Riverdale: Season 1 Episode 1 review – Chapter One: The River’s Edge
This review contains spoilers.
If there’s one thing that Archie fans have been, it is patient. The CW announced that they were picking Riverdale up for a full season as as far back as May of 2016, with Archie fans having to subsequently endure more than half a year before the show would grace our screens. Last night, that moment finally arrived and fans got to see precisely what The CW’s Riverdale is made of and how it intends to proceed. Often, with weighty expectations comes disappointment, but that wasn’t the case with Riverdale‘s premier, which succeeded all round in providing beautiful and alluring introduction to the show.
The core four – Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead – for the most part feel like the core four, which is absolutely crucial in order to please the core fan base and respect the source material. Veronica is already calling Archie “Archiekins” (and Archie has already shortened her name to “Ron” in return, which is the sort of thing that warms fans’ heart, including mine). She is also coming across as full “nice girl” so far, despite Alice Cooper’s warnings about what girls like Veronica are like. Curiously, the writers have opted to bypass the entire shallow rich new girl angle, opting instead for a Veronica who fits so easily into Riverdale that it feels as though she’s always been there.
Betty is very much the perfect, down-to-earth girl who seeks to please everyone and does little for herself. There’s a clear intelligence behind her eyes (which is true to the comics) but also a really endearing softness to her ways, which is change from the Betty in both the classic and modern Archie comics, who has more of a bite to her. Perhaps we’re going to see that fire inside her grow (she has already defied her mother, after all, and it’s only taken one episode), but for now she remains more of a beautiful wallflower than a “Riverdale Vixen” (though she is on her way).
Archie himself is portrayed as far more the hunk who is sought after by all (following his Summer figure body changes) than the clumsy oddball who makes a fool of himself. Archie here is cool, calm and confident. Veronica observes this wonderfully, when she tell him: “you’re a little more dangerous than you look, aren’t you,” and Archie replies: “you have no idea.” He then proceeds to kiss Veronica even after having just implied that the only person he’s ever felt love for is the music teacher Geraldine Grundy, whom he has been having a secret affair with.
All of this speaks of a man with boundless confidence, who is far removed from both classic and modern comic book Archie, but it’s a move that I’m personally fine with, because they needed to shed the slapstick comedy anyway (which even the 2015 comics still hold a little) and they needed to have Archie feel like someone who could believably warrant all of this luxurious female attention. It’s a change made to satisfy female viewers too, no doubt, but it’s an amendment that feels right within the context of the whole.
Lastly, Jughead, although not having much to do in this pilot other than narrate, already feels spot on as a weird yet cool friend who invests his time in protecting his friends. It’s a fine move to give him the hobby of creative writing and the role of narrator (though I suspect that the latter might not be a long-term role), because Jughead has always been a character who sits apart and unlike Riverdale’s citizens, observing the town’s machinations from the outside in, just as an omniscient narrator would.
If you asked some of the more shipping-prone Archie fans, ahead of this pilot, what their dream scenarios were for these beloved characters, some of them would have told you that they would like to see Betty and Veronica romantically paired up with one another. There is even various fan art on the notion. So imagine the glee on those fans’ faces when Veronica kissed Betty during the cheerleading audition (not to mention Lili and Camila’s intentional flirtations with one another on social media).
It’s an ingenious way to deliver upon a classic idealised fan shipping fantasy, without actually venturing into a lesbian plot (at least, for the time being) between these two lead female characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the show provides us with a lesbian (or bisexual) female couple eventually, in aid of promoting representation, but this is unlikely to be Veronica paired with Betty, who traditionally fawn over Archie rather than one another.
Instead of a romance, the writers are clearly focusing on building a firm friendship between the Betty and Veronica, which does happen in the comics, but the two are Betty known for their feud over Archie’s affections than their closeness as friends. This begs the question of whether the writers might be building an adorable friendship only so that they can then tear it down horribly, and the cracks are already beginning to show, due to Veronica’s betrayal of Betty’s designs over Archie.
When delving into the season’s supposed villain (Madelaine Petsch said this herself), Cheryl is powerful, brutal, yet clearly not as strong as she likes to present on the surface, as can be seen from her expression when Veronica decides to attack her during the cheerleading audition. Add to this musical adeptness in the form of some alluring song from Archie’s personal catalogue and comic book legends Josie and the Pussycats, and even little faithful additions like Pop Tate’s Chock’lit Shop and you have one hell of a perfect picture, painted with painstaking care and attention by the writers.
The one daring element that some believe Archie fans might not like, but which I would argue is both ingenious and the key to drawing in new audiences, is the dark, Twin Peaks-esque approach in the form of a murder mystery. In a year in which Twin Peaks itself is returning for a new season, standing on the shoulders of one of television’s greatest and most respected shows is no bad thing, and I’m confident that Riverdale will deviate enough from Mark Frost and David Lynch’s masterpiece in order to tread their own path through the murder mystery in a quaint town trope.
We’ve already had the reveal that Jason Blossom was shot in the head, which we partially knew anyway from the gunshot in the flashback of Archie and Geraldine’s love affair in the woods. When it comes to who committed the murder, Cheryl herself is no doubt a candidate, having been alone with her brother, but odds are that the season will tease a few different candidates before the ultimate reveal (which I hope comes within Season 1 and not later). The writers just need to be cautious to avoid the kind of relentless red herring teasing that went on in Season 1 of the U.S. The Killing (as great as that show was), which did put some viewers off at the time.
Riverdale‘s pilot was calm, collected, visually stunning and brimming full of layered characters who overflow with potential. The show is more than faithful enough to the comics at this stage to please hardcore Archie fans, and the liberties that is does take are worthwhile and engineered for a purpose. For me, this long-awaited show not only lived up to the hype, but also revealed a poise and confidence above what I expected. As long as the show keeps progressing in this vein, I can foresee Riverdale becoming a true favourite and one of those shows that I fervently look forward to every week.
Image credits: The CW