By Lydia Bugg
When I first heard that they were making a gritty version of the Archie comics I have to admit I was not on board. I was a huge fan of the comics as a little kid. I remember buying an entire box of old Archie Digests at a used bookstore in Oregon for three dollars when I was in fourth grade. At the time I thought it was a real slick deal but of course I grew out of them.
Archie was kind of a dud and I never understood why the clearly superior Betty didn’t just let Veronica have him and move to New York City. She could work backstage at Broadway shows and say things like, “I’m married to the city.”
While I grew up the Archie universe went insane. Sabrina The Teenage witch fought Madam Satan, zombies overran Riverdale, Archie versed The Predator for God sakes. If I had just hung on a few more years I might have known about the Riverdale renaissance brought about by brilliant writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. In the years between when I put down Archie comics and picked them back up they actually started to have fun with their brand.
Archie would have been dead in the water if it didn’t evolve. No one cared about a bunch of wholesome teens stuck in a creepy 1950’s town, and what do you even do with a story like that in modern day culture? Are Veronica and Betty competing to send Archie the sexiest Snapchat? Is Jugghead a men’s rights activist? No one wants to see that. The only creative direction they could go in that would keep the story interesting was taking the same characters and taking them as the show says “full dark no stars.”
I won’t say I started watching Riverdale as a hate watch. I kept hearing comparisons of season one to Twin Peaks, a show I had recently fallen in love with, and I figured if it was as weird as twin peaks I had to give it go. At first I didn’t think I would make it through the first few episodes. Yeah, it was dark but it had the same problem the comics had, an Archie problem.
They revamped Jughead as a kid from the wrong side of town, Veronica was a toned-down version of her the park avenue princess troupe that actually made her bearable if boring, Betty was fab as usual, and if I had to describe Archie’s new personality it would be…abs. Archie was abs and honestly not much else. Again, we had these two cool girls fighting over this guy that I just had no interest in.
The show tried to shove Archie down our throats at first. Every new character they introduced was like:
“Hi I’m the football coach have I told you how good Archie is at football. I’m going to make him the captain of the team even though he’s a sophomore because he sure can football.”
“Hi, I’m the music lady. Archie and I are having sex because he’s so good at music.”
“I’m Cheryl Blossom have I told you about how in love with Archie everyone at this school is?”
“I’m a kid who hates Archie but I just want to let everyone know I don’t actually hate Archie I’m just deeply insecure about how he’s so much cooler than me and also everyone else on earth.”
The more they pushed Archie the more I just thought, really…him? I hung around for one reason and one reason only, his name is Jughead Motherfuckin’ Jones. Ok, technically it’s Forsythe Pendleton “Jughead” (Motherfuckin’) Jones the Third (for real).
They cast Cole Sprouse of The Suite Like of Zack and Cody fame as a sexy Jughead and watching him in the role is kind of amazing. You start out thinking LOL it’s the kid from Zack and Cody but then you realize holy shit this dude has been acting since he was a teeny tiny baby and it totally shows. Him and his brother played the little kid in Big Daddy!
Grown up Cole Sprouse is the Meryl Streep of Riverdale. He’s such a powerhouse that I swear he makes the other actors he’s in scenes with better. Betty and F.P. Jones are probably the second and third best-acted characters in the series and I think that’s just because they’re mostly opposite Jughead. Yes, Betty finally gets a boyfriend deserving of her on Riverdale!
The Jughead redesign took the narrative of Riverdale from two girls fighting over one boring boy to two best friends from opposite sides of the tracks navigating high school under the stifling gaze of an overly critical small town.
Season one actually felt pretty well crafted and not super over dramatic. I mean, ok we’re supposed to believe Riverdale is a maple syrup production town and there’s such thing as an uber rich maple syrup barron, but for a teen show logic that’s pretty tame.
Then season two hit and an actor joined the cast who could actually hang with Jughead, Mark Consuelos. I’m not saying Mark Consuelos is a good actor but you can’t not watch him and be like DAMN this guy is making some CHOICES. You can’t stop Mark Consuelos. Whatever show he comes on he is now the Mark Consuelos show and you better sit down and enjoy it or his passionate gazes will get you.
