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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Riverdale - Not Your Grandpa's Comic, But Semi-Enjoyable

I've been a fan of Archie comics for three decades now!  I find it hard to believe that my childhood hobby has now become an adult hobby as well.  I got my first comic book in March 1987 when I was just shy of turning six years old, and my collection now is in the thousands.

And while I do have to admit that I find a few of the decisions made by the people at Archie Comics to be questionable as of late (seriously, you hype the hell out of "Afterlife with Archie" and then it's been stalled since the summer of 2016?), I will say this...I will always have fond memories of classic Archie, I love all of the artists who have worked for Archie and will continue to support them, and I have such love and devotion for the comics themselves.  They helped get me through my tumultuous school years by making me feel like I was a part of the community of Riverdale - a place where everyone loved each other and treated each other with respect.

Well, these days, it certainly doesn't resemble the Riverdale that I fell in love with thirty years ago!

Over the month of January, Archie fans like myself probably know where I'm going with this.  After all, you've seen the ads on the front covers of Archie comics.

Or, you've seen the commercials and promos on television.

On January 26, 2017, the live-action adaptation of "Riverdale" debuted on The CW.  It's the first live-action depiction of the Archie gang in twenty-seven years (the last one was the NBC television movie "To Riverdale and Back Again").  And based on the promos and descriptions given by critics who reviewed the show prior to its January 26 release date, the consensus is that it's not your grandfather's Archie comics anymore.

And, well...they're definitely bang on with that assessment.  The new "Riverdale" is darker, edgier, and filled with one shock plot after another.  But at the same time, in certain aspects of the show, the people behind it really did their research, and made some parts of the show enjoyable.

So, I watched the premiere episode of "Riverdale", and I thought I would use this space to talk about it.  Now, for those of you who have not seen it, there will be some spoilers peppered throughout this piece.  Consider yourselves warned. 

I'll go over my thoughts in three parts.  To start things off positively, I'll put a list together of things I liked.  Then I'll post things that I hated (and yes, there are a couple of things I wish were different).  The third part will be things I'm indifferent to right now, but might keep an eye out for as more episodes air.

So, what did I like about the premiere of "Riverdale"?

Well, for one, the setting of "Riverdale" is exactly how I pictured it to be in real life.  It really does have a small town feel to it from the shots of Riverdale High School to Pop's Chock'lit Shoppe, to Archie and Betty's houses, and everything in between.  I don't know who was responsible for the choosing of the location, but they did a fantastic job.  The only thing that it's lacking is a beach setting, but we just might not have seen it yet.

As far as the casting of our four main characters - Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead - I think that the casting director struck gold here.  I can actually believe that I'm watching my favourite comic book characters come to life with these four actors.  KJ Apa shines as the All-American Archie (a great feat given that the actor is from New Zealand), and I think he plays the role with conviction.  Lili Reinhart is fantastic as Betty, the blonde-haired good girl who feels frustrated with her image.  You can tell that she might be a handful with future episodes.  And Cole Sprouse makes a very convincing Jughead right down to his nonchalant attitude and analytical way of looking at the world.  I just wish we saw more of him.  But the breakout star of "Riverdale" has to be Camila Mendes, who kills it in the role of Veronica Lodge.  Normally in the comic books, Veronica annoys me.  In "Riverdale", she has the best dialogue, a strong will, and a passionate heart.  She's definitely the one to watch as the show progresses.  She's a star in my books.  Really, the way these four actors portray their characters is a huge plus for the show.

That's not to discount some of the other characters though.  Casey Cott, who plays openly gay character Kevin Keller is a convincing second banana to Betty, Veronica, and even Archie.  And Madelaine Petsch shows off a delightfully bitchy take on Cheryl Blossom.  Granted, she seems to have a reason for why she is the way she is, but it's quite fun to watch.  She's definitely the character you're probably going to love to despise.  I know I do.

