Thoughts on TV: The CW’s “Riverdale” Turns The Archie’s Comics Into Teenage Noir


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What happens in Riverdale…Doesn’t always stay under the surface.

The new show on the CW, “Riverdale,” based off the characters in the Archie comic universe, is the next show in a line of teenage drama’s with noir*ish tendencies.

The show, which is the latest turn of changes to the Archie brand, is proof that you can bring a 75 year old institution into the 21st century without doing too many changes to the fundamentals that made Archie and the gang, a paragon of All-American wholesomeness that even a city kid such as myself found endearing.

I even remember the first Archie comic I read, which was Archie Andrews doing his classic double-booking of dates with the two women in his life that he just can’t seem to stay away from, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

But enough about the comics, let’s talk “Riverdale.”

So I’m limited to just one episode so this review will rely on the characters and the plot so spoilers. The episode begins with the drowning of Jason Blossom, (Trevor Stines), on the 4th of July. His twin sister Cheryl, a delightfully bitchy Madelaine Petsch, claims Jason fell into the Sweetwater River when he tried to retrieve a dropped glove.

The story then flashes towards the first day of school and Veronica Lodge’s (Camilla Mendes) introduction into Riverdale. Veronica and her mother Hermione  (Marisol Nichols) have escaped New York City due to scandal. Veronica, realizing that while this “In Cold Blood” town is not her “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” she decides to use it as a fresh start and be a better Veronica. She does this by befriending Betty and getting them on the cheer squad, much to Cheryl’s chagrin.

Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) herself is trying to be the perfect daughter after her older sister Polly, crashed and burned. Alice, Betty’s mom (Mädchen Amick) ups the ante by foisting prescription meds on her. She pines after Archie but lacks the courage to get those pesky three words out of her mouth.

The only true friend and confidante Betty has is Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), the schools openly gay student. Who just so happens to find, Jason’s body, with a gunshot wound to the head, while attempting to get it on with school jock, Moose Mason, (Cody Kearsley) after the fall dance. Well, at least someone is trying to get lucky.


Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), my favorite character from the comic book universe, doesn’t get much screen time in this episode. However, he gets the important job of narrating the can of worms that will inevitably burst open.

The show runners have amplified Jughead’s aloofness to 11. He still hang’s out Pop’s burger joint but, instead of scarfing burger after burger, channels his energy into writing a true crime novel about the town and somehow manages to keep up the pace. The bond that Jughead and Archie shared appears to be strained but I’m in the dark about this so I hope we get a reason why soon.

Another radical change to the Riverdale universe are the band Josie and the Pussycats, who have been made into an all African-American girl group. They, like Jughead don’t get much screen time but Josie McCoy herself, (Ashleigh Murray) shuts down Archie’s attempt at learning music from her. It might come off as snobbish at first, but Josie makes it clear to Archie that the band and the brand that she is creating will not be ‘culturally appropriated’ or be Archie’s stepping stone on his path to stardom.

And then we have Archie (K. J. Apa) himself. Of all the overhauls and changes done to his friends, Archie’s doesn’t jump out at much, save for his hot for teacher summer romance with Ms. Geraldine Grundy, a MUCH younger Ms. Grundy, played by Sarah Habel. One character trait of Archie’s that has entered into the show is his annoying indecisiveness. But instead of it being just between choosing Betty and Veronica, it’s between choosing his dad’s company, his hidden talents as a musician or becoming the jock hero since Jason is now out of the picture. In short, the character hasn’t really changed, the setting and the stakes have. Yet, Archcie’s stakes are still kind of low compared to everyone else’s.

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The Primary Cast at Pop’s

As for Betty and Veronica’s friendship, it seems to be the strongest part of the show so far. While generations of girls wound up with the annoying binary choice of choosing which one fits with their personality, the show re-orients their personalities so that Betty wants to be assertive like Veronica and Veronica, learning some humility from the scandal tries to be a bit like Betty. This allows for more nuanced look at girlhood and promotes character growth.

Veronica’s perception of the bad girl, makes her the more compelling one simply because we’re all going to wonder if a leopard and truly change her spots, while Betty simply wants to break free and quite give a little less f***’s sometimes. Betty just wants to be herself even if she doesn’t know what exactly that is.

That’s what makes the show, to my surprise good. “Riverdale” deftly attempts to juggle the darkness of the plot, with it’s winks to elements that influenced the show’s look. Reading review after review from The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine and MTV, affirms the mash-up of the Archie universe with Twin Peaks (Amick, herself, being an alum of the cult hit), but also gives nods to the great teenage angst film like Mean Girls, Clueless, Heather’s and even the Twilight  film series that came before. New York Magazine writer Jen Chaney suggested that the show come with footnotes for it’s high volume of pop culture references and influences. The noir like touch gives the show the seriousness that just couldn’t exist if the old formula was still the driving force of the comics until a few years back.

