Review: Riverdale (2017 television series) and a failed previous effort

The comic book characters Archie Andrews and his friends have been popular since the early 1940s, so most people reading this are likely familiar with Riverdale as home to the wholesome red-haired teenager Archie Andrews and his parents, classmates, and various other recurring characters, including his eccentric fellow student Jughead and his two main love interests, Betty and Veronica. There were a number of animated television series based on Archie from the late 1960s through 2000 as well as live-action and animated shows featuring related characters such as Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and there were a few stabs at creating a live action Archie television series as well, but none of them actually made it onto a network schedule until early 2017, when the CW network introduced Riverdale.

The CW is a joint venture of CBS and Warner Bros (hence the CW) and a large part of its schedule consists of programs adapted from comics, mostly of the superhero sort.

Riverdale is different—different from the superhero series, different from the Archie comics (except some of the most recent ones, anyway), and different from most television series based on comics. For example, when the series begins Archie is having a hot affair with his beautiful high school music teacher. Jughead isn’t a goofy eccentric but a darkly earnest young writer. Rich girl Veronica lives with her mother because her father is in prison for financial crimes. Archie lives with his divorced father, who was played by former teen idol Luke Perry until his death in March of 2019 of a stroke at the age of 52.

Other recognizable actors include Robin Givens as Riverdale’s mayor and the mother of head Pussycat Josie and Mädchen Amick as Betty’s control-freak mother and editor of Riverdale’s newspaper.

Cheryl Blossom, a lesser recurring character from the comics, has a more major role on Riverdale.  She’s a sometimes mean and blatantly sexy rich girl who becomes more likable as the series progresses but whose self-absorption is so hilariously over-the-top that it amounts to a running gag. For just one minor example, when Cheryl is describing a late-night scare she doesn’t just say she was in bed at the time, she says was in her “canopy sleigh bed.” In another episode she barely manages to reach her archery gear in time to defend herself from a bad guy trying to kill her, but she still takes a moment to put on a fashionable hunting cape before shooting an arrow at her would-be assailant, sending him fleeing.

The first season revolves around a mysterious death with a number of parallel subplots, most of them melodramatic. The second begins with a serial killer threatening the town but branches off from that in multiple directions, and I gather the third and fourth seasons, which I haven’t made it to yet, may be even more extreme.

There are a lot of hints beyond the bizarre storylines themselves that the whole thing isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, at least by the audience. For example, there are several references to a prison named “Shankshaw.” Also, while people use modern smart phones, there are landline phones everywhere, many of them with old-fashioned dials rather than pushbuttons.

In its general impression of eccentricity and unreality Riverdale reminds me (and a lot of other people, I gather) of Twin Peaks, the series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, minus the supernatural elements but with Mädchen Amick. I’ve largely enjoyed Riverdale so far or its weirdness and its mostly likable protagonists, though I have mixed feelings about the fact that some of the characters become darker as the series progresses. But if you’re not put off by the radical deviation from the wholesome Archie of years past, the show is reasonably watchable, if not exactly great art.

Here’s a trailer for the first season:


And here’s a collection of (mostly mediocre) outtakes:


Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again (1990 made-for-TV movie)

While Riverdale is the only live-action television series based on Archie comics ever to make it onto a network television schedule, there were previous efforts, including 1990 made-for-TV movie broadcast on NBC that served as a pilot for a proposed series featuring the usual Archie characters but 15 years older than in the comics.

The movie has them all back in Riverdale for a high school reunion. Archie himself is now a lawyer engaged to be married, Betty teaches second grade and dates a guy who doesn’t really care about her, and Veronica, richer than ever and four times divorced, lives in Paris helping run an arm of her father’s business empire. Predictably Betty and Veronica wind up resuming their pursuit of Archie despite knowing that he’s engaged.

When we first see Jughead he’s lying on a psychiatrist’s couch explaining that his ex-wife, who’s about to get remarried,  has just dumped their bratty son on him. He then apologizes for going on about his problems. It turns out he’s the psychiatrist and the guy he’s been talking to is his patient. The patient assures Jughead that that he benefits a lot from their sessions, because hearing about Jughead’s problems makes his own seem so minor by comparison. In the half-hour or so I sat through before giving up, this was the only attempt at comedy that I thought even slightly funny.

The cast included David Doyle (Bosley on Charlie’s Angels) as Mr Weatherbee, Matt McCoy (Lloyd Braun on Seinfeld) as Betty’s obnoxious boyfriend, Karen Kopins (Jim Carrey’s very cute non-vampire girlfriend in Once Bitten) as Veronica, and Lauren Holly (who also appeared opposite Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber and maintains to this day a very active career in guest star roles on television) as Betty.

As far as I can tell, the only place to see this is YouTube, where a few people have uploaded it from VHS copies, but I’m not recommending you take the time to look it up, but if you’re curious can find a short trailer below that gives the flavor of the thing.


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