When it was originally on: 2017-present
Original network: CW
Where you can stream it now: Netflix
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen the first two seasons in full, but haven’t kept up more recently. (Here’s my take on what I have seen, and why I didn’t bother keeping up). I also don’t have any familiarity with the original Archie comics.
What IMDb says: While navigating the troubled waters of romance, school and family, Archie and his gang become entangled in dark Riverdale mysteries.
Why I picked it: I As mentioned in my iZombie review, I will always have a soft spot for the CW, and their commitment to being network television while constantly waving a middle finger at people’s expectations of network television. Of their current slate, Riverdale is arguably the most popular example of this. It’s the Archie comics, now with added murder!
Riverdale is also one of my go-to examples of a show that deals with heavy topics, yet somehow still has an air of shallow escapism. It’s of course not the ONLY murder mystery on The List (I mean how would one even come up with 100 shows with only one being about murder?) so it should be interesting to contrast this with say Twin Peaks or Law & Order.
What I liked: I love the sheer courage of this show. I love the courage of taking something as wholesome as Archie and being like “yo, what if it was like Pretty Little Liars though?” I love their commitment to dialog that no teenagers would ever say, and Veronica’s wardrobe that no teenager would ever wear to school.
I also don’t think I ever realized how brilliant Cheryl is as a villain, especially in the pilot. She’s mean enough that despite the fact she just lost her twin brother, I still don’t like her. I think that’s intentional. I think the fact that those most affected by Jason’s death aren’t particularly likable or sympathetic is part of why this show can tackle things like murder without being too much of a downer. (Only Cheryl is in the pilot, but we meet her parents later and I can assure you they suck too.)
It’s also interesting to me how the pilot actually spends relatively little time talking about the death of Jason Blossom. For the most part, we’re just watching Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Kevin do teenager things. They are only slightly affected by Jason’s death, primarily worried about whether or not it will cancel their school dance. Again, this helps the show feel lighter than some of the other murder shows out there: they don’t actually talk about murder that much. Because I’m approaching with this one with the retrospect of what the show turned into, I will say this accurately conveys the tone of the show.
While I’m also going to complain later about this pilot not having enough Jughead, I DO thing the one scene we do get with Jughead has a great air of mystery to it. All we really know is that Jughead used to be Archie’s friend, but the two have since fallen out. It’s an effective tease, and I want to know more about Jughead and his relationship with Archie.
What I didn’t like: Did ya’all realize Jughead is BARELY in this pilot? He functions more as a narrator than an actual character, and tbh, that’s kinda a bummer. His darker cynicism would’ve been a nice way to balance out some of the spoiled brattiness of Veronica.
Veronica was also one of the least likable things about this pilot. She’s supposed to be a sort of reformed mean girl, but our first impression of her is saying that she dreads going to Riverdale High because, and I shit you not, “I’m more Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this place is strictly In Cold Blood.” and then proceeds to ruin what should’ve been a cute moment between Betty and Archie that helped us get invested in their relationship. Hell, Betty and Archie pretty much NEVER get any one-on-one time in this pilot, and yet they’re supposed to be “end game” (I know, Kevin the cliché gay best friend says so.)
Now, it’s true that Betty does what she can to try to push Betty and Archie together. She’s actually relatively nice to the other characters in the show outside of Cheryl, but she still clearly believes she’s too good for Riverdale, and she also defends her father who’s in prison, so she loses points for that. But ultimately that just left me confused, and a little annoyed that I was apparently supposed to like a character who wasn’t all that likable.
Archie’s whole “I don’t want to inherit my dad’s business, I want to be a musician!” arc is cliché AF, and Riverdale doesn’t really do anything interesting with it. I can’t speak as to whether or not this is part of the original comics, but I can say that it felt like the pilot spent a rather large chunk of time on this when there were so many other things to explore. I mean, there’s the missing dead kid, there’s Betty’s feelings for Archie, there’s Archie’s illicit affair with a teacher (it IS the music teacher so that’s somewhat related but still) and then there’s the fact that Archie heard a gunshot the morning Jason died. But sure. Let’s have scenes of Archie whining about his rock star dreams. That’s cool I guess.