A belated love letter to 'Riverdale' Season 1

·Senior Writer
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW
Photo: Katie Yu/The CW

When it was announced that The CW Network was adapting the “Archie” comic series as a teen soap, my reaction echoed those of many: “Why?” When it was revealed the show was taking a stab at turning the classic slice of Americana into something dark and broody, and the positive reviews started to pour in, my second reaction was an abrupt change in course: “I must watch this.” After all, when the convergence point of a show’s Venn diagram is a mix of True Detective and The O.C. — the same hybrid that resulted in the perfection that was Veronica Mars — how can you say no?

I stocked up on snacks and embarked on watching all 13 episodes of the first season in a row, one giant binge session that clocked in a little over nine hours.

Below are just a few of the things learned over the course of the marathon, with only the mildest of spoilers for those still considering whether or not to make the plunge.

As Veronica, Camila Mendes is just channeling Leighton Meester — and that’s 100 percent okay.
The casting on Riverdale is surprisingly strong; even though it’s got a large ensemble, there are no duds among the principal group. K.J. Apa is given a thankless task as Archie, the soulful-yet-dumb jock who just wants to, like, focus on his music, man. He manages to fly off in the handle in the sake of righteousness in scenarios as diverse as visiting a biker bar and attending a gathering of maple syrup executives. Lili Reinhart plays Betty well as a good girl reaching her breaking point, while Mendes makes the wise decision to play Veronica — the New Girl In Town that serves as an extremely fashionable viewer surrogate — as a slightly nicer version of Gossip Girl‘s Blair Waldorf.

It’s nice to know networks still cast grown-ass adults as teens.
This may be an “edgy” take on Archie comics, but Riverdale hews closely to several traditional teen TV tropes. All of the characters come pre-loaded with advanced knowledge of 1970s cinema and every piece of mid-century American literature. All of the actors are far too old to realistically be playing high school sophomores. And of course, yes, there is an affair between a student and a teacher — although it ends quite abruptly, perhaps due to the internet’s less-than-favorable response.

Riverdale also follows in the grand TV tradition of one-restaurant towns. Despite being large enough to support at least two schools, a large biker gang, an apartment complex with a very fancy penthouse, a bus station, and a nightclub that serves alcohol to teens, the town of Riverdale features exactly one restaurant that anyone visits. Serving the same purpose as the Peach Pit and the Applebees in Dillon, Texas, Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe is the nexus for the entire cast. It serves as the 24-hour go-to spot for dates, family dinners, father-son breakfasts, takeout orders and teen brooding.

Like their CW ancestors on Buffy, these kids love a pop culture reference.
As they attempt to solve the season-long murder, our heroes compare themselves to Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew and the Scooby Gang, and drop the term “pesky kids.” Betty and Veronica discuss the Bechdel Test and a kiss between the two in the first episode is immediately dismissed as something that hasn’t been sensational in decades. (Clearly they forgot how big a deal it was when Mischa Barton smooched Olivia Wilde relationship on The O.C. in 2005, but I digress.)

Screenshot: The CW
Screenshot: The CW

Someone involved in this show clearly loves HBO.
Betty and Jughead keep a Lester Freamon-style crime board in the school newspaper’s office as they track the murder. I’m not sure if this makes The Wire canon in the Riverdale universe, but it’s odd no one in a position of authority has a problem with 16-year-olds investigating one of their own being shot in the head. (I suppose this could also be a nod to the theorizing of Charlie Kelly.)

There are also a few oblique nods to the goings on in Westeros. For one thing, the wealthy Blossom family lives in a large estate with a foreboding name — Thornhill, which may also be home to some… uh, let’s call it light incest. Riverdale also leans on the old Game of Thrones standby of packing a lot of action/information/reveals into the penultimate episode, including the revelation of the killer’s identity. This gives the entire finale over to the denouement, as we see how the town reacts to the shocking news while also setting up the major mystery for season 2. Considering this is The CW, you also get a montage of our protagonists hooking up and some theatrical arson set to Imagine Dragons’ “Believer.”

We’ve come a long way since Jim and Cindy Walsh.
No offense to Brandon and Brenda’s loving and supportive parents on 90210, but my God they were boring. That makes it all the more delicious to watch Luke Perry give such an engaging performance as Archie’s very cool dad, Fred. So he learns Archie is having an affair with the adult music teacher? Fred’s not really upset! Archie’s best friend needs a murder alibi? Fred forges a time card and also let him sleep at his house. Fred also has a brief tryst with his old high school classmate — all the adults in this show were high school classmates and apparently timed their children’s birth so they, too, are all high school classmates — and gets sucked into some illicit real estate dealings. He’s also the key for the season-ending cliffhanger, and his ex-wife (Archie’s mom) is played by none other than Molly Ringwald.

Photo: Cate Cameron/The CW
Photo: Cate Cameron/The CW

Fellow ‘90s heartthrob Skeet Ulrich plays Jughead’s dad FP, who represents what happens when you end up on The Wrong Side Of The Tracks. Most of the moms on this show are either a) bonkers b) involved in some shading dealings or c) both, but that is in no way a complaint.

Finally, a high school garage band that doesn’t suck.
Josie and the Pussycats also attend Riverdale High, performing at a variety of events around town (Josie’s mom is the mayor) and reluctantly aiding Archie’s musical aspirations. Although a Sabrina The Teenage Witch companion series is already in the works, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Josie and her backing band get their own spinoff.

With almost twice as many episodes in Season 2, Riverdale will have to up its game.
Though the action got off to a strong start last season, the show suffered a brief lag around episode 8, which centered on a very tense… baby shower. However, things rebounded with a couple sturdy teen drama standbys (The House Party That Gets Out Of Hand, the Homecoming Dance) and a satisfying conclusion to the murder mystery.

The CW upped the show’s order from 13 to 22 episodes for Season 2, so Riverdale will need to lean on all of the storyline seeds it planted in the season finale — hinting at the town’s race and class divides, and the dark underbelly of a heroin trade. But if the series can build on its strengths — genuine humor, beautiful cinematography, engaging characters — the potential is there for a nice Gossip Girl-length run as The CW’s king of soaps.

Riverdale season 2 premieres Wednesday, October 11 at 8 p.m. on The CW.

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