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.

-AJS

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Thoughts on TV: Younger Returns For Season 2

Oh the fun they are going to have. Photo from Pinterest

IT’S BACK!!!

“Younger,” the critically acclaimed comedy about a 40-something, rediscovering her life by being a 20-something again, returns to TV Land for its second season.

For those who were living under a rock, the show’s main character, Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), a recently separated suburban housewife, returns to work in publishing with a catch; she’s pretending to be 26, when in fact she’s 40. At the end of season one, her boyfriend Josh (Nico Tortorella) found out the truth, and things were somewhat left in the air but, it looked as if Josh was coming around to the idea.

Now Liza has to navigate the new reality of her relationship with Josh and still keep the secret from her co-workers, Kelsey (Hillary Duff), Diana (Miriam Shor), and Charles (Peter Hermann) at Empirical Publishing.

Complicating matters, her daughter Caitlin (Tessa Albertson), has returned from India, and knows nothing from her new life.

TV Land was nice enough to show two episodes, “Tattoo You” and “The Mao Function,” for the second season premiere, and it appears the show has not lost its touch. Some of the funniest lines from I’ve heard from the show so far have come from these episodes.

In “Tattoo,” Liza welcomes her daughter Caitlin but has not told her about her new life as a 26 year-old single woman. Josh on the other hand is unresponsive and blows her off after an attempt to straighten things out between them. In fact his text makes it sound as if he broke up with her!

Diana is still trying to get her hooks onto Charles, and when a dentist of Bobby Flay (yes the Bobby Flay) tries to make a move, Trout sends her to New York hell, Time Warner Cable! We knew Trout was cold but damn that was genius.

Kelsey meanwhile, is attempting to bring Empirical Publishing some millennial flavor, by making a book from the Tumblr account, “100 Things Women Think About While Giving Blowjobs.” The idea get shot down by Trout, but at least we get this delightful clapback from Kelsey, “I wouldn’t classify oral sex as pornography.”

Score one for positive sex! However, the idea gets picked up by a rival publication, which is leaving Kelsey feeling frustrated, and feeling unwanted.

Finally, when Liza discovers Caitlin’s new tattoo, she inquires where she got it, and figures out it was Josh who gave her the tattoo!

After confronting Josh about the tattoo and the fact he broke up with her via text, Josh admits that he didn’t know it was her daughter but, states he didn’t break up with Liza. When Liza asks about the text, he explains that it was Caitlin that prevented him from seeing her at the bar, and texted that they couldn’t meet because of ‘work’. Liza points out the grammatical error, she works in publishing after all, and Josh, surprisingly he fesses up to it.

Now we know from season one that Josh isn’t always that bright but, he and Liza make up, and for now Liza and Josh are back on. So does that mean everything all is hunky dory? Nope, Caitlin is looking at them making out through the window, and oy that must have been awkward for her.

This leads us to “Mao Function” where more of the groundwork of season is being laid. First, Caitlin heads back to Jersey with her father David (Paul Fitzgerald), so for now, that problem is at bay but, like Maggie I think she will return to give her mother an extra dose of drama.

On the other hand, Josh is learning the ups, kicking ass at trivia night, while Liza learns the downs, the very annoying age comparisons Josh makes, of spilling the beans. This make Liza question the whole situation even more. How can she have a relationship if Josh can’t respect the age difference rather than make cracks at it?

Kelsey has lost another client to a rival publishing company but her former client offers her the chance to jump ship. So naturally she asks Liza for advice. Kelsey explains to Liza that without Charles, she wouldn’t have her shot as a book editor, but she feels undervalued because of her age. Turns out ageism can go both ways.

During the function, Josh gets a taste of what Liza had to deal with when she kept her age close to her chest. When Kelsey, Lauren, and Thad ask about the breakup, he had to come up a lie to explain their break-up was over a deceased cat. Josh leaves the function in confusion and before Liza can deal with that problem, she has to deliver a manuscript to Charles.

Charles reveals to Liza that he is aware of Kelsey’s offer and asks Liza what he should do to counter it. Liza, ever the good friend, puts in a good word for Kelsey and suggests that Kelsey should be given something that plays to her strengths.

While Liza and Josh don’t fight about what happened at the function, he did suggest that Liza should at least tell Kelsey. Just when she was finally going to come clean to Kelsey, she bring big news! Charles gave her an imprint, or a division of Empirical to run herself and wants to bring Liza along for the ride! So that secret might stay under wraps for a while.

So what to look forward this season:

Potential Love Triangle. It’s clear Josh is going to be uncomfortable at times with the age difference and Charles is looking like a potentially better candidate in the love department. He values her input, he’s also a divorcée, and also has a kid so they’re areas of common ground. Also Trout will try to make a move and from what happened in “Tattoo” is any guide it only can go south from there.

Lauren + Maggie? Well it looks like Maggie is taking a dip in the younger pool. After Lauren made out with her under a drug induced haze, Maggie finally brought her to the loft. Does this mean Lauren, who is sexually fluid, willing to settle? Not sure where this leads to but it is nice that the writers are acknowledging an LGBT relationship. It was one of my gripes with season one, with the fact that while Liza and Kelsey were getting some action with their perspective partners, Maggie and Lauren were left out of the relationship department. I’m quite curious to see where this will lead.

