Riverdale Might Be The Teen Drama We Didn’t Know We Needed


The CW’s Riverdale is a stylized version of almost every other teen drama we’ve seen. But in this case, that’s not a bad thing.

It can be notoriously hard to judge a show by its pilot, and so I come from a very limited point of view. My reaction is merely to the first hour long installment of the gritty new murder mystery, but it’s also informed by the months and months of hype and buzz that’s preceded the show’s premiere. They had a lot to live up to, and I feel like they mostly did the job. 

As billed, Riverdale is heavily influenced by David Lynch’s eccentric murder mystery of the ’90s, Twin Peaks. And the weight of that reference weighs heavily on the pilot—right down to the murder of one of the town’s most popular young men.  Hell, even the opening sequence is a nod to the first few moments of Twin Peaks.

I can’t deny the Lynchian presence, but you also can’t help but feel like you’ve seen versions of

It’s a helpful shorthand to the characters that are a total reimagining of the beloved characters of the Archie Comics universe.

these characters before. Which isn’t a bad thing, right? No need to reinvent the wheel. It’s a helpful shorthand to the characters that are a total reimagining of the beloved characters of the Archie Comics universe.

However, they don’t have much in common with their namesakes. These characters are far beyond their years — think Blair Waldorf during the height of Gossip Girl‘s success. They speak to each other in complex monologues packed with references that run the gamut from contemporary television to mid-century literature — in the same way the characters in Dawson’s Creek communicated. And they are all tightly embroiled in a complicated snarl of individual and shared secrets, daring us to guess their origins — the way Pretty Little Liars kept their characters walking a taut line from season to season.

The narrative is couched in an editorialized neo-noir style, making it far moodier than the original text. Although it’s about as modern as anything we’re getting right now from the CW, it’s also got a timeless feel. There are a few throwaway references to “millennials” but we aren’t constantly reminded of its 2017 setting. It’s refreshing.

As referential as the show seems to be, there’s something relentless about it. Ignore the over-stylized cinematography and the heavy handed use of angsty teen rock, and you’ll realize it’s completely gripping. The tropes and cliches we recognize make it more appealing, like a new pair of the same shoes we always buy.

The lead characters are beautiful and glossy, with abs and cheekbones to go around. But they are multi-dimensional, something the CW does extremely well.

Archie (KJ Apa), the lead character is probably the most boring of the all, a de facto leader with a comically red head of hair and two girls inexplicably lusting after him. Like everyone else in Riverdale, he’s hiding a secret — in his case, an affair with a teacher (who looks like she’s probably the same age as he in real life). But what’s far more interesting than their affair is what they know about the murder of Jason Blossom, and what they plan to do with that knowledge.

Veronica (Camila Mendes) performs the “new girl from the big city” trope exquisitely. She’s the Jen Linley to Archie’s Dawson. She even gets the slow-motion entrance that Jen got. But she’s not a stereotype, and upends the caricature at almost every turn. She’s no Blair Waldorf. Although Veronica has come to Riverdale under shady circumstances involving an embezzling father, she’s here for self-betterment. She’s striving to be a better person.

There is no immediate competition between her and Betty, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for this. The last thing we need is another catty race between two women to win the boy – it’s too tired. We also don’t need more girl-on-girl kisses for the sake of the gimmick either, but I applaud Riverdale for calling themselves out on their nonsense straightaway.

Photo: The CW

Things do get a little dicey toward the end of the episode, as it becomes obvious that both girls are attracted to Archie, but he clearly only has feelings for one. His attraction for Veronica, however, is at odds with his feelings for the teacher, Ms. Grundy. Archie is so obviously hot for teacher, the kiss between he and Veronica feels a little forced.

Betty (Lili Reinhart) is supposed to perform the all-American sweetheart and she is, quite literally, the girl next door. She spends her nights mooning over the hunky neighbor-boy, talking about her and Archie’s would-be love to the “gay best friend,” Kevin. Although her character could slide into eye-roll territory with her pony-tail and Brittany Murphy face, she’s got real depth. There’s an aggression that seethes just under the surface as she struggles to be “perfect.”

At its heart, it’s a show about characters at odds — mostly with themselves. Once you lean into all the referential familiarity, accept its tongue in cheek nostalgia (Luke Perry as Archie’s dad, for eff’s sake), and give it a proper shot, you can see it’s got substance.

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Riverdale airs Thursdays on The CW.