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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.

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