It sounds crazy when you think about it, an edgy television take on the Archie Comics characters who have been entertaining audiences for over 75 years. Featuring an Archie who is sleeping with a teacher, an “emo heartthrob” Jughead, an Adderall-popping Betty and other non-traditional takes on these iconic characters, there is simply no reason why the CW series Riverdale should work. But it does, in a big way.
The show debuted in January of 2017, and since then was become a cult sensation among viewers who have fallen hard for its “Archie meets Twin Peaks” aesthetic. As the series opens, viewers are introduced to the titular small town, and discover that the mysterious death of high school football star Jason Blossom has left the community and his twin sister Cheryl (played with scenery-devouring goodness by Madeline Petsch) in tatters. Meanwhile, well-intentioned teen Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa) has his world turned upside down after he experiences two life-changing events: An illicit affair with his music teacher, and a falling out with best friend Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse). As next-door neighbor Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) pines for him, his life is further complicated by the unexpected arrival of rich girl Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), who has moved to her mother’s hometown of Riverdale in order to get away from the media circus revolving around her embattled father’s shady business deals. Throw into the mix characters like Archie’s loving dad Fred (Luke Perry) and openly gay friend Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), and the stage is set for 13 episodes full of romance, campy mystery, and sublime surprises that will appeal both to longtime Archie fans (this writer included) and people who have never read a comic featuring these characters in their life.
The first season revolves around solving the mystery of who killed Jason Blossom and why, spoiler alert, a storyline that gets a solid resolution by the time the credits on the final episode of this freshman year roll. Along the way, Archie, his pals and gals, and supporting characters ranging from Josie and the Pussycats to Ethel Muggs (portrayed by Stranger Things‘ Shannon Purser) all have their lives changed by the suddenly dark doings in their once-idyllic town. Despite the bleakness that seems to flow through the storyline, there are moments of big comedy and, more than anything else, high camp in each episode of Riverdale, which is the primary reason it got an early renewal for a second season and became a big watercooler show.
Riverdale‘s mastermind is writer/executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, prior to developing the show, he was hired as Archie Comics’ Chief Creative Officer (a role he still has). More than that though, he helped usher in a creative renaissance for the company through his work on the titles Afterlife with Archie and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. By infusing horror and dark subject matter into these comics, Aguirre-Sacasa helped expand the perimeters of what could happen in an Archie book…laying the groundwork for Riverdale along the way.
The DVD and Blu-ray releases of the first season of Riverdale features all 13 episodes plus several featurettes documenting how the show came to be, an extensive assortment of deleted scenes, a musical sequence, footage from the series’ 2016 panel at San Diego Comic Con, and a blooper reel. It’s all more than enough to keep the show’s ever-growing legion of fans satisfied until it returns to the airwaves in September. The bottom line? This isn’t what you thought Archie was, but it’s something that is compelling and weird on its own terms. Check it out.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.