We’ve long championed The CW as the most fire network on television, but as of late, the programming on the network can either be categorized as quirky twenty-thirtysomething comedies, DC’s entire television universe, or Supernatural. The hallmarks that made both The WB and UPN (who fell in love and merged into The CW in 2006) the prom kings of television like Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, or Gossip Girl haven’t really existed on the network as of late. And I don’t know about you, but there’s been a teen drama void that needs filling after shows like Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries (tbh I completely forgot this was still on air) have lasted long past their expiration date.
So, welcome to Riverdale, The CW’s new and much needed foray into the teen drama waters! And yes, every “Gossip Girl meets The O.C. meets Twin Peaks” take or tweet you’ve seen about the show is true. Based on the iconic Archie comics, Riverdale takes the characters and love triangle between Archie, Betty and Veronica that have existed in pop culture for 76 years and modernizes them with a murder mystery spin. Per typical CW fashion, there are hot people (and abs) galore, #woke storylines, and some of the delicious teen drama we’ve all been craving.
Riverdale is THE new show you should be watching, so fellow CW loyalist Frazier Tharpe and I linked up to convince you why.
Kerensa: Frazier, you and I have bonded over our love of a good (and sometimes bad) teen drama, a la The O.C., Veronica Mars, Buffy, and honestly The CW’s programming as a whole. I was pretty excited about Riverdale when I first read about it awhile ago but I was also a little unsure, because anything described as "gritty" these days is extremely worrisome. Especially when it comes to a remake of the Archie comics, which are anything but. However, I have missed having a solid teen show to watch as of late, and I'm always intrigued when something references Twin Peaks as an inspiration (shout out Atlanta).
Frazier: I didn't realize how much I was dying for a new Teen Show until I was hooked within like 15 minutes of this pilot. I don't care how much Prestige TV you fucking watch, television viewing is like a food pyramid. And anyone who doesn't carve space for a junk-food melodrama at the top has suss taste imo. Riverdale checks all the boxes before the pilot ep is even over. Early 20s Hollister store greeters playing 15 year-olds? Yup. A salacious murder mystery; romances both forbidden and unrequited; even intrigue spread among the parents. And most importantly, a feeling of a universe, which is what sold me the most to be honest. I love when shows like this build out a fully realized world with recurring characters and settings that only deepen as the plot contracts, like the way the local town gang starts to factor in by episode 4.
But you make a good point. We're overburdened with "gritty," #dark, Moody™ reboots these days. I have absolutely no reference point for Archie Comics what with a early 90s birthdate and all. So I throw it to you, no shade, for context: is it weird watching Archie characters brood over secrets and lies instead of soda floats? Could this show have gone full Chance The Rapper and been a bright beacon in a landscape of darker visions?
Kerensa: I mean as an OLD, I read and poured over Archie comics as a kid—both new ones and old ones my mom had from her childhood. I was obviously a big Veronica fan but I will say as I got older the cheeriness of the comics felt so forced and weird to me. And I think that seems to be something that the Archie writers realized in the last 10 years by introducing political storylines, gay characters, etc. I mean, the murder mystery is certainly an EXTREME way for them to go, but somehow the setting fits for me? It's like both modern and weirdly evocative of ‘50s melodrama—very Peyton Place. It kinda hints that there was always something darker at the core of the Archie comics in a way that really works. Plus, like you said, everyone is Hollister store greeter hot, which is great. It's a good, soapy, dark mess. How are you feeling about the mood of it?
Frazier: Mood is what it's coasting on. To be fair, as someone who grew up on Josh Schwartz and Kristen Bell solving crimes, this isn't cream of the crop just yet. The dialogue is forced at times—"you totally would've been a trending topic last year," someone reassures newcomer Veronica. And admittedly you don't come to this show for the thespians, but Madelaine Petsch is distractingly bad as reigning town bitch Cheryl Blossom. She should be chewing scenery, not stumbling on line readings. But this isn't a case of settling for subpar material just because few shows are putting on for the genre right now. There's genuine potential here and not just on an addicting soap level. Episode 3 levels out the forced Youth Jargon for a subplot that's essentially a woke take on slut-shaming and feminism but pared down on a believable high school level. I'm definitely curious to see what other issues the show will tackle...while still unfurling a ridiculous murder around them.
Kerensa: You aren't here for Cheryl Blossom? Yeah, she's certainly, thus far, not the most talented member of the cast—but do you really need the most generic teen bitch character to be nuanced? That wasn't a really big problem for me.
I think there's a ridiculous amount of potential here—I do agree that the dialogue is a little ridiculous but #tbt when they said that same thing about Dawson's Creek when it first started. (Were you alive for that?) And I'm super into how they've done "big issue" on this kind of smaller scale—especially with the whole slut-shaming/feminism plot. Also, I don’t know about you, but I love how queer the show is. Granted, we really only have one "confirmed" LGBT character, but the whole show feels fluid in the way it's exploring gender and sexuality. I'm really excited to see where that goes.
Frazier: Cheryl sucks, Archie's kind of there, and Jughead may be *too* emo if there is such a thing—but thankfully, Betty and Veronica are more than capable of putting the show on their backs. Veronica's our point of entry as the town newbie, the sassy out-of-towner ready to shake shit up, Betty's the Girl Next Door with a possibly bipolar twist, and together Camila Mendes and Lili Reinhart are bodying everything in their path—the Coop and Summer, Serena and Blairs of 2017. Add their frenemy dance in with everything we listed above and I really don't see how Riverdale doesn't become not only The CW's next hit, but the next Cool Teen smash overall. A solid pilot sets up stories and arcs that go full Six Flags all over the place...and where we left off at episode 4, the world is still expanding. Side note: What the hell is Jughead's life even? Does this series really expect us to keep referring to him as Jughead with a straight face or can we get a nickname soon please.
Kerensa: You think Archie's just there?! He's a songwriter! He has ABS! But you are totally right in that Betty and Veronica pair and their magnetic dynamic are the clear show stealers. I'm curious about Jughead as well, and Cole Sprouse has talked a bit about Jughead on the show versus the comics, specifically about representing his asexuality, which is really interesting. On a total nerd tip, I LOVE that all the parents on the show are actors/actresses who were so well known for their teen roles—Madchen Amick from Twin Peaks (which you STILL need to watch), Luke Perry from 90210, plus the recent casting of MOLLY RINGWALD as Archie's mom? Come on! So, since you and I are fully on board for this, why would you tell someone to watch tonight?
Frazier: Um, for Camila Mendes? Or, alternatively I guess, Archie's abs? But in all seriousness: Come for the soapy deliciousness, stay for the clear-cut and immediate signs that this might truly mature into a worthy successor of whatever show helped define your youth and gave you an unwavering affinity for watching dumb teens get into fuckshit. This is one to bet on.