As a kid, I was really into Archie Comics. By “into” I mean REALLY into—I obsessively read the digests, double digests (smaller books with more stories than regular sized comics) and single issue comics that I owned (usually one or more a day), begged my mom to get me one every time we went into a store that sold them, eagerly looked forward to when I could read the stash of issues from the Sixties and Seventies in my mom’s childhood home, and knew every character’s name and backstory by heart. Once I practically cried tears of joy when I found a box of ten double digests that I had never read at a tag sale.
My love for the characters and their stories continued into my teens, long past the time I felt totally unselfconscious about buying one for myself. The biggest reason was that I went away for the last three years of high-school, otherwise I honestly would have continued buying the comics, especially because the writers had recently introduced the first gay character into the main series.
One might think, then, that when I heard about the new TV series based on the characters that’s coming out in 2017 I would be super excited. In theory it sounds like a great idea to follow characters throughout the year and see them actually progress as people instead of staying static. Unfortunately my misgivings began almost immediately when I heard it would be broadcast on The CW, home to many of my favorite shows, but more known for edgy teen dramas rather than wacky, family-friendly comedies, which is the vibe of the comics.
Some context for those who might not know Archie Comics as well as I do: the series follows a teenager named Archie Andrews—a clumsy, red-headed teen who’s a mixture of dorky and cool—his zany friends, and their crazy adventures. A few of the most famous supporting characters include Jughead Jones, Archie’s perpetually hungry, girl-avoiding best friend, and of course his two main love interests Betty Cooper (a blonde, all-American type of girl next door) and Veronica Lodge (a raven-haired, popular, rich girl). All their adventures are very PG rated, and nothing racier happens beyond the girls wearing bikinis and the occasional kiss.
I’m worried, because it looks like the TV show is going to change that tone, in major ways.
I didn’t think much about the show for a while, mostly ignoring the casting news because I didn’t recognize most of the actors (except for Cole Sprouse, of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, who’s playing Jughead[!]). But then, when I saw the first trailer my heart sank. This Riverdale looks … different—dark and somewhat sinister. The event that kicks off the action is apparently the murder of Jason Blossom, a local teen (and minor character in the comics). Now, it’s not the murder specifically that makes me worried. Archie and the gang get into plenty of perilous situations (Witches! Vampires! Evil corporations!) and I’d be willing to have a network show be heavier than the source material.
What worries me, however, is the fact that even more than the tone of the world, it seems like the characters’ essential natures have been changed. In the comics Archie is an unself-conscious kind of goofy dude who’s kind of a ladies’ man but isn’t especially suave. In the (admittedly short) trailer he comes across as a slick, too-cool-for-school, player who not only starts making out clandestinely with Veronica in a coat room but also is having. an affair. with a TEACHER. Let me repeat that. ARCHIE, that squeaky-clean emblem of teenagedom, is having an affair with a TEACHER. Sorry, I just can’t keep my cool.
I want to make it clear, I do not want to shame him for having sexual encounters or being interested in that. In fact, one of the things I got frustrated with as I got older when reading the comics was the oddly muted sexuality of the characters. I would have been perfectly happy to see how the showrunners dealt with that IF they could have done it in a way that honored the characters’ roots. Archie is not a conniving type, and from what I could see in the trailer that is exactly the route they’re taking him down. Sneaking around people’s backs and conducting illicit affairs just does not jibe with the almost seventy-five years of established character traits.
Another character that bothered me in the trailer was Betty. In the comics, Betty is one of the sweetest people, is known for helping others, and is generally the all-around best character. Unfortunately, her one line in the trailer (to Archie) is: “I have a fantasy of us as a power couple.” Um, no. Just. No. She would never say that. Sigh. I guess I have to face that she would never say that in the comics, but the TV show is going to be a whole different beast. And that’s what I’m going to have to face—that the show will be completely different. If I can somehow forget how much I love the comics and how different everything is, I might be able to enjoy it. We’ll see. I’ll let you know.