Disclaimer: 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. In an age of what seems like unlimited prestige TV, the prospect of the contemporary updating of an outdated comic like Archie seems to be a precarious choice at the outset. The elevator pitch to this show is almost comically structured to produce queasy grins and ironic detachment. Imagine being the writer who pitches a modern show set in the ambiguously located Riverdale, but instead of being the wholesome Leave it to Beaver of yesteryear, we are plunged into a world of sex, crime, and cleverly interwoven narratives of deception and murder. But, in this age of remakes, reboots, spin-offs and restarts, the meta-textual re-conceptualization of Archie Andrews and his gang of friends turns out to be a fresh and surprisingly addictive delve into fantasy high school hierarchies amidst the continuously corrupt town. Riverdale is the type of show that comes along every now and then that can easily be overlooked if you are outside of the age demographic. Just like the first season of The O.C., Riverdale has a vibrancy of character and charm seemingly disavowing any cynicism that could easily surface with this kind of property. This first season is built around the murder of Jason Blossom, the red-haired teen idol of the town. Of course, all the Archie comics mainstays are tangentially, if not directly connected in some way, to the murder, and, without a doubt, Archie Andrews’ longtime friendship with Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) takes a backseat only to the integral question of Archie’s will-he-won’t-he with polar opposites Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart). This is an ensemble as the title eludes by dropping the singularity of “Archie” to substitute it for the collective of “Riverdale” and this small town has quite a collective. The heart of the comics has always been the dynamics of the four friends, but Riverdale consistently fleshes out new characters in pursuit of a rich ensemble. The best of these is Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), the queen of the Riverdale High School River Vixen cheerleading squad whose twin brother Jason is the murdered town golden child. The show pulls a constant wire-walk with Cheryl in which we never really understand just how innocent or guilty she is meant to be. Petsch brings a deft verbal agility to Cheryl that is also reminiscent of Veronica. These two characters remind me of the great line from Capote, the film about how Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood, a book and film that is referenced constantly in Riverdale. Capote says of the accused murderer Perry White, “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.” Cheryl and Veronica are two sides of the same coin and I think that this is a frenemy situation that I hope will grow much deeper in the seasons to come. Just on the outside of these two women is Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart). Betty has always been the good girl, the stereotype of the blonde sweetheart at the center of high school lore. She starts as that in Riverdale, but the creators have infused this Betty Cooper with a toxic dose of Blue Velvet that comes bubbling up to the surface sporadically. The Betty versus Veronica relationship has switched from adversarial to being best friends. This serves as a much more interesting launch pad for continual conflicts with the rest of the town and particularly more one-on-one conflicts with Cheryl Blossom for each of them. While the show is compulsively watchable, there is one central problem. Just like Dawson Leery at the heart of Dawson’s Creek, the central character is overshadowed by his male counterpart. Jughead Jones, just like Pacey Whitter played by Joshua Jackson, is the more engaging presence. This has been a problem with teen soaps for as long as they have existed. The lead of the show has to be the kind of empty presence that can mold and be filled with whatever is necessary for the scene, episode or season. Jughead plays the damaged narrator of the show. The extent of his damage is always talked about, but never shown. Pacey in Dawson’s Creek had genuine demons that couldn’t be contained, some of this may come from the fact that Joshua Jackson is a much better actor than Cole Sprouse. Regardless, the framing of the show from the perspective of Jughead gives the show a questioning God’s eye view of the town. He knows some of the facts, but not nearly all of them. The murder is constantly unfolding, and the narration is playing catch up like the audience. The creators of the show are certainly playing with the show’s self-reflexivity in the casting of the parents. It would be impossible to cast Luke Perry as Archie’s dad and Skeet Ulrich as Jughead’s dad without calling into memory the duality of their former roles. These two slip right into character because their work in the 90’s prepped audiences to understand the space they fill here. This casting calls to light one of the things that I have been unable to reckon with regarding the show’s meta-textual commentary on pop culture and its consistent referential nature. While the average thirty-year-old may have fond memories of movies like Scream and shows like Beverly Hills 90210, what do these properties mean to a contemporary teenager? The show’s referential nature is clever and well-timed, but in the first episode there are references to Truman Capote, French New Wave cinema, Woody Allen and Nicholas Ray. These are references that hit home with cinephiles, but how do they land with the target demographic of teen girls and boys that most likely don’t know the difference between Jean-Luc Godard and Jim Stark? If anything, I hope it pushes the audience to dig and find out exactly what is being referenced, if not fully engaging with the former material. While the show may wear influences on