[Editor's note: In our Student Blogs and elsewhere, we occasionally seek out the opinions of young writers and viewers, to get their perspectives on TV shows old and new. In this instance, we asked young entertainment blogger Chelsea Duff to give us her take on the CW's youth-targeted Riverdale to date -- including this week's impending episode. - David Bianculli]
By Chelsea Duff
Growing up, my best friend Mariel read a lot of Archie comics. When I went to the beach with her and her family, I’d read them too, curling up in the very back seat of their van and poring over shared, beaten-up comic books. So when The CW premiered its new show Riverdale (9 p.m. ET Thursdays), I invited her over to watch with me. But it wasn’t exactly the Archie we remembered.
Because I’m one of those obnoxious, smug people who like to loudly proclaim, “Honestly, the book was way better than the movie,” I had Mariel brief me on the characters I didn’t remember and the basic outlines of the stories. She even brought over a few copies of the comics she still had — a random assortment of issues from 1993, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005.
At first glance, the characters are pretty recognizable. There’s blonde Betty, the girl next door. All-American Archie, with his letterman jacket. Nerdy Dilton Doily and Reggie the bully. Now-and-again comic guest star Cheryl is a permanent member of the squad this time around (and an actual Riverdale resident to boot), but still maintains her social status over now-new-to-town Veronica, thanks to the Lodges’ recent fall from grace (and wealth). But there’s one major difference: Archie is hot. Like, super hot.
Sure, the comic Archie has gotten an appearance upgrade over the years.
But he’s never looked quite like this.
That’s right, Archie (played by K.J. Apa) isn't just hot — he’s straight-up sexy. And so is Jughead (Cole Sprouse), in a moody, artsy sort of way. This is the CW, and on the CW, everybody’s sexy, and things get sexier quick. Because Archie is skipping that age-old Betty (Lili Reinhart) or Veronica (Camila Mendes) question, even overlooking bombshell Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) for an entirely different target: the now young, completely babed-up Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel). Or “Geraldine,” as Archie calls her.
That’s right. Archie’s hot for teacher.
I knew going in that Riverdale was getting a CW makeover, but this show is going full Gossip Girl, with just a touch of The Vampire Diaries vibe. In addition to Archie and Miss Grundy, peep that hint of romance between once flames Fred Andrews and Hermione Lodge (played, respectively, by Luke Perry from Beverly Hills, 90210 and Marisol Nichols -- how very Dan and Serena’s parents). Cheryl is spitting jaw-dropping one-liners like HBIC Blair Waldorf, calling her minions both “living mannequins” and “hair models of the damned,” and referring to herself as a “beautiful exotic hothouse flower” (which, amazing). There’s even the outsider’s perspective narration from Jughead (xoxo, Gossip Girl). All this with a slightly desaturated color palette that lends a seriousness, and a suspiciousness, to every scene.
It’s also got all the teen drama staples — a mysterious older sister’s mental breakdown, a cheerleading tryout scene, even an “I’m not giving up my dream, Dad, I’m giving up yours” right in the first episode. But in Riverdale, it doesn’t read as cheesy as it could.
Sure, a lot of that has been done to death, but this is Archie and his friends, the “Gee, shucks,” crew from the 1940s. Every teen scene we’ve seen a thousand times is a wink to the audience, a love letter to the tropes we’ve tried over the years. Only this time, there’s an extra flavor of sex and murder and mystery.
Because, aside from the forbidden romance and the love triangle and the parental scandals, that’s the real heart of the show so far: what happened to Cheryl’s twin brother Jason (Trevor Stines), and who did it? The first three episodes offer some tantalizing clues, but no real leads. That gunshot was Dilton Doily (Daniel Yang) in the woods with his scouts. Cheryl’s guilty, but only of knowing that Jason didn’t drown right off the bat. Miss Grundy’s car was at the river that day, but we know she spent her time with Archie. And, of course, the timeline we were originally working with was way off.
In Thursday’s “Chapter Four: The Last Picture Show,” we’ll get a couple more delicious tidbits of information about who Jason was, and the people with whom he spent his time. You can also look forward to things heating up on the Miss Grundy front, and expect to uncover secrets about Jughead’s past, Veronica’s parents, and Betty’s sister Polly. There’s even a whole Cooper family face-off you won’t want to miss.
The best part? We get another famous B&V team-up, as these girls quickly become the heart of the show. After last week’s fake threesome and very real takedown, these two are the only couple I want to see.
Ronnie’s already showered Betty in flowers (“yellow is for friendship,” please), cupcakes, and mani-pedis. She jumped at the chance to be lab partners with the blonde, declared it fate, had a whole speech explaining how she felt she was meant to spend her life with Betty (yeah, okay, as BFFs), and then shared a milkshake with her at the diner.
Aside from all of that obvious chemistry, Veronica’s also the only one who saw Betty’s psychological slip while they were going “full dark, no stars” (that is, aside from Chuck Clayton (Jordan Calloway), who was too busy dealing with literally sticky maple to fully appreciate what was happening). When Betty inevitably starts to spiral, Veronica will be there once again to help pick up the pieces.
As Hermione Lodge says, “A friend is better than a boyfriend.” And as Cheryl says, “faux lesbian kissing” is past its sell-by date. So come on, Riverdale. Give us the real stuff. It’s so on theme with the CW — and isn’t that what we’re doing here?
Chelsea Duff is an entertainment writer and freelance journalist who says she watches wayyy too much TV. For more of her commentary, visit her Watch, Beyotch website.