I'm also semi-intrigued by the murder mystery plot that kicked off in episode one.  Cheryl's twin brother, Jason, was found dead in the water by Kevin and Moose Mason, and the cause of death appeared to be a gunshot to the head.  Jason went missing during the 4th of July celebrations, and the show promises flashbacks to show what happened to Jason and who was responsible.  There are a lot of potential suspects - Archie, Betty, Betty's mother Alice (played by Madchen Amick), Betty's as-yet-unseen sister, Polly, and perhaps even Cheryl herself.  And with Jughead as the unofficial narrator of this tale, it's certainly got me trying to figure out what happened.

And, I also love the fact that whoever wrote the scripts of the first episode really did their homework and filled the show with a lot of obscure references that only Archie comic fans would pick out.  Like the sign outside of Riverdale that boasts that it's the town with pep.  Pep happens to be the comic book that Archie first made his debut.  Betty tells Veronica that Riverdale High opened up in 1941 - the same year that Archie made his first appearance.  There's a comic book store in town known as MLJ Comics - which was the name of the publisher that produced Archie before it changed its name to Archie Comics Publications.  And Veronica even drops an "Archiekins"!  Those are just a few.  There are lots more, but I don't want to spoil all the fun!

The only thing that I think was one missed opportunity in the comic books was not giving Archie the #22 football jersey.  Archie made his first appearance in Pep #22.  That might have been fun to do.

So, those are some of the things that I think worked.  What didn't?

Well, for starters, I hate the fact that so many of the adult characters are split up and completely rewritten.  Betty's parents seem to be still together, but Alice Cooper has been rewritten into the control freak from hell.  She was NOT like this in the comic books!  Fred Andrews (played by Luke Perry), is divorced from his wife Mary (another shocker), and runs his own construction company.  Veronica's mother Hermione (played by Marisol Nichols) has apparently moved into an apartment with Veronica - where Smithers is the doorman, and Hiram is presumably in prison for some insider trading scheme.  Really, do we need to have so many screwed up adults in this new show?  I get that it's supposed to be darker, but this is taking it to the extreme.  Though I'll say this...the acting is quite good from these three.

Another thing I hated was the fact that they made Reggie seemingly invisible.  The few parts that we did see of him he was made to be this horndog football player who had the IQ of a tsetse fly.  It was like they drew him with Moose's personality.  Honestly, Reggie deserved better.  And I won't even go into how they completely rewrote Moose.  It's too silly for words.

The show also eludes to a forbidden love affair between Archie and Ms. Grundy.  First of all...EW!  I mean, sure, in this incarnation, Ms. Grundy looks no older than 29, but still...ew!  Apparently Grundy and Archie have a secret about the 4th of July - which ties in with Jason's disappearance.  But whether it's linked to that, nobody knows yet.  It's still kind of disturbing.  I could potentially see Reggie hooking up with a teacher, but ARCHIE?!?  No way.

Now for the parts that I'm still unsure about, but am willing to give a couple more episodes in hopes that I might end up thinking they are good things.

In the comic books, Jughead and Archie are best friends.  In "Riverdale", they've had a serious falling out.  They still are cordial to each other, but they aren't as close as they used to be.  I would like to know what caused the friendship to crumble and whether Jason is responsible for it or someone else.  Jughead and Archie not being friends is something that doesn't seem right at all...I think they need to come up with a really good reason that still makes the viewer like both of them.

I'm also not feeling the Josie and the Pussycats arc either.  It's no fault of Ashleigh Murray and the other actresses who played Valerie and Melody though.  Ashleigh Murray spits out some classic one-liners.  And while some questioned the idea of changing the ethnicity of Josie and Melody, in this case, I think it works.  But they only had one scene with Archie and they diss him terribly at that.  I wonder what caused Josie to become so cold towards other students, as in the comics she was always friendly and humble.  The Pussycats could end up being great characters, but they just seemed like they were...well...just there.