The winks and homages gives the viewer a primer to the characters and the setting. It’s also nod to the past show’s that made it into the zeitgeist but at the same time affirming that it’s 2017. Changes such as complex women characters, stronger minority presence, i.e. LGBT characters with an active sex life, are part of this zeitgeist. We revere the older ones because they changed what was considered conventional. The Mad Men references are particularly noted because that show reexamined the forces of conventional thinking  during postwar America. The only flaw with the pop culture stream is it’s overwhelming whiteness. Hopefully, that will get corrected in subsequent episodes.

At the end of the day, “Riverdale” is a teen drama with a sophisticated sense of self-awareness that is it’s beating heart. A heart that it proudly wears on it’s sleeve. Hopefully the show will maintain some level of cool and who know’s someone somewhere in America has read an Archie comic and actually knows of the pop culture references that pop out every second.



Thoughts on Books… “Career of Evil”


U.K. jacket cover for “Career of Evil” 

Before you read further “Career of Evil” is the third in the Comoran strike series which debuted in 2013. The review for the first book “The Cuckoo’s Calling” here  in an article I wrote at my college paper. It should also be used for background on some of the characters and for continuity. Sadly I did not review “The Silkworm” when it was released last year.   

In Robert Galbraith’s (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) new crime novel, “Career of Evil,” pits London detective Cormoran Strike with three men from his past all with an ax to grind.

The story begins with the musings of the murderer, who is pained that Strike took away the everything from him and is now going to return the favor. With a sick and twisted game that seeks to tear apart everything Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott have worked hard to build in the past year.

And it all starts with a leg.

Robin arrives to the Strike private investigation office and picks up a package addressed to her and when she opens it, a severed leg tumbles out with lyrics from the song “Mistress of the Salmon Salt” by the band Blue  Öyster Cult. The lyrics were also a tattoo on Strikes mother.

Strike knows that the murderer knows his past and is going to use Robin to well strike back. He also further deduces that they’re three men are the most likely to have it out for them. Two of the men come from Stike’s past in the military, prior to the blast that blew his leg off and the third is none other than Strike’s stepfather, whom Strike is still convinced that he killed his birth mother.

Each man is morally depraved in their own ways, as the novel progresses you begin to understand who these men are and how they have affected Cormoran as a person. All of them on some level are sociopaths, narcissistic and manipulative creatures that are pure evil.

The killer wants to use Robin to be the linchpin of Strike’s downfall so its up to Strike and Robin to discover the killer’s identity before he can get to Robin.

However, the case allows several fault lines to surface, the first is the underlying romantic tension that exists between the two. Robin knows who Strike is, his unconventional past and understands him more intimately than his own friends after working for him for just a year. Strike likes his compartmentalized life but has discovered a kinship with Robin he hasn’t had with anyone except for perhaps his mother.

The other fault line involves Robin. it’s in this book we discover why she never finished college. She was the victim of a violent sexual assault and only survived because she played dead. The assault derailed Robin’s life for a year and it took away her confidence. Yet, despite that she has fought back and knows she’s a survivor.

Robin, as it turns out has dreamed about being a detective since she was a girl. However, her family and fiance Matthew have tried to dissuade her for years. And while she has helped Strike in the previous books, Robin truly craves the need to solve this one with Strike and on her own terms. The book makes it clear she will not be victimized again. It’s the first time we see Robin rebel against Strike as she tries to assert herself as a partner and asset not a liability.

The final fault line is Matthew himself. It’s become quite clear that Strike and Matthew are the dominate men in Robin’s life. Neither of them like each other and worse still Matthew is quite apprehensive about Robin working for Strike. He takes every opportunity to belittle Robin’s decision to stick with Strike. The reason, is that he is threatened by the new-found confidence that comes with being in the detective business. Which proves that the biggest villains are often the ones in plain sight.

“Career of Evil” shows what Rowling does best, which is to create the world of the characters and our emotional reactions and attachment to the heroes and villains in the each installment. I’ll admit I hated Matthew more than the killer himself since you can’t prosecute an insecure twit but you can prosecute a serial killer.

Also Rowling has greatly improved on the series as she creates several twists and turns with this book. I honestly couldn’t figure out which one would be the killer even with the clues dropped when the story shifted to his perspective, a smart move on her part. There’s also a foray into a sub community of admires of Strike that we get into that you have to read to believe it but don’t judge it.

I wonder where they will go next?

Grade A


P.S.  I also want my dear readers to stay tuned as I take on another project.  HINT: it involves walking.