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TV Series Review

Ah, Riverdale—the happy, innocent home of Archie, Jughead, Betty and the gang. It's a place of pure Americana, an idealized portrait of heartland life. It's home to Pop Tate's Chocklit Shoppe, Pickens Park and, of course, Riverdale High School.

For much of its pop-culture history, not much happened in Riverdale. Sure, Archie pondered whom to date: girl-next-door Betty or the glamorous-but-sometimes-conniving Veronica. He and his friends would struggle in school or get lost in the woods or, perhaps, unwisely try to learn to play the bagpipes. But generally, Riverdale was a carefree place, untouched by the gales and swamps found in the outside world.

"Archie was a primer on an existence that was insistently wholesome, perpetually teen-aged," wrote Emma Cline in The New Yorker of the classic comic book series. "The characters made fudge and kept up Teddy-bear collections, called their cars 'jalopies' and entered radio contests. The weather in Riverdale was always sunny, unless it was neatly snowing, and no one aged or suffered beyond one or two pages of slapstick conflict."

It was a refuge of sorts—an idyllic, domestic fantasy. A little like Disneyland, only with far cheaper chocolate shakes. Now, CW is asking viewers to revisit the innocent hamlet of Riverdale again. And while it's still a fantasy, this version is far from innocent.

A Red-Headed Stepchild

Archie's still around, of course, and he's a hunk. We know because Kevin, Betty's gay BFF, says so. ("Game changer!" He says, ogling the high school sophomore through a nearby window. "Archie got hot!") Archie is the new high school quarterback and a fledgling musical prodigy—not interested in bubblegum musical confections like "Sugar Sugar," but rather brooding, angsty love songs that may or may not be about Miss Grundy, a Riverdale music teacher with whom he had an illicit affair last summer.

Grundy and Arch are history, though—or so both insist, even though Archie talked Grundy into giving him private musical tutoring sessions. No, these days, Archie's love interests are more age-appropriate: Betty, whom Archie mainly sees as his best friend (he and Jughead apparently had a falling out); exotic newcomer Veronica; oh, and just perhaps Riverdale queen bee, Cheryl Blossom, who might seduce the guy just to tick Betty off.

Riverdale also holds some terrible secrets underneath its small-town mask, secrets even darker than the Archie-Grundy affair. No, it's that Cheryl's twin brother, Jason, was murdered, and someone—maybe several someones—know more about it than they're letting on.

Yeah, that'll foster a little conversation at Pop Tate's, that's for sure.

Wouldn't Want to Live There

Riverdale thinks itself clever. And at times, it can be. If the comic book Riverdale was a place out of time, CW's version is steeped in literary and pop-culture references, from Veronica name-dropping Truman Capote and Toni Morrison to Josie McCoy (à la Josie and the Pussycats) calling Arch "Justin Gingerlake."

But if the writing aspires to be like The Gilmore Girls, its plot is pure Pretty Little Liars. Only a bit more trashy and tawdry.

The show is preoccupied with sex—heterosexual, homosexual, potentially incestuous, whatever. Sometimes, the leap from the classroom to the bedroom is made with less thought than deciding what to wear in the morning. (In the pilot, for instance, Kevin and macho football player Moose run off into the woods to engage in some impromptu, fleeting carnal pleasures, with Moose insisting that he's open to everything but "kissing.")

Where are these kids' parents, you ask? Shoved primly away in the background. And while many of these moms and dads do love their children, they're divvied up into two categories. The good parents understand their children and, thus, let them do whatever they want. The bad parents are those who have, like, rules and stuff.

Sex? Scandal? Yep, it's all here. Riverdale is what would happen if a high school yearbook and Gawker had a baby.

Not that the content is exactly remarkable in today's age of tawdry teen dramedies. But the fact that CW has subverted Riverdale's historically innocent vibe so purposefully and ruthlessly makes me sad. I know Archie's comic-based tales have grown significantly darker and more problematic themselves in recent years, but c'mon. Having Archie have sex with Miss Grundy is a little like giving Kermit or Miss Piggy a sex tape, or forcing a gun in Batman's hands and making him kill. (Thanks for that, Zac Snyder.) It just doesn't feel right.

Which, of course, is partly the point. We all feel this disconnect, which has earned Riverdale a modicum of attention in an overcrowded landscape. Maybe the strategy is akin to being a middle kid in a big family: To get attention, sometimes you set the cat on fire.

But is it wise to gratify that sort of shockbait with our eyeballs? I think not. At least I won't be revisiting Riverdale anytime soon.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Riverdale: Jan. 25, 2017 "Chapter One: The River's Edge"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

K.J. Apa as Archie Andrews; Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper; Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge; Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones; Marisol Nichols as Hermione Lodge; Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom; Ashleigh Murray as Josie McCoy; Casey Cott as Kevin Keller; Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper; Luke Perry as Fred Andrews; Lochlyn Munro as Hal Cooper

Director

Distributor

Network

CW

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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