And finally, I think we need to have more of an idea as to who Jason was as a character.  He's at the center of the story, but we've only seen him briefly at the beginning of the episode and at the end of the episode as a corpse.  Apparently, Betty and her mother can't stand the Blossom twins, and reportedly Betty's sister Polly used to date Jason and afterwards suffered a serious mental breakdown.  This is interesting stuff, but I'm curious to know what caused that breakdown, and whether Jason and Cheryl really caused it.  Betty seems to elude to Veronica that her mother was really the cause of Polly's spiral to insanity, but whether that's true is left to be figured out.

My final thoughts?  There are some parts of the show that I'm still indifferent on.  And there are some parts that I absolutely hate and want stricken from the script forever.  But the show does have a strong cast.  It has a picture perfect setting for the skeletons in everyone's closets.  And, since I'm a sucker for murder mysteries, I'll probably watch the show for the whole season or however long it lasts.

But one thing is for certain...these tales from Riverdale will be NOTHING like the ones above.  Time will tell whether that is a good thing.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Jem Reviewed: Episode 45 - Mardi Gras

In our last Jem Reviewed entry, the Holograms and Misfits nearly derailed their careers when a rock and roll tour aboard a train nearly crashed.  But both groups survived, and now it's onto the next adventure.

Though we're celebrating it one month earlier than it's supposed to be, it's time for Episode 45: Mardi Gras.  Otherwise known as Fat Tuesday.

Sadly, in this edition of Jem Trivia, this is the last episode written by Mary Skrenes.  And it's a shame too because she was at the helm of some of the episodes that I really ended up liking. 

Naturally, it's to be expected that the show would take place in the heart of Mardi Gras territory - New Orleans, Louisiana.  But what the Holograms don't know is why they're there or where they'll be staying.  You'd think they would have gotten that information BEFORE accepting the gig.

Well, the Holograms get the answer to one of the questions from the woman who appears to be the master of ceremonies aboard the Dixie Lady (the paddle steamer that they're currently on).  It appears as though Jem and the Holograms have been invited to perform a very special concert at the Mardi Gras masquerade ball.  And what makes it even more special is the fact that they will be wearing pieces of jewelry from the collection of former singer Lily LaRose.  Jewels that have not been on public display since 1814!  Interestingly, I believe the show refers to them as the Lafitte jewels.  I wonder why?

I'm sure there's a story behind that, but right now it's time for celebrating, and Jem decides to sing a song about the fun of Mardi Gras.

And you know something?  I kind of like the song.  "Let Me Take You To The Mardi Gras" has a great vibe to it and sounds a bit more mature than the songs they sang season one.  But of course, since this is a children's cartoon, we don't get to see people ripping off their blouses for beads.  Still, it's nice.

Immediately after the show, a man dressed up in what appears to be a pirate costume approaches Jem and introduces himself as Detective Pierre L'Arquette.  I guess it makes sense that one would be around, given how expensive jewels from 1814 might be worth.  He even talks in a French-Creole like accent to pay homage to New Orleans' roots.  He tells Jem the location of their hotel, and also a little bit about Lily LaRose's forbidden love affair with pirate Jean Lafitte.  This is all neat bits of information, but Jem is wondering why they were chosen of all the people.

I think Shana's encounter with the creepy Mama Lou might shed a little more light on the subject.  Mama Lou tells Shana to beware of zombies on Fat Tuesday, and Shana is absolutely creeped out by it.  At least that is until Pierre comes over and rescues her.  It's here that Pierre stares at Shana and tells her that she looks like Lily LaRose.  Oh, sweet Jesus, if this turns out to be another doppelganger story, so help me I'll...

Pierre also seems to be developing feelings for Shana, but Shana rebuffs his advances by showing him a locket with Anthony Julien's photo inside.  Come to think of it, when's the last time we actually saw Anthony on the show?  I honestly don't know.  Whatever the case, Pierre leaves a little disappointed, and Shana joins the others on a ride through the streets of New Orleans to their hotel - Maison Fleur.