When season two of Riverdale started I stopped liking the show and started loving it. Everything about this season stinks of “holy shit we got another season? Are you serious? You know this is a dark gritty reboot of the Archie comic series right? People liked this? People want more? How much more? We got picked up for twenty-one episodes? How!?”
This was plainly a one-season show with maybe half an idea for how season two would start. Season two becomes a completely different show. Mark Consuelos plays Hiram Lodge the world’s only devout catholic mob boss with a Hebrew name. The show ditches all of Archie’s music and football plots and has him doing what everybody enjoyed watching him do most in season one, punch stuff. He becomes a young capo to his girlfriends Dad abandoning the previous dynamic of Archie good Jughead good but with a leather jacket.
Archie’s pure heart is tested and he flunks. I think we’re supposed to believe Archie is just so loyal, that’s his one major defining quality, and if he’s all in with Veronica as his girlfriend he’s got to be all in with her family even if her family is all in with the mafia. He blows up a car and recruits a gang. He witnesses a murder and takes credit for the death of a high-ranking mobster (who’s name by the way is Poppa Poutine).
There are so many irons in the fire on season two of Riverdale that sometimes they’ll introduce a completely off the wall plot line and then let it float off into the ether as if it never existed. At one point, Betty Cooper accuses her sister Polly of joining a cult during he time off camera. Polly says she hasn’t (but she plainly has). Then the next time Polly shows up it’s apparently been resolved and Polly is moving away. My guess is she’s never to be heard from again.
There’s a Cheryl Blossom subplot where her mother is trying to murder her grandmother and have Cheryl declared insane. She puts her in a mental institution that does gay conversion therapy (Cheryl is bisexual) and a girl she likes breaks in to rescue her. They end up making out on in front of a 1950’s style movie about how gays are bad or something.
It’s so over the top that it’s magical. We don’t have stuff like this on TV anymore? When I was growing up my grandmothers took turns watching me after school and there was one that I knew I wasn’t allowed to bother during “her stories.” My grandma loved all soap operas but I was only interested in one, Passions. One of the characters was a doll that had been brought to life. There was a closet that led to hell. It made no sense ever and I loved it! Riverdale resurrects the spirit of Passions somehow without even needing the mystical elements.
Take of instance the names of Riverdale characters, they are almost mythically bad. The head of the teenage divisions of Riverdale’s most feared gang the south side serpents, tall dark-haired greasers in a leather jacket, is completely unironically names Sweet Pea. “Surely this was in the comic?” I thought, but nope he’s a Riverdale original character. The challenger to Jugheads Dad’s authority as head of the south side serpents is called Tall Boy. A jailed serpent who feeds Jughead information about Hiram Lodge is War Baby, and the jail he resides in is called Shankshaw.
The writers are officially trolling us, right?
Then there are times the writers toss out a subtle reference to a classic piece of literature as if to wink at us and say, “I could write something better. I know what a good story looks like, but instead I do this and you love it bitch.”
At one point, Jughead crawls into Betty’s window when she’s grounded and asks “you haven’t gone full Yellow Wallpaper on me, have you?” Yes, that’s a reference to an 1892 Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story about a woman’s slow descent into madness on a CW show.
So, maybe I’m crazy for tuning in every week and enduring the endless CW Seed commercials for 25 minutes of Jughead and Betty trying to catch a serial killer and 20 minutes of Archie being abs next to Veronica. I’m not going to stop though. It’s too much fun to try and guess what’s going to happen next. It could be literally anything.
Poppe Poutine’s twin brother Marvin Milk In A Bag could show up and kidnap Archie. War Baby could get out of Shankshaw and team up with F.P. Jones to fill the vacuum in the maple syrup business left by Clifford Blossoms suicide. Kevin Keller could finally get the screen time he deserves.
In the end that’s what keeps me watching. As a writer you learn to pick up patterns in shows and see two or three episodes ahead. Most stories have a natural progression and Riverdale’s lack of coherency mixed with its likeable characters is what keeps me coming back for more. Even when I feel like the show is purposely messing with me.
Lydia tweets a lot about Riverdale here.
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