Riverdale: The Complete First Season

| August 17, 2017

Despite having over 75 years of Archie Comics to draw upon, the CW’s Riverdale places Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa) and his gang—Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), and Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes)—smack dab in the center of a small-town murder mystery. If you’re a fan of watching beautiful twenty-something actors play selfish, stupid, and overly sexualized sixteen-year-olds, Riverdale will very likely appeal to you. If you’re a longtime fan of the Archie Comics, you may not be so easily appeased. If you fall somewhere in between, as I do, Riverdale, despite its shortcomings as an actual Archie Comics story, will unquestionably be a fun watch—as long as you don’t mind shutting off your brain for a little while.

Riverdale is framed as the retelling of a town’s fall from grace, as narrated by aspiring true-crime writer Jughead Jones. At the center of this story is the murder of hometown golden boy Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines), who washes up on the shore of Sweetwater River with a bullet in his head. Naturally, Arch and his pals not only worm their way into every step of the investigation, but they solve Jason’s murder with little help from local law enforcement. Riverdale’s version of the gang is just as precocious and well-intentioned as its comic book counterpart, but the show takes pains to give them some edge. Archie remains a sweet and oblivious boy, but now he’s also a tortured soul with an acoustic guitar and one half of a student-teacher “affair.” Betty remains the almost supernaturally smart and wholesome girl-next-door, but now she has the assistance of an Adderall prescription forced on her by her controlling mother (Madchen Amick). Veronica Lodge is no longer the small-town brat, but the new girl from the big city, a reformed mean girl determined to do good despite her every instinct. While a number of Riverdale’s characters share names and surface traits with pre-existing figures from the comics, that’s where the resemblance between the two universes ends.

While many of the changes Riverdale makes are commendable (lots of diversity!), there are also plenty of changes that are questionable at best (Ms. Grundy is a statutory rapist now, FYI). Regardless, Riverdale makes an effort to prioritize social issues like white privilege and slut-shaming when most media geared toward teens and young adults wouldn’t dare touch such complicated issues. Riverdale has its fair share of missteps, though, and those missteps are worth talking about just as much as what the show does manage to get right. In addition to casting Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) as a Latina, a number of pre-existing characters of color from the comics become integral to the story. Riverdale makes an effort to cast characters of color in positions of power—Josie (Ashleigh Murray) and her Pussycats essentially run Riverdale High, and Josie’s mother (Robin Givens) is the mayor— but fails when it comes to one of the longest-running black character from the comics: Chuck Clayton (Jordan Calloway). In the comics, Chuck is a sweet, artistic kid, and Riverdale transforms him into a football-obsessed sexual predator. That one of the few prominent black characters on the show has been transformed from an innocent kid into a sexual predator whose victims are either white or light-skinned is an uncomfortable reflection of the ways in which overtly racist stereotypes worm their way into all media, even that which is ostensibly “woke.”

Despite the obvious racial diversity of the town’s population, Riverdale still manages to engage in a number of egregious and offensive moments of stereotyping and pandering. Excluding Betty and Veronica’s desperate faux-lesbian kiss at the cheerleading tryouts, LGBTQ+ representation is lacking. Betty’s best friend Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) seems to be Riverdale’s lone out-and-proud gay men, a fact he almost seems to cherish (“I love a good closet case”). Kevin is the token gay character, and other characters’ interactions with him only exacerbate the issue. Upon being introduced to him, Veronica cuts Betty off and says Kevin is “gay! Thank god, let’s be best friends.” Later in the series, she refers to Kevin as her “best gay.” Between the queerbaiting kiss and the constant condescension towards Kevin’s sexuality, Riverdale fumbles what could have been so easy. It’s 2017 and LGBTQ+ identities are as visible as ever, and what does Riverdale give its young audience? Queerbaiting and a sassy gay stereotype bundled up in one cute package. Riverdale absolutely deserves praise for its attempt to engage with social issues, but it also deserves to be called out for continuing to filter these issues through a white, straight lens.

Case and point: poor, sweet, boring Archiekins is still the center of everything, despite the fact that literally almost any other character is more interesting than Arch and his angsty acoustic ballads. He has always been an uncompelling figure, and though TV-Archie has just a smidge more depth than his classic comic book counterpart, he remains an undeserving protagonist. Riverdale is carried by the other characters and their complexities, but even more so by the show’s snappy dialogue that’s often laden with references no typical sixteen-year-old would possibly understand without sufficient background knowledge. As in-touch and updated as Riverdale attempts to be—and as important as it is to be open about societal issues—the show ultimately disappoints because it spends too much time on stories we’re already overly familiar with. There has always been a wholesomeness to the Riverdale crew and it is that wholesomeness that makes the “dark underbelly” angle of Riverdale so alluring. But that dark underbelly is only intriguing if it hasn’t been seen hundreds of times before—and it has. Riverdale wants to show a side of the Archie Comics that has never been explored, but by foregrounding the least interesting (and most familiar) characters and stories while relegating the genuinely new voices to the back, Riverdale becomes as routine as the narratives it is so clearly trying to distance itself from.

Riverdale: The Complete First Season is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital HD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Special features on the Blu-Ray and DVD releases include deleted scenes, a gag reel, two musical pieces, and three featurettes.

About the Author:

Peyton Brunet is a fourth-year double major in English and Media & Cinema Studies at DePaul University in Chicago with a passion for horror, The Simpsons, and monstrous women. She has also been published in her high school literary magazine (which she edited for three years, thank you very much).
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