I think it’s time we address the elephant in the television that is Riverdale.
Just about every kid who has lived between the 40’s and now has, at some point or the other, read an Archie comic. Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica are names that everyone has grown up with, a quintessential part of most people’s childhood. Most importantly the comics were light-hearted family fun. The town of Riverdale was a safe little place where nothing truly bad ever happened. The characters were as safe as their town. They conformed to all necessary stereotypes and were utterly unproblematic. It was all a bit one-dimensional, but hey, we were children. One dimension was all we could conceive.
And then you see Riverdale, and it is dark and mysterious, basically the exact opposite of the comics and yet somehow it’s the same. The Gangs still at Pop Tate’s but now instead of kidding around over milkshakes they discuss murder over milkshakes. The characters are the same but they aren’t. From the girl-next-door Betty, arises a far more malevolent person and one who, when pushed too hard, will do anything to get her vengeance. Under the rich brat Veronica, there’s a smart, intuitive person who has a pretty good sense of right and wrong. She actually holds Betty down and keeps her from doing anything too drastic.
The comic portrays Jug as a goofball who eats a lot. In the show all that remains of comic Jughead is his hat. Instead he’s a bit of an outcast, an observer who is somehow dragged into the middle of things by circumstances that are way out of his control. And then we have Archie. Gone is the lovable, carrot-topped klutz who we all grew up with. I mean he’s still carrot-topped but the similarities end there. The show also gives Cheryl Blossom the spotlight that I never knew she deserved. In my eyes she was always a side character, one of the many people who Archie was half in love with. But she takes that spotlight and she makes it her own. From being Queen Bee, to being the sort of, not quite, Bad Guy (in a show with so many bad guys, a bitchy teen can hardly be the villain), this Cheryl is a person who definitely did not exist in the comics. But it is a very good thing she exists in the show.
And now for the parents. What is with this show and broken families? Not one character has a happy family life. The closest is Betty’s family and that’s only because they all lie to each other. For the others though it’s criminal fathers and divorced parents and constant manipulation and gang members. To break it down, Veronica’s father Hiram Lodge spends the entirety of the first season in jail for money laundering. And when he does make it out of jail, no one can tell whether his new business deals are just shady or outright criminal. Betty’s parents refuse to tell her where her pregnant sister is. In fact at first they don’t even tell her that’s she’s pregnant, just that they shipped her off somewhere while Betty was at a summer internship. Jughead’s dad is part of a gang- “the Southside Serpents”. Enough said. Cheryl’s family should probably not be discussed in mixed company. The only remotely normal parent is Fred Andrews, Archie’s dad. By the way, Archie’s parents are also divorced. Note that this is the MOST normal family around here.
Now in the comics, I remember the parents being entities, they existed but that’s about it. Hiram Lodge had some part to play but his sole character trait was to disapprove. Other than that no one above the age of sixteen had any importance at all.
Characters aside, there is something about the theme of the show. It has a sort of aura of grittiness and intrigue. The plotlines are incredibly dark. A murder that began as an orchestrated drowning. A group of sixteen year olds trying to figure out who did it while the police remains clueless. An incestuous teenage pregnancy where the father is the one who was murdered. A pedophilic music teacher. This is a show where fathers kill their sons. A show where teenage boys become drug runners to pay for their father’s lawyers bills. A show where girls are date raped. It’s not about your typical safe small town. Instead it’s a town which fears gang violence and drug violence. It’s a town being stalked by a self-righteous serial killer (talk about an oxymoron).
Yet somehow in the middle of all this chaos, high school dances still mean the world. Everyone is still concerned about who the captain of the football team and the head cheerleader are. Josie and the Pussycats are still a band that everyone loves. Veronica still shops like crazy and Betty is still a good girl, even though now she has a dark side. Jughead eats a lot, Archie has three different girlfriends in the first season (though one of them is a pedophile). It’s both the Riverdale of the comics and a new Riverdale that has never been seen before. The same and yet totally different. And man is it good.