its sleeve, it owes more visually to the age of Instagram. This isn’t an insult necessarily, because the show really does feel like a noir crossed with this generations ability to digitally manipulate every image. The modern correlation to the aesthetic would be the Jason Bateman and Laura Linney show Ozark. Yet, there is an otherworldly quality to the cinematography here that builds a world that is as shadowed as the characters in it. For a show in 2017, it couldn’t be more disconnected from progressive views of race relations. There was no reason to change the race of Pops to be a black man, or at least in the way they do it. This portrayal leans into ethnic stereotypes that are almost as problematic as having the one black male teenager on the show be a sexual predator. Whether or not these changes are intentional in their distinct unambiguous racism, we will have to wait and see what the show does in following seasons. But, this is a misstep in a show that is filled with constant joys. Riverdale seems to have wanted to install some sort of blender test on the public. Take a blender, put as many shows and movies into it as possible, and see how many you can juggle until it all just turns into a glob of inedible over-saturation. Riverdale is close to the edge, being about one Heathers and two more David Lynch references shy of overstaying the welcome. Yet, in this stew of Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire the Slayer, and The O.C., crossed with In Cold Blood, Blue Velvet, and Stand by Me, has a strange brew that somehow holds together despite the overwhelming odds that are pushing against it. The verdict is still out on whether this will be able to cohere for a string of seasons that can make this one of great teen soaps of all time. For now, it is clever and just self-serious enough to pass things like the Bechdel test, even while making the proclamation that it passed it in the same scene. If Archie can get abs over the summer then I’m holding out hope that we can see this show really flourish in the coming seasons and want to “ride the ginger stallion” to the end. Special Features: Deleted scenes: For a show that has over ten hours of content, the deleted scenes here really are rather stale. None of them add much depth, except for one in which Jughead talks to his dad. The scene shows a path to where exactly we could see Jughead in the coming seasons. The other that drops a big bombshell of information is the scene where Betty’s parents tell Jughead they can move in with them. This is a bit of information that is never covered in the show, I assume because of where we leave Jughead in the final moments of the season. None of these scenes are particularly bad, but they aren’t particularly good either. They do what a lot of deleted scenes do, make you wish you were back in the midst of the show proper. Gag Reel: This feature runs a little under three minutes, which is roughly two minutes to long. The actors are charming enough I guess, but there isn’t anything beyond Luke Perry playing with a fake snake that gets close to comedy. It is very easy to tell when actors aren’t comedians. 2016 Comic-con panel: This is by far the most interesting extra feature. The thing that holds it back is that it is incredibly short. The panel brings all the main actors on stage to discuss their parts and their connection with the comics. But, the panel with the actors only lasts a couple of minutes so you never get a sense of what they actually feel. If there is a season two panel, then hopefully it goes more in depth on the process of bringing everything to the screen. The musical pieces: I said in the review that the shows biggest weakness was the handling of race. Well, I should take that statement back because Archie Andrews musical abilities are few and far between. It is the kind of music that you give you nephew a pat on the back for. You keep that same nephew’s songs on a playlist so that if you are taking a drive together it may pop up and he will feel good. But, Archie Andrews isn’t my nephew, so I will never feel the compulsion to listen to his music outside of the show, which is a shame because it wouldn’t take a lot of work to have K.J. Apa look and sound good on stage. For season two, they should hire some songwriters to come in and make the music a compelling part of the narrative, because god forbid, we are bound to get the musical episode at some point. The Original Sin featurette: A brief delve into the early stages of Riverdale’s creation. The short documentary tells the story of how the murder plot was an added piece of the puzzle. This is a relatively interesting extra feature that gives fans more room to discuss the themes of the show. Beware though, if you haven’t seen the whole season, they go into major spoilers. See larger image Riverdale: The Complete First Season Riverdale: The Complete First Season (DVD) Based on the characters from Archie Comics, Riverdale gives a subversive take on small-town life. Things aren’t always what you expect in Riverdale. As a new school year begins, the town is reeling from the tragic death of high school golden boy Jason Blossom. The summer’s events made all-American teen Archie Andrews realize that he wants to pursue a career in music, but his fractured friendship with Jughead Jones, and Josie McCoy’s focus on her own band leaves Archie without a mentor. Meanwhile, girl-next-door Betty Cooper is not ready to reveal her true feelings for Archie, and new student, Veronica Lodge, has an undeniable spark with her crush. And then there’s Cheryl Blossom, Riverdale’s Queen Bee, who stirs up trouble amongst Archie, Betty and Veronica. But is Cheryl hiding something about the mysterious death of her twin brother, Jason? Riverdale may look like a quiet, sleepy town, but there’s more to the story. New From: $12.96 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.