But as they pass a theatre that advertises some act called the Zomboys - we see that the Misfits are there in New Orleans too.  I guess they got wind of Jem and the Holograms' concert at the Mardi Gras masquerade ball, and they figure that they must get them out of the way so that they can take all the glory and the jewels.  Nice.  Oh, and they've apparently befriended the group known as the Zomboys to help with their plan.  Of course they have.

The Holograms arrive at the Maison Fleur and discover that somebody forgot to pay the power bill.  What a great start to the night!  Actually, it's explained that there are problems with the fuses and that everything should be repaired by the morning.  

In the meantime, the Holograms are greeted by the concierge of the hotel, Mademoiselle Yvette, as well as the bellhop who is named Maurice.  Yvette seems a delight, but Maurice could stand to smile a lot more.  My goodness, there's a lot of guest characters on this episode!

It appears that Yvette is the descendant of Lily LaRose, and the Holograms are shocked to realize that Lily LaRose is almost an exact double of Shana.  But Lily LaRose has been deceased for over 150 years, so no chance of Shana and Lily switching places.

Yvette also shows the Holograms a portrait of Jean Lafitte and his pet monkey - which seems like the most random picture, but let's go with it.  We learn through Yvette's narration that Lily and Jean had a forbidden love affair during the Battle of New Orleans and they would sneak away into the city to be together.  When it came time for Jean Lafitte to leave, he made a promise that he would come back for Lily one day - but that promise never came to be.  You know, it would actually be very interesting if it was revealed that Pierre was a descendant of Jean Lafitte, and it certainly would make his attraction to Shana understandable - but they never included that plot point, so I have no idea if that was how it was.

One thing we do know is that each of the Holograms have their own rooms, and Shana has been assigned Lily's old room.  Shana takes off her locket, says good night to Anthony and drifts off to sleep... least until some strange creature swipes the locket away from the nightstand and wakes Shana up with a scream!  That's...creepy.

Shana rushes out of the room and calls for the Holograms to come help her, but in her haste she runs into Pierre, who once again tries to make a move on Shana.  Um, considering that she was just robbed by something sinister, this is probably the last thing Shana wants.  But since Pierre is staying in the hotel on the third floor, I suppose them running into each other was bound to happen.  Oblivious to what is going on, Yvette and the rest of the Holograms appear from another room.  It seems as though none of the Holograms could sleep, so Yvette made them some chamomile tea.  How sweet of her!  It's too bad that Pierre doesn't make the same warm impression by making fun of Shana's predicament.  Shana tells him off and decides that she'll bunk with Raya for the night, but I get the feeling that this game that Pierre is playing with Shana is far from over.

The next morning, the Holograms decide to take a sightseeing tour of the city, but before they leave, they get some good news from Yvette.  The fuses have been fixed so the power has been restored to the hotel.  However, there still needs to be more work done, so the electrician has warned everyone not to use any of the outlets on the second floor.  Seems like a bit of random information right now, but let's see where it leads.

Passing by a street cafe in a cable car, Jem notices Pierre is sitting, and Jem remembers that she was supposed to meet with him regarding the performance with the jewels.  At least he's not dressed like a Pirates of the Caribbean extra this time around.  She asks Shana if she wants to attend, but given how Shana feels about him, she decides to stay aboard the cable car with Kimber, Raya, and Aja while Jem meets with Pierre.

Nothing much happens at the meeting with Pierre, except that Pierre is feeling remorseful over his fight with Shana, and that Jem and Pierre discuss the itinerary for the upcoming performance.  It's too bad that Jem and Pierre don't notice Neco of the Zomboys listening in. 

Where there are Zomboys, there's sure to be Misfits...and the Misfits waste no time in rubbing their surprise visit to the Holograms cable car in their faces.

