Not a Flaming Mess: A Review of "Riverdale"

Warning: Spoilers for Riverdale ahead!

 

Last week, the day of reckoning arrived. Riverdale premiered on The CW and I found out whether I’d have to hide under a pile of my old Betty and Veronica Double Digests and pretend it didn’t exist, or whether I could be cautiously optimistic, or a combination of the two.

Luckily, contrary to the fears I expressed in a previous article, I found myself, sometimes against my will, actually enjoying the utter melodrama and cheesy fun of the show. I found that most of my unease was based on the fact that the trailers chose the most shocking moments to emphasize, giving the impression that things were even more off the rails than they are.

The first episode opens with some narration by Jughead Jones introducing the town and setting up a storyline that appears to be framing the season: the death of Jason Blossom in curious circumstances. S**t’s going down in Riverdale, but don’t worry, everyone will manage to be sexy and/or mysterious and/or plaintive and cute while events spiral out of control.

Now, let’s catch up with three main characters and see what their situation is after the pilot episode.

 

Betty Cooper

I heaved a big sigh as our first introduction to this all-around Good Girl comes as she’s mooning over Archie Andrews. Honestly, she’s so much more than her crush on this doofus, but I’m worried the showrunners will center her actions around him rather than make her a fully realized character in herself. In her internship over the summer, Betty met Toni Morrison for goodness sake!

Betty’s also got major family drama (as does everyone; honestly, a family counselor could make major bank in this town) with an overbearing/controlling mother and a sister who apparently suffered a mental breakdown after being involved with Jason Blossom.

So far it seems like the show’s done a pretty good job at keeping Betty’s essential nature intact, and even though she makes some questionable moves (why on Earth did she invite Veronica along to the dance with her and Archie??) her mistakes are believable teenage mess-ups. I was surprised, however, because I was expecting Betty to be my favorite character, but that honor goes to...

 

Veronica Lodge

We first see Veronica Lodge (or Ronnie) being suitably bratty as she and her mother “downsize” into a (very big, very nice) house after some s*** went down with her father (let’s just say he sent a mysterious bag of money to her mom). From the trailer I was expecting spoiled-rich-kid to be Ronnie’s one character trait, but luckily there’s some real nuance there, though that might have to do with the actress, Camila Mendes, more than anything.

Expecting to be made more of by the students at Riverdale High, Veronica learns they’re less than thrilled with her because of Jason Blossom’s murder over the summer (also maybe because her dad was arrested for embezzlement). She seems to genuinely be making an effort to be a better person, helping Betty to get on the cheerleading team and generally being a pretty sweet friend.

Until, of course, circumstances align so that Veronica and Archie are peer-pressured into doing Seven Minutes in Heaven and end up making out and betraying her nascent friendship with Betty. Ah well. Such is the way of the world, and while it’s annoying how Betty and Veronica are perpetually “competing” for Archie’s love, Ronnie seems genuinely remorseful afterward and Archie makes it clear that he’s never had romantic feelings for Betty.​

 

Archie Andrews

I suppose he’s the main character, but honestly, I was never interested in this universe for his sake, and that sure hasn’t changed here. I mentioned in my earlier article that I was worried the trailers made him seem like a conniving little sneak, what it comes down to so far is that he just really doesn’t make good decisions and/or suffers from being a teenage boy.

First, he’s not doing so well in the romance department. Not only has he apparently never realized how Betty thinks of him, he proceeds to make out with her new friend RIGHT AFTER learning about her feelings. That’s hardly the most ethically problematic thing he’s involved with, though.

Over the summer Archie also had an affair with Ms. Grundy, the attractive (everyone, of course, is attractive in this town) music teacher. There is nothing good about their “relationship.” For one thing, Archie is around 15-16 years old and Ms. Grundy is at least ten years older, so it’s potentially/probably statutory rape.

Even after they ended things, apparently after not telling police about hearing a gunshot the day of Jason’s death, Ms. Grundy agrees to teach Archie music in an independent study. This is ridiculously NOT OKAY. In what world will this turn out well? None, because they lied to police, and it seems like the show is painting their relationship as a sexy forbidden romance rather than a deeply problematic interaction with an unequal power dynamic.

 

Well, even though it’s important to acknowledge the not-great parts of shows, I feel reluctant to end on that note, so some parting thoughts:

  • I want more Jughead!! All about that overly angsty aesthetic.

  • Is Jughead actually writing a novel? How does he know everything? Is he omnipotent?

  • Kevin Keller has a surprisingly big part, which I support. The comics are way too straight. And, speaking of which, Moose of all people is gay (very closeted though)!!  I never liked his and Midge’s relationship, so this is great.

  • Archie’s dad is much more sympathetic than the trailer made him out to be.

  • Some super-incestuous vibes between Cheryl and Jason… WTF was the whole boat ride about?

  • Not sure how I feel about the gratuitous kiss between Betty and Veronica as a tactic to get on the cheerleading team. Did it need to happen?

  • All here for Josie and the Pussycats!

  • How did Jughead and Archie fall out? They’ve always been such good friends (in the comics)

  • I’m loving the weird names from the comics in this super serious setting.

Some of the notes I took during my viewing of the pilot episode. As you can tell, I'm committed.

 

So, all-in-all, I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would, but I can see how it could go off the rails. I’m hoping that future episodes will continue to build the friendship between Betty and Veronica, have more Jughead, and acknowledge the problematic power dynamic between Ms. Grundy and Archie. I’ll definitely stick with the show for at least a few more episodes.

 

Image credits: Feature, 1, 2, Katie Dembinski