We’re living through the Golden Age of Television (what a time to be alive / barely functioning human beings glued to our VOD service of choice). At the same time, it’s also the Age of Adapting the Golden Age of Comic Books.
Comic book characters making a leap to the big screen has resulted in some of the biggest box office hits of the past decade. it's all thanks to Marvel’s thoroughly entertaining scripts and catchy soundtracks, and DC’s… Well, DC’s ability to bring Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale together for the Batman we all deserve, and the type of Batman we need to see more of in the coming Justice League flicks.
Comic books translated to the small screen have been just as successful. There’s Arrow, Gotham, The Flash, Supergirl, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, as well as darker titles like The Walking Dead and Preacher. The trend is showing no signs of slowing down, with Legion, Iron Fist, The Defenders, The Punisher, and Powerless out this year alone.
But there’s one comic book adaptation no one saw coming: the television series based around Archie Comics, Riverdale.
Developed and written by Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer, Roberto Aguire-Sacasa, who has been experimenting with the comic book franchise over the past few years (including publishing Afterlife with Archie, a series where the gang have to deal with a zombie apocalypse), Riverdale seems to be another reinvention. It’s not just Spider-Man who can get re-booted every five-to-eight years.
The sister series published by Archie Comics – Sabrina the Teenage Witch – also had a television adaptation back in the day, running from 1996 to 2003. Riverdale is about as far from that wholesome, talking-cat-inhabited world as you can imagine. There have been three episodes to date, and a darker, sexier, student-teacher-relationship-ier vibe has been well and truly established.
Riverdale has the overwrought mystery and drama of Pretty Little Liars, the love triangles of shows like Gossip Girl, and even a dash of Twin Peaks. While not exactly David Lynchian, this small town has secrets – and teenagers are turning up dead. (Well, the body count is currently at one – but who knows where things will be standing by the end of episode four).
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you would probably prefer to throw a burning cup of herb-infused