"Surprise! Surprise!" is a song we've heard before in Episode 25, and while the song still holds up in this episode, it's kind of disappointing that Jem gets most of the new songs while the Misfits have to sing their older material.  And from what I understand, it gets much worse for the Misfits in the final season.  No wonder they always seem to come across as bitchy.

The Misfits get off the cable car at the next stop where Zomboy Neco is with his Zomboy mate Rag Bag.  And as the Zomboys and Misfits are exchanging information, Mama Lou (who was also on the cable car with the Misfits and Holograms) issues another warning to the Misfits and the Zomboys.  I can't remember what exactly was said, but I believe it has something to do with Lily's jewels, and how they need to stay away from them.  The groups dismiss her as just another crackpot, but we'll see.

Jem arrives back at the hotel where Mademoiselle Yvette tells her that the masquerade costumes for herself and the rest of the Holograms are in their rooms.  Jem, out of the blue, asks Yvette why she wants to bring out the jewels after so long, and Yvette explains that she has no choice.  She figured that the jewels would attract public attention and promote Maison Fleur, which would lead to an increase in business.  She's having a hard time keeping the place up (explains the problems with the fuses), and she doesn't want to lose the hotel as it has been in her family for generations. 

Interestingly, the conversation is overheard by Maurice, who seems to be looking quite suspiciously at Jem and Yvette.  I wonder what that's all about.

At any rate, Jem is dressed up to the nines in her Mardi Gras masquerade outfit, and I have to say, whoever designed the costumes really worked hard on them.  It'd be nice if Shana was responsible, but she's been too busy avoiding Pierre to think about it!

Jem brushes up against a bookcase which swings her into the wall and through a secret passageway.  And as Jem tries to push her way out, some really creepy looking eyes and a mouth appear ready to eat her or something.  Fortunately, Jem summons a little magic from Synergy to create a pink laser pointer flashlight which scares our creature away.  But Jem is trapped inside of a maze of caverns, and she's not exactly sure how to get out.  I sense this could be problematic for the concert plans.

At least the rest of the Holograms are ready for the show in their own costumes.  I'd say Kimber's is the one that stands out the most, but that's merely my opinion. 

What's interesting is that the Zomboys seem to be their chauffeurs to the Mardi Gras parade on Canal Street, and Shana is hesitant at first because she notices that the chauffeurs are dressed like the undead and that Mama Lou warned her about zombies on Fat Tuesday.  She eventually boards the...hearse?  Yep, the Zomboys drive a hearse.  As if we should be surprised.

Speaking of surprises, Jem is certainly shocked by what she spies while she tries to find her way out of the secret passageway.  She sees Pierre and Maurice chatting about the jewels and she seems to believe that Pierre and Maurice are jewel thieves who are only interested in stealing Lily's jewels to make a handsome profit.  Jem is determined to find out what is going on, but first she has to find a way out. 

And the rest of the Holograms get incredibly suspicious when the Zomboys drive away from Canal Street and towards one of New Orleans' famous cemeteries.  They escape the hearse when the Zomboys stop and run towards the cemetery, but with "zombies" popping up everywhere, the Holograms find themselves trapped.  Where are Rick and Michonne when you need them?  Heck, I'm sure they'd even accept Negan and Lucille at this point!

Of course, as we know, this was all meant to distract the Holograms so that they would miss the Mardi Gras parade and masquerade ball.  Mademoiselle Yvette is concerned that none of the Holograms have shown up, and she wonders what happened to them.

The Misfits crash the parade in their own costumes and tell Yvette that they would be more than happy to fill in for the Holograms.  Yvette is not happy with this at all, but given that her hotel is at stake, she realizes that she has no choice but to let the Misfits wear the jewels.  The Misfits then proceed to rush towards the jewelry box at the same time and grab everything they can as if they're at a Black Friday sale at Zales.

