In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Available on Netflix. New episode every Friday
Which would you rather make: the next Twin Peaks or the next Smallville? It’s not as easy a choice as you might think. Sure, Twin Peaks is revered enough that it’s coming back after 25 years and it gets mentioned in all manner of “Top n shows in TV history” lists whereas Smallville never won and never will win any critics awards for its fine storytelling. But Smallville also lasted a record-breaking 10 seasons to become the longest-running North American science-fiction series, whereas Twin Peaks never even made it to three.
In its first episode, Riverdale seemed to be aiming to be the new Twin Peaks. A reimagining of the long-lasting American comic book Archie set in a genial small town, complete with a classic love triangle in the form of swell guy and gals Archie, Veronica and Betty, Riverdale updated it, put new spins on all the old characters and then threw in a murder-mystery for luck. Replete with ravishing visuals and smart dialogue, it gave younger and older viewers plenty to enjoy, including thrills and excitement, without sacrificing the comic’s generally genial atmosphere.
Since then, the show has started to change into something a bit more conventional and ‘teenish’. Episode two occupied a halfway house between the old aesthetic and the new aesthetic, with the show trying to be both a dark murder mystery and a full-on comedy and not quite working as it shifted between tones. Nevertheless, the bonding between Betty and Veronica was well executed and the dialogue maintained its smartness, at least. And, of course, we got Jossy and the Pussycats singing their own version of classic The Archies song ‘Sugar, Sugar’:
Episode three continued the descent in quality by being a modern-day “Very Special Episode” about slut-shaming that decided to take in Wild Things along the way for no well defined reason. Smartness and sassiness generally went down a hole, and the need for the very white Archie’s musical ambitions to bear fruit via the all-black, all-female Josie and the Pussycats led to a nails-on-chalkboard attempt to square that particular circle… as well as yet another musical number in the style of Smallville‘s frequent trips to ‘the Talon’.
Riverdale‘s not entirely lost sight of its original ambitions and episode three has the rather marvellous suggestion that sweet as apple pie Betty might have multiple personality disorder and could even be her own crazy (murderous) twin sister, Polly. But the adults have stopped being adult and have started to become cliched, and the murder-mystery side of things has become more than a little silly. Coupled with the continuing inappropriate and probably illegal relationship between Archie and his music teacher, where it’s hard to tell which is the adult and which is the child, and it’s all starting to feel far less promising than when it started.
There could still be plenty of mileage in Riverdale – after all, not every episode of Twin Peaks was a classic, let alone Smallville. It’s still got a winning cast and a reasonably strong foundation. It just needs to decide what it wants to do in life.