Riverdale S01E01: The River’s Edge
Starring: K.J. Apa, Cole Sprouse, Camila Mendes, Lili Reinhart, Madelanie Petsch
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
A review by Amelia Wellman
Archie has always been an ensemble piece, and Riverdale is no different. Episode one, titled The River’s Edge, had forty-five minutes to establish a cast of characters and the drama that’s going to propel the series forward for the next fifteen episodes: Jason Blossom’s mysterious death. Having a murder mystery be the base of the series is intriguing, but having it overlaid with the usual teen drama pap, and then having that usual teen drama pap be Archie Comic characters? The tone here was a little muddled.
Let’s address the elephant in the room right away. These are not the beloved Archie Comics characters we all grew up with. Archie is boning anything that moves, including the young, hot Miss Grundy. Jughead’s asexuality has been erased, at least for now. Moose is here but Midge is not. Jason Blossom is dead, though I doubt anyone is sad to see his character go. There’s drama, teenage lust, and some (presumably) startling secrets hidden away. But how does the standard teen drama mash-up with these recognizable Archie Comics characters?
Trying to play up the drama of overbearing parents, high school lust, popular cliché bitchiness, and a death turned from accidental to foul play is a lot. Archie alone we see have an affair with Miss Grundy, reveal why he’s never thought about dating Betty, and lust after Veronica. It’s only episode one, Archie didn’t need to stick his dick in everyone all at once! The CW renews their shows long past when people stop caring (I’m looking at you Supernatural), let’s not have every woman in Riverdale bone Archie in season one!
I want less teen sex, more small town, Twin Peaks style murder mystery investigation concerning a pair of (more than likely) incestuous twins. If you’re going to attach the Archie Comics brand to this show, I want Riverdale to break away from some of those usual teen media tropes and carve out their own path. Look at what Afterlife with Archie did with the characters! Do that Riverdale! There’s still a possibility for a unique universe to come from this mediocre pilot, so I’ve personally got my fingers crossed. I want to like the story. I truly do.
Especially since I am liking a majority of how the characters are being played. The worst part of any Archie media is Archie himself, but his supporting cast is always interesting. Episode one showed us a Veronica that’s trying to change herself, a pent-up, frustrated Betty, a brooding blogger Jughead, a way too intense Reggie, and a high school villainess Cheryl.
Everyone is kind of cookie-cutter at this point, but there are seeds planted to grow them as characters as time goes on. Like Betty’s perfection coming from her overbearing mother controlling every aspect of her life. Or Veronica having her father arrested for fraud and falling off her high horse. Watching a real friendship grow between Veronica and Betty will be the best part of Riverdale if they don’t mess it up.
As for Reggie, I have no idea where they’re going with him. I love Reggie as an antagonistic semi-friend to the main group but he’s not being presented as that here. Having him as an outcast sociopath in the comics but a guy that cheers Archie on in Riverdale is jarring. Cheryl Blossom is being set up as season one’s antagonist, so unless they’re holding back Reggie’s descent into sociopathic villainy for when they’re renewed for a second season, I don’t know why they’ve gone this route with him.
Jughead will also be interesting to see grow throughout the series. He had barely any lines with other characters in episode one, and his asexuality has reportedly been erased for the series, but Cole Sprouse seems into it more than any of the other actors and will hopefully bring a more grounded performance to the non-stop drama that is Archie Andrews’ life.
Non-stop is absolutely the right way to describe Archie’s drama to anything-else-in-life ratio. His father (played by Luke Perry of all people) is pushing for a grounded lifestyle for his son while Archie runs off to screw around with girls and become a musician. I just… don’t care. And the whole affair with Miss Grundy? It’s statutory rape even if Archie is a dude and has abs. If the writers of teenage drama could stop writing in these teacher/student affairs that would be great. It’s creepy. It’s off-putting. It’s dangerous to spread the theory that it’s acceptable for grown adults to seduce children (yes, teenagers are still children) as long as the two parties are sexy. It’s not ground-breaking, sexy, edgy, or any other *insert buzz word here*. The middle-aged men writing these scenes need to be told no.
The one thing that I will absolutely recommend Riverdale for is the look. When we were told this series was going to have a mature vision for the Archie universe, the visual design of the series was the one thing that stood out in every trailer. In the opening sequence in particular, the Blossom twins seem otherworldly, their boat sailing on unnaturally calm waters. There are major Lynch vibes coming off here. Is there a single thing after Twin Peaks that wasn’t inspired by Twin Peaks? Scenes are shot in a way that emphasizes the darkness around characters. The neon lights of Pop Tate’s Chocklit Shoppe pop in this aesthetic. In terms of character, everything is done to translate the iconic elements of the characters into a modern world. Archie’s hair is an orange you’d never find in nature, and he does look a little ridiculous in his blue and gold varsity jacket, but it works. Veronica has style. Reggie is… well, Reggie is there. We’ll see about Reggie. There’s something to be said for a look that even manages to make Jughead’s hat look cool.
Though I’m still a little conflicted on the direction this series took, and might take in the future, episode one earns itself a Watch it. It’s a melodramatic teen show, but that’s what The CW specializes in, so at least it’s in the hands of the masters. I’m going to give it a few more episodes before I make any serious judgments, but as of right now, Riverdale has my attention.