If all you know about American comics involves superheroics, Archie is a bit of a surprise. First published in 1939, Archie is one of the few comics consistently still sold in US supermarkets, its sales often matching those of Batman at times, and it’s launched numerous spin-off titles in its time, too – UK readers might not have heard of him, but you’ll have heard of Josie and the Pussycats, who first started life in Archie‘s Riverdale.
Archie‘s success is odd, since it’s not about fights, threats to the world, crime and existential angst. Instead, it’s all about red-haired teenager Archie Andrews and his life, love, dreams and friendships in a 50s-esque small town, with a particular focus on his near-eternal love-triangle between girl next-door Betty Cooper and rich girl Veronica Lodge.
The idea of an Archie TV series therefore sounds a bit bizarre. The idea of it being made by Greg Berlanti sounds even stranger. Sure, Berlanti is the king of TV comic-book adaptations at the moment, with Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow swelling The CW’s airwaves already and yet more in the pipeline. But those are all superhero comics and that’s just not Archie.
Yet in the hands of both Berlanti and Archie Comics’ chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Riverdale is actually delightful. Just delightful. Despite it being full of murder.
It takes a certain amount chutzpah to try to do Twin Peaks again in the exact same year that said show returns to our screens, yet Riverdale is effectively the ‘Twin Peaks-isation’ of Riverdale, taking all the familiar elements of the comics, throwing them up in the air, adding in a murder-mystery, then seeing where they all land in the present day.
Here, Archie (Shortland Street‘s KJ Apa) is a would-be musician and potential member of the Varsity football team. Having spent the summer working for his dad’s construction company, he’s now got abs to die for, giving best friend Betty (Surviving Jack‘s Lili Reinhart), Betty’s gay best friend Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) and members of the football team girl, boy and bro boners aplenty. Even members of the faculty find it hard to keep their hands off Archie – although Josie and her Pussycats seem immune to his charms.
Betty – who’d quite like her and Archie’s friendship to be something more – is all ready to make a play for him and invite him to the dance, when into the Chock’lit Shoppe diner walks Veronica (Camila Mendes), the daughter of rich but disgraced Hiram Lodge, who’s relocated back to her mother (24‘s Marisol Nichols)’s home town of Riverdale to start a new life. Instantly, she attracts Archie’s attention.
However, Archie’s not quite himself because of what happened over the summer. What happened over the summer? Well, that’s Archie’s secret, but as narrator Jughead (Cole Sprause) reveals as he types out his novel at the diner, it might well have something to do with the mysterious disappearance of Jason Blossom, twin brother of the town’s chief mean girl Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch).
What’s fascinating about the show is how nice it is – almost a modern day Dawson’s Creek or Hidden Palms – with literate, mature teenagers having deep, meaningful conversations with one another and generally being nice and witty. Veronica and Betty may be in a love triangle with Archie, but they also become fast friends, Veronica turning over a new leaf in her life following her father’s disgrace to want to be more than just a stereotypical rich b*tch. And there’s a scene of just Betty dancing by herself that’s almost pure joy.
Indeed, everyone’s almost impossibly mature, with Cheryl Blossom putting Betty down as being “fat, like season 5 Betty Draper”, Veronica making over Betty later on to become “like season 1 Betty Draper”. Mad Men references? It’s a sign the audience for the show isn’t expected to just be teenagers. In fact, with the likes of Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks) and Luke Perry (Beverly Hills 90210) playing Betty’s mum and Archie’s dad respectively, it’s clear that the show wants to attract the interest of Archie readers who were teenagers in the 90s, too.
Even if you never read Archie, try Riverdale as it’s a delightful show for people of all ages – one that avoids the saccharine with its surprising twisting of the story into Lynchian territory.