The return of Martha Plimpton! There is one more person who know who Liza truly is and that is Cheryl Sussman (Martha Plimpton), a former colleague of Liza. She tried once to blackmail Liza to spy for her and while it didn’t succeed their last encounter did leave the door open for her return. I was not disappointed when she showed up in the promo for the rest of season two so I can’t wait for them to see where they take that next. All I know is it sounds like she will blow the whistle on Liza!

Will the truth come out? It’s not sure how but it’s implied that Liza will have to tell the truth to someone else in the cast. The two most likely candidates are Caitlin and Kelsey but potential dark horse could be Trout.  It would be in Liza’s best interest to get an ally in Empirical especially if Sussman goes after her again. Trout is the only other person who might have some leverage against her due to their personal animosity towards each other.

Most of all as long as the show stays fun and interesting, I will stay tuned to “Younger.”

Follow me on Twitter at @AJStevens50 and on Instagram at ayindestevens.

-AJS

Review: Kragman scores in ‘Odd Mom Out’

Image courtesy of the New York Times by Barbra Nitke of Bravo

“You have to apply to a cemetery.”

Yeah that’s how crazy it gets in the new Bravo scripted series “Odd Mom Out,” starring Jill Kargman. Kargman plays Jill Weber an Upper East Side mom, who is literally not like the other moms.

She dances, doesn’t exercise, her hair is black, her best friend is a doctor, who still works and she is *gasp* Jewish. She is designed to stick out like a sore thumb in the world of stereotypical self-absorbed wives of the Upper East Side.

Jill who was okay rich marries into the STUPIDLY wealthy Weber family and has to contend with their rules, rituals and charity events that keep these wives busy. So busy in fact, they have to hire nannies. Oh the horror!

Jill also has to contend with her in-laws. Her mother-in-law Candace, (Joanna Cassidy) and her brother and sister-in-laws, Lex (Sean Kleier) and Brooke (Abby Elliott) who are as self-absorbed as they come. They even changed their names to the Von Weber’s just to elevate their status in the neighborhood pecking order.

Lex, for example, is a successful hedge fund guy, who sold a bagel company to China. A deal so big Jill’s husband Andy’s (Andy Buckley), own mother think this is more important than his rise to partner. And to prove how dumb he is, he think Mexicans deserve Chipotle. Dude, they invented the burrito!

Brooke on the other hand is literally trying to groom herself into the mold of the perfect Upper East Side wife. She also sees it as her job to make Jill conform to the standards that the other wives and Candace have long adhered to.

But you know what, Jill fights them off with every fiber of her being. Her actions state that while she may agree with getting her children into a good school, she will do this on her own terms.

This is actually the second comedy Bravo has created in recent years, the other being Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, another Kargman inspired show. Yet this show plays closer to Kargaman’s vest because while she actually wrote the books that inspired both shows, this one unlike Girlfriends feels more natural. Kargman herself grew up on the Upper East Side, she refers to it as ‘Down under the Roosevelt Island tram overpasses’ or Durito lol.

The show pokes fun of the über-wealthy of the Upper East Side and its denizens some up with some hilarious results. For example, the third episode ‘Dying To Get In,’ Jill has to impress an exclusive cemetery, aptly named Green Acres. At the same time Jill is waiting for the callbacks for her kid’s kindergarten. However, things don’t go as planned and Jill goes as so far to hire the funeral directors a Capella club to curry favor.

Finally, what has truly elevated the show is the book Primates of Park Avenue, the book from Wednesday Martin, which for at least a few weeks had everyone talking. Until, that is everyone realized it’s more of an ethnography and memoir smashed together. Meaning it’s too biased for its own good. Something about the so-called ‘wife-bonus’ rubbed a lot of people a wrong way.

Yet this hilariously biased show somehow feels just right.     

Mini Review: Weird Loners

Image courtesy of Variety.com

The new FOX comedy “Weird Loners,” definitely is try to find it’s voice, but its worth sticking around for the six episodes. With collaboration with the creators of both “The King of Queens” and “New Girl,” “Weird Loners” is attempting to to blend the two distinctly different shows; an east coast sensibility of King of Queens with the ensemble of New Girl.

The show stars Becki Newton of “Ugly Betty”, Nate Torrance “Hello Ladies”, Torrance Knight “Happy Endings” and Meera Rohit Kumbhani “Black Box”. As four New Yorkers living in Queens brought together just because they are practically weird around everyone else Caryn (Newton) is a commitment phobe, Stosh (Knight) likes women, ENGAGED women. While Eric (Torrance) is emotionally stunted, he has always stayed with his parents to the point that he has very little contact with anyone and to top it off, he was the only one at the funeral of his dad until Stosh showed up. Zara (Kumbhani) on the other hand seems to be the most mature on the surface, but she also has commitment issues, and just ends relationships with the drop of a hat.

With Stosh out of a job and his company-owned condo (he slept with his bosses’ fiance) and Zara without a home the four are now living in a pair of adjoining row-houses. it appears that show gets off to a rocky start but I will have to get back with a follow up in a few weeks to see if the show stands up but this is what I could come up with in one episode. If only I was on the A.V. Club…