Reformed teen bad girl from New York moves to a small town, instantly capturing the affections of teen boy who’s oblivious to his girl next door best friend’s romantic feelings towards him. High school student sleeping with his teacher. Teen’s family the subject of gossip because her father is in prison. Hyper-literary teens referencing pop culture they’re probably way too young to be familiar with as they suffer all the drama and angst you don’t remember ever experiencing when you were in high school.
No, this isn’t a retread of Dawson’s Creek, Kevin Williamson’s mega hit 90’s teen drama which followed up his two successful teen horror screenplays (Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer) and yet the CW’s new, darker spin on the old Archie comics, with a mysterious dead body at the center, feels almost like those Kevin Williamson 90’s writing and producer credits thrown in a blender. And the result is something that resembles the standard WB/CW teen drama on the surface but carries a potentially sinister David Lynchian tone buried just below.
Pictured: KJ Apa as Archie and Luke Perry as Fred. Photo Credit: Diyah Pera/© 2016 The CW Network
Though perhaps the Dawson comparison shouldn’t be too surprising because Riverdale Executive Producer Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow) started out on Dawson’s Creek. But Riverdale seems more like a deconstruction of the teen drama that hits all the familiar beats and archetypes — mean girl head cheerleader, son receiving fatherly advice to be true to himself, drama at a school dance, love triangles, girl with a gay best friend — but is far more self-aware and interested in undermining the tired tropes of its genre. Early on, Veronica observes “I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but this place is strictly In Cold Blood.” In other words, this is not the wholesome Riverdale you remember from the comics.
First, there’s Archie himself. On the surface, he looks like your typical do-gooder male lead in this sort of teen fare. But we’re only one episode into this series and he’s already hiding two dark secrets; he had a sexual affair with his music teacher and that the two of them know something about the Fourth of July death — ruled an accident at the time — of Archie’s classmate Jason Blossom. Blossom’s body finally turns up in the final moments of the premiere with a gunshot wound in his forehead, calling his twin sister’s account of him accidentally falling into the water and drowning into serious question.
Then there’s Betty and Veronica. Long before the first episode even ends, the show playfully gives a nod to no doubt decades of slash fiction when Veronica kisses Betty in order to elicit a reaction from mean girl cheerleader Cheryl Blossom and convince Cheryl to let meek Betty join the squad. But, without missing a beat, unimpressed Cheryl just quips back, “Faux lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.” The character is fifteen or sixteen in 2017. At another point, Cheryl also tells Veronica, “You may be a stock character from a ’90s teen movie, but I’m not.”
Yet another hyper-self-aware moment comes as Archie struggles to balance his athletic and artistic ambitions and Veronica asks, “Can’t we just liberate ourselves from the tired dichotomy of jock, artist. Can’t we, in this post–James Franco world, be all things at once?”
And finally there’s Jughead. His voiceover narration opens the show and sets up the eerie tone, but he only appears in one scene near the end. All we really know about him at this point is that he and Archie are no longer close friends and that his novelist ambitions have led him to begin writing about Jason Blossom’s death.
Pictured: Lili Reinhart as Betty — Photo: Katie Yu/© 2016 The CW Network.
Is It Good?
I’m definitely intrigued enough to tune in for at least another installment. The show has potential to deconstruct the teen drama genre with the introduction of a lurid and creepy, Lynchian take on wholesome suburbia. If the show continues to further undermine the iconic imagery of its source material like Pop Tate’s Chok’lit Shoppe, Riverdale could become sensational.