Back at the cemetery, it appears as though the Zomboys have Kimber, Aja, Raya, and Shana trapped, and there's no way out for them.  But what they don't know is that Jem - who has apparently been trapped in a secret passage that spans across all of New Orleans - pops out behind a secret door which leads straight to them.  Plot contrivance is nothing new in this series.  All these episodes are only 22 minutes in length, so they have to find a way to wrap everything up.

Jem's idea to do this is simple.  She uses Synergy to create a hologram of the zombified Jean Lafitte, who rises up from the water and scares the Zomboys to death...or, maybe he scares them to life given that they're dressed like the undead.  Either way, they flee for safety and the Holograms are thrilled to be reunited with Jem.  But then they realize that they have a show that they have to do.  By this time, they've missed the Mardi Gras parade, but they still have time to make it to the masquerade ball.

Once they arrive, Mademoiselle Yvette is pleased to see them, and tells them to get on stage before the horrible Misfits get a chance to.  I missed the original insult but trust was good!  The Misfits on the other hand are disappointed that their plan was foiled by the Zomboys, but they still feel like they've won in the end because they're still wearing Lily's jewels.

Jem and the Holograms appear on stage at the ball, and they begin to sing a song called "Everybody Wears A Mask" - which again is another decent song.  But it's also a song that is chock filled with irony.  There's one lyric where Jem sings about how she sometimes wears a mask herself.  Well, d-uh!!!  I mean, it's actually genius how they link the song to Jem/Jerrica's own identity crisis.  Brilliant!

After the concert is over, the Misfits are brought to the top of the staircase of Maison Fleur where the portraits of Lily LaRose and Jean Lafitte hang for a photo shoot.  What they don't notice is the glare of a red eye peering out at them.  I wonder if it's the same eye that was in the secret passageway with Jem earlier?  Now, remember that scene where the electrician warned Yvette not to plug anything into any of the outlets on the second floor?  Well, the photo shoot is taking place on the second floor and the photographer is about to plug in a spotlight to make the lighting better.  Can you guess what happens next?

Well, the spotlight immediately shatters, plunging the room into darkness.  And we see some scenes where a mysterious figure pounces over Pizzazz, Stormer, Jetta, and Roxy, taking all of Lily's jewels in the process!  Just what exactly is going on?

The scary sights are interrupted by the sound of a gunshot and as the lights come back on, we see Pierre armed with a handgun ready to fire at the thief.  An awkward moment comes when Jem basically accuses Pierre of being the thief, but Yvette tells Jem that she's mistaken.

It seems as though things have gone missing from the hotel for several weeks, so Yvette hired both Pierre and Maurice as undercover detectives to investigate.  Okay, so that clears up one mystery, but we don't know who the thief is.  But, wait...maybe Maurice knows.  See, that portrait of Jean Lafitte is actually another secret passageway, and as the picture swings open, a tiny hand pops out holding Shana's locket.

I introduce you to our thief.  A little monkey by the name of Francois.  Turns out that Yvette knows the monkey very well.  He's the last descendant of Jean Lafitte's original monkey companion.  Now it all makes sense.

Of course, Pizzazz is upset that the monkey spoiled their photo shoot, but Mademoiselle Yvette is so angry at the Misfits that she screams at them like a banshee and tells them to get the f@#$ out!  Well, okay, she doesn't say it like that, but she does get them to leave.  It's quite funny, actually.

Jem apologizes to Pierre for accusing him of being the jewel thief, which Pierre accepts.  But he also remarks that if he really were a thief, he'd steal the heart of Shana.  That's...creepy.

It's actually creepier than the final shot of the episode where the spirits of Jean and Lily reunite. 

You know, after a couple of lackluster episodes, Episode 45 brings us back to the stellar episodes of Season 2.  I really enjoyed this one.  The music was great, Shana had a semi-starring role after being almost invisible since the Talent Search episodes, we had a bunch of decent new characters, and the setting was wonderful.  You can tell they did a lot of research on New Orleans.  It's in the running for my list of favourite episodes of season two so far.

Next week, get yourselves bundled up.  The Holograms fly to Alaska!