In their 10+ years as a broadcast network, The CW has had a few high marks that changed the course of their network drastically.
The first, of course, was the show’s first original “hit,” Gossip Girl, which I may not have been too big on myself, but it caused a wave of “pretty rich white kids with problems” wave for the network under network president Dawn Ostroff for a few years. The next, in 2009, was The Vampire Diaries, a genre show which caused a stir in a year where all of the network’s promotion seemed to go to Melrose Place. In 2012, The CW gave us Arrow, which paved the way for The Flash and the superhero renaissance that permeates the network landscape to this day.
The network has had other hits, to be sure, and that’s not to diminish the contributions of such important shows to The CW history as Smallville or Supernatural which actually premiered on The WB network before The CW’s inception. The resilience of those two shows in particular at a time when the network was so focused on those teen dramas is something to really applaud.
One could argue that the really good teen and family dramas that once were a staple of The WB — things like Dawson’s Creek or even 7th Heaven — had made their way to ABC Family, now Freeform. It’s a shame that something like Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters or the gone-before-its-time Lying Game couldn’t have made it on The CW. But I digress; this isn’t an exercise in TV history, it’s an appreciation of Riverdale, and why I find it a game-changer for the network.
It’s a game changer mostly because of this: In a world full of superheroes, and vampires, and demon hunters, this show doesn’t have supernatural elements — at least not until we see an Afterlife with Archie episode or Sabrina the Teenage Witch, of course. Like The Flash and its superhero brethren, this is based on a comic book — but this isn’t your father’s Archie.
What many might not know is Archie Comics has had a bit of a creative renaissance themselves over the last few years. The Digests are still there for those who want the pure, “classic” Archie, but what we’re seeing in the four-color pages has become much more progressive and real. The previously-mentioned Afterlife with Archie, focusing on the characters during a zombie apocalypse, is one of the best comic books from any company, when it manages to come out. Creators Mark Waid and Fiona Staples relaunched Archie for a new generation last year and it has been wonderful. A personal favorite of mine is the new Reggie and Me series, but there are new books for Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Josie and the Pussycats, and a Chilling Adventures of Sabrina title as well.
A lot of Archie Comics’ recent success is under the eye of Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, an acclaimed playwright who also has some TV writing credits under his belt including Glee. It was Aguirre-Sacasa who did Afterlife; it’s also Aguirre-Sacasa who brought the Riverdale TV series to life.
Which gets me to Riverdale. From the jump the show looks beautiful. The music that we first hear is great, though a little creepy when you realize this romantic tune is tied to a scene with a brother and sister. Tragedy strikes. It looks very theatrical. There’s a Rod Serling-like narration coming from a young person. And then everything else comes together, and we start meeting [almost] everyone else.
New Zealand-born KJ Apa is the actor chosen to play Archie and while he’s not juggling Betty and Veronica — although it’s been spoiled in a lot of other press and official descriptions for the show, the person who gets his eye is best left as a surprise — he’s still as clueless as ever. Of course, a big difference between the four-color page and this live-action TV show is, as Casey Cott’s Kevin Keller points out, “Archie got hot!” Yes, friends, we live in a world where Archie Andrews is a sex symbol. Let that sink in. Heck, being The CW and all, I expect even Miss Grundy will be hot too, right? (Spoiler: She is.)
Much appreciation has to also be given to the show’s casting. Camila Mendes as Veronica looks like she jumped off the comic book page. Her Veronica isn’t as much of a snooty you-know-what as she is in the comic stories that we’ve been reading for the last 75 years, but she is, but that’s fine because the snooty stuff goes to another character instead. That said, this Veronica is fierce and very protective of the people she cares about. Her family’s had some bad things happen, and if anything, she wants to put it behind her and be a better person. It’s also funny that this Veronica throws in pop culture references like crazy and no one knows what she’s talking about.
On the other side of the triangle is Lili Reinhart’s Betty. Also wonderful, though highly put upon by her possibly insane mother, Alice, played by Madchen Amick. As in the comics, Betty (like everyone else) pines after Archie — who is completely clueless about it. I’d make a huge comparison to Joey Potter here, except that apparently there are people now who are too young to know who that is.
If we’re making the Dawson’s Creek comparisons, I will say that unlike Jack McPhee, Cott’s Kevin Keller actually does get some, and his exchange with Cheryl Blossom is one of my favorites in the entire pilot. (Expect more Kevin in future episodes, especially #4 where… well, you’ll see. Kevin’s dad is the Sheriff, too, so he’ll surely have more to do with the overall plot.) Which brings me to Cheryl herself: Cheryl Blossom is everything. If you miss those characters who always have the sassiest thing to say at the snap of a finger, like Supergirl’s Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), you will adore Cheryl, as played by Madelaine Petsch. Yes, her infatuation with her quickly-dead brother is creepy as all get out, but she’s a character you will love to hate, and she will be the one that will surely inspire the most internet memes.
There are two other young people in the show’s regular cast who I haven’t mentioned yet: Ashleigh Murray plays Josie — yes, Josie of “and the Pussycats” fame. Murray has a beautiful voice, but best of all, even though the character comes off as a bit mean and defensive in the pilot, she has the good nature and soul of Josie in there. I can’t wait to buy a CD or digital download of her music. Finally, possibly the most famous of the young folks, Cole Sprouse of Suite Life fame is Jughead. Sadly, there’s not enough Jughead in the pilot, but as with everything in Riverdale, just you wait. This Jughead is more than just burgers — though since we see him at Pop’s a lot, he probably is still quite a bit about burgers, and yes, he has that famous “crown.”
Yes, other Archie Comics icons like Reggie Mantle, Dilton Doiley, Moose Mason, Chuck Clayton, Mr. Weatherbee, and Ethel Muggs do make their way to the series in the first four episodes, and I expect the show will get to all of them by the time everything is said and done. The adults are all played by people that we’ve seen when they were younger, so we can only imagine the adventures they had in Riverdale decades ago. Luke Perry, Madchen Amick, Marisol Nichols, Lochlyn Munro… all folks we’ve seen before. I like that.
Beyond the cast, and the expected love triangles, inevitable shipping, and teen drama, there’s a mystery involved in the death of Jason Blossom. So, for 13 weeks this season, we are surely going to be left to wonder “who did it?” Here at KSiteTV we’re going to be doing an “Archie Digest” podcast to discuss that very subject, so stay tuned. Having seen four episodes now, I still have no idea, though there have been clues.
So is Riverdale worth watching? Absolutely. The pilot is one of those things that I’ve been able to watch over and over, and the best part is, episodes 2, 3, and 4 take the show to even bigger and better places. It’s not a thing where the pilot is good and the following episodes disappoint. If the show keeps up this quality, it is definitely a game-changer for The CW that will get the network a lot of positive buzz, and I’m happy to be along for the ride.
Browse KSiteTV for our interviews from the Riverdale set and stay tuned for more tales from Riverdale! The show premieres at 9PM ET/PT tonight on The CW.