Wednesday, January 25, 2017

‘Riverdale’ is Not the Place We Remember

Archie (KJ Apa), Veronica (Camila Mendes), Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and
Betty (Lili Reinhart) from Riverdale. (The CW)

TV SHOW REVIEW

It’s hard to believe that Archie Comics is 75 years old but it might be even harder to believe that comic book empire chose The CW’s new show, Riverdale, to celebrate that milestone. That is if you haven’t been aware of the comic’s various different attempts to stay “cool” for the last several years. If you are like most people, you still see the family Archie digest books in the grocery checkout lines. For the most part, those haven’t changed. Archie and friend are still as innocent as always there. But if you more of a comic book store consumer, you are well aware that Archie has married, died, been attacked by zombies and who knows what else.

Riverdale could have been a family-friendly sitcom, but instead, it’s a teen-angst drama with college aged actors playing high schoolers (some more convincingly than others) with a lot more sexual overtones than you could have ever imagined when reading the comics when you were a kid. Archie and his pals all act a lot older, get involved in more “adult” situations and you find yourself asking often, “Where are these kids parents?”



(Archie and his dad)
One thing that the show gets right is giving each character their own distinct personality and traits. Most of the characters resemble their cartoon doppelgangers, but there are some bigger changes too. More on that coming up.

The pilot episode is full of shocking moments for longtime fans. The new show takes place at the beginning of a new school year and the town is still having a difficult time with death of one of their own. Jason Blossom, brother and twin of Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), drowned in the Sweetwater river. (Cheryl and her brother were rarely, if ever, featured in the regular Archie comics. Cheryl had her own line of comics, so that is why you may not have heard of her before.) It appears that these two had an odd relationship for a brother and sister.

Betty
Archie (KJ Apa) is all buff after working with his father (Luke Perry) all summer. His parents are divorced and Archie lives with this dad. (His mother, played by Molly Ringwald, is expected to appear in future episodes.) Archie isn’t as squeaky clean as he used to be either. Over the summer developed a love affair with Ms. Grundy (Sarah Habel), who looks nothing like the old white-haired spinster of the comics. In fact, his own dad says, (not knowing about the affair) “They didn’t make ‘em like that when I was in school.” Habel is also probably the worst actress in the series, which doesn’t help.

Veronica and her mom.
Betty (Lili Reinhart) lives next door to Archie and the two have grown up as best friends. She has a crush on him, but he doesn’t have romantic feelings for her. The show hints that Betty might become unhinged in later episodes. Her older sister is in a mental hospital and her mother Alice (Mädchen Amick) is a piece of work. She blames Jason Blossom for the reason why Betty’s sister is in the hospital. For what, we don’t know.

Betty is first seen in her bedroom in her bra talking to a boy. That’s okay though because he’s Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), the series’ openly gay character that was added years ago.

Archie’s pal Jughead (Cole Sprouse) is no longer the laid back, joking and junkfood-eating sidekick. He’s is now an inspiring writer chronicling all of the town’s recent events. Veronica (Camila Mendes) is the new girl in town. Yes, she’s rich and apparently wasn’t very nice at her old school, but wants to make up for it here. Her father is in prison and her mother (Marisol Nichols) grew up in Riverdale and knows many of the teens’ parents.

Cheryl
Reggie Mantle (Ross Bulter) is a one-note character and is barely seen in the show’s first episodes. As a kid, I hated him. Cheryl’s character more than makes up for his lack of screen time. For a young woman so upset that her brother is dead, she seems to recover pretty quickly and is the least likeable character in the show.

Josie and the Pussycats are now a trio of African American girls who act as if they are outcasts, but the show never show’s anything to prove this.

Kevin
The biggest problem I have with this new series is its view of casual sex. While helping Betty get a spot on the cheerleading squad, Veronica tells her to “not freak out” and begins to kiss her during the auditions. While the event is shocking to Betty and the viewers, it’s not to Cheryl, who is the leader. In the three episodes that follow, this action is not repeated. Later in the episode, Kevin tells Betty that he was propositioned by a football player in the men’s room. The two later wander off in the woods where the football player tells Kevin that he isn’t gay, but is interested in “doing everything but kissing.” In another episode, Kevin’s dad tells him that he doesn’t want Kevin “cruising in the woods” and says, “Isn’t there any cute guys at school?”

Josie
Oddly though, one episode deals with the issue of (excuse my language, their words, not mine) “slut shaming” where some of the girls are made to look as if they went farther while on a date with some of the boys than they really did. It’s all about girl empowerment, which is great, but how Betty and Veronica decide to deal with the situation is plenty disconcerting.

Riverdale isn’t a great show, but it could be worse. Most of the characters are likeable, there are genuine moments of true friendship and caring for others and the mystery regarding Jason’s death is intriguing, but the show is more over-the-top than realistic. It’s too silly for adults and too inappropriate for children. The show feels like another version of Beverly Hills 90210 but wishes it was something more. Before you let your teens watch it, I would strongly suggest that you watch the first episode with them and then decide. As for The CW, I wish that they would go back to the drawing board with this one.

Riverdale airs on Thursdays at 9:00 p.m. on the CW.