poet-cum-songwriter, also an able football player and quite possibly one of the only two witnesses in a murder investigation, kept silent because he’s been fornicating in the woods with his teacher when he isn’t busy weighing his romantic options between long-time friend Betty Cooper and Kardashian-esque new girl Veronica Lodge. (“What don’t you do?” one character rightfully asks.)
One of the few things Riverdale holds in reverence is the famous love triangle between Betty, Veronica, and Archie, with Archie listening to approximately two seconds of Betty’s ideas about their future before his eyes glaze over to Veronica, so we can at least check that box.
As for everything else, most of Riverdale High’s usual suspects can be seen hanging around its hallways, generally eyeing each other up down with future trysts in mind (even Kevin Keller isn’t above slumming it when needs must). Local band Josie and the Pussycats seem to be the only characters using the school as a stepping stone to a better life, seen here as less of a rock ‘n’ roll trio than the next soulful supplicants in America’s Got Talent. “See the cat ears? We’re building a brand,” Josie insists.
Everyone else has sexier things on their minds. Even when Riverdale attempts to squeeze in some Podunk charm into its proceedings, it’s always for the sake of being meta. An empty bottle of cherry soda is used in a sultry game of Spin the Bottle, where the chosen aren’t expected to return to the party until there’s at least 30% condensation in the closet. At the school dance, kids gravitate around the punch bowl as if rum was a natural part of its recipe. Even Jughead’s world-famous crown sits on actor Cole Sprouse’s head with a marked disdain.
Riverdale would so love it if you’d draw comparisons to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks. (Mädchen Amick appears as Betty’s mother to lend the show some cred in that regard.) From the town’s pristine façade just barely obscuring the more sinister realities beneath it, to the show’s ceaseless and decidedly mercurial soundtrack (CW’s penchant for crappy pop standards are no substitute for Angelo Badalamenti, I fear), Riverdale aims for Blue Velvet and merely grazes Pretty Little Liars, another “teen drama” that very much desired to be the next scandalous TV event. “You’re more dangerous than you look, aren’t you?” Veronica asks her newfound beau. “You have no idea,” Archie says. *nods* Sure you are.
“Game changer! Archie got hot! He’s got abs now! Six more reasons why should take that ginger bull by the horns tonight!” – Kevin.
Ms. Grundie: “Archie, what are you doing walking in this heat?” Archie: “Uh… building character?”
“You play football too? What don’t you do?” – Veronica, asking a very pertinent question.
Kevin: “Is cheerleading still a thing?” Cheryl: “Is being the gay best friend still a thing?”
“Check your sell-by date, ladies, faux lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.” – Cheryl.
BEST MOMENT: Luke Perry’s firm but chill Poppa Andrews shares a few words with his studly son about responsibility that boast similar dramatic muscles as most other Berlanti-produced CW shows.
EPISODE’S MVP: Not surprisingly, Betty Cooper is the one character in Riverdale who, Adderall prescription aside, feels like she just stepped out of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ successful Archie Comics update back in 2015. Lili Reinhart’s earnest and kind-hearted performance was an oasis of sincerity in the otherwise insufferable maelstrom of vanity that was this debut episode.
– It’s nice to see Betty and Ronnie depicted as friends, though the safe money is that it definitely won’t last.
– HOW IS GIRL-ON-GIRL KISSING A “CHEERLEADER MOVE” IS THIS SHOW ‘BASEKETBALL’
– Where. Is. Jughead. Oh. There he his.
– Who had to have played Archie’s mom in order to make Mr. Andrews’ nigh-Kryptionian genes so astounding? Luke Perry doesn’t even look like Archie’s uncle.
– Melrose Place or 90210 — from which seminal ’90s sleazefest will Riverdale poach their future Hiram Lodge? Speculate in the comments section below. (I’m guessing Ian Ziering.)
– Geraldine Grundy subscribes to the Rick Perry philosophy of how to look smart.
– Josie’s holding that guitar like the reverential prop that it is. Best of luck on that spin-off.
– Ah, Jughead. There’s a character that has the potential to be the most interesting player for Riverdale, considering the source material and the murderer’s row of interchangeable cast members found in this melodrama. But the show buries him so deep into this premiere that by the time it’s revealed that Jughead has been remolded into a sullen would-be novelist, we’ve eaten enough shit to accept it.
– Anyone else go “Oh, Kevin” when we saw Mr. Keller indulge Moose’s closeted desires? (“Everything but kissin’,” Moose says.)
4 out of 10
Next: “Chapter Ten: The Lost Weekend”, soon.