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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. The rest of the gang's around, too. But man, have things changed. Forget innocent jaunts for a chocolate shake: Archie and his pals are dealing with sex, affairs, murder and cult activity. These days, the quaint town of Riverdale is filled with the grimy crime of Breaking Bad's Albuquerque, the supernatural intrigue of an X-Files episode and the sexual escapades (sometimes between teens and adults) of '80s-era Dynasty—all wrapped up in a soapy, smarmy, teen-centric veneer.

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 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 or causing ruckus in Riverdale. And while many of these moms and dads do love their children, they're divvied up into three 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. And then there are the parents who’re making trouble of their own.

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 (a prime plot-point in Season One) is a little like giving Kermit and 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.

In one episode, Jughead and Betty look fondly into each other's eyes at the local diner. "I wish we could just go," Jughead says, looking as sad as a guy named Jughead can look. "Just hop on a motorcycle and leave Riverdale."

You and me both, Jugs. You and me both.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

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Plot Summary

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Other Belief Systems

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Oct. 9, 2019: “Chapter Fifty-Eight: In Memoriam”
Dec. 13, 2018: “Chapter Forty-Three: Outbreak”
Oct. 17, 2018: "Chapter Thirty-Seven: Fortune and Men's Eyes"
Riverdale: May 16, 2018 "Chapter Thirty-Five: Brave New World"
Riverdale: May 2, 2018 "Chapter Thirty-Three: Shadow of a Doubt"
Riverdale: April 18, 2018 "Chapter Thirty-One: A Night to Remember"
Riverdale: Jan. 31, 2018 "Chapter Twenty Five: The Wicked and the Divine"
Riverdale: Nov. 6, 2017 "Chapter Eighteen: When a Stranger Calls"
Riverdale: Jan. 25, 2017 "Chapter One: The River's Edge"



Readability Age Range





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; Mark Consuelos as Hiram 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; Skeet Ulrich as FP Jones; Martin Cummins as Sheriff Tom Keller; Robin Givens as Mayor Sierra McCoy; Scott McNeil as Tall Boy and Hart Denton as Chic Cooper; Vanessa Morgan as Toni Topaz; Charles Melton as Reggie Mantle






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