By Amy Huynh
I have to admit that I was first tempted to watch “Riverdale” when I found out that Cole Sprouse was starring in it. Wondering what the “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” actor would be like now, I delved into the reinvented world of the Archie franchise.
“Riverdale” had previously belonged to Warner Bros. Pictures and originally began development as a film. It was not until The CW owned the rights to “Riverdale” that it was adapted into a television series with Archie Comics’s chief creative officer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, as the showrunner. Aguirre-Sacasa was heavily involved in the transformation of the beloved world of Archie into a murder-mystery teen drama.
Although reboots are not known to typically do justice to their originals, “Riverdale” successfully brings a dark twist to the classic happy-go-lucky Archie Comics. The Archie characters are at the core of “Riverdale,” but the show shifts from the wholesome Archie canon and now reflects on today’s culture. “Riverdale” embodies a darker and more complex tone, which is fitting for the climate of 2017 compared to when the comic was first published in 1942. The show is also able to bring an entirely new audience to the Archie characters and their adventures.
Compared to the two-dimensional characters in the comic books, the show “Riverdale” adds more nuance and complexity to each person. Archibald “Archie” Andrews (KJ Apa), though still the friendly redheaded hero we remember, is more brooding and less nerdy, playing football and the guitar. Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), who serves as comic relief in the comic books, has become the angsty narrator of the show who has a traumatic home life of his own to deal with.
Unlike the darker versions of Archie and Jughead, Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) is more personable than the comic book mean girl version – she even befriends Betty. Being a new student to Riverdale High, Veronica is followed by a swirl of rumors regarding her father, Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos), who was arrested for fraud (who we don’t meet until the second season). Veronica is determined to shed her shallow bad-girl rep, and actively tries to become a better version of herself. The supportive friendship between Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica emphasizes the show’s attempts to create a modern twist on the franchise. Instead of having Betty and Veronica fight over Archie and pitching the girl against girl ideology, “Riverdale” emphasizes the individuality and complexities of the characters.
On the other hand, Betty Cooper strays away from the perennial good girl that her mother and friends expect her to be. “Riverdale” shows off Betty’s darker side as she faces real conflicts and emotions such as vengeance for her sister Polly Cooper (Tiera Skovbye). Despite the darkness that gradually surrounds Betty and her thoughts, she remains a caring, joyful and dependable person. Through her friendship with Veronica, Betty is able to gain stability and support while navigating through high school politics, relationships and her personal family drama.
It is also interesting that the show puts Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), originally a secondary character, into the spotlight at the center of her brother Jason Blossom’s death. Due to his popularity as Riverdale High’s water polo team captain, the whole town of Riverdale is affected by the mystery of Jason’s tragic murder. Shaken by his death, Cheryl Blossom is presented as a twisted and manipulative character yet remains able to gain empathy from the audience. The finale of season one reveals the truth about Jason’s murder and leaves us waiting to see the consequences to follow.
Although “Riverdale” puts a modern day twist on the Archie universe, the show’s strong visual choices give off nostalgic vibes. The darkness of the scenes is juxtaposed with bright neon lights while the presence of technology clashes with the vintage looking clothes and cars. “Riverdale” pays homage to its roots while still creating refreshing twists to captivate an audience across generations.
Once you start watching “Riverdale,” you might find yourself unable to stop indulging into the thrilling, melodramatic antics of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica. Luckily, there is still the rest of season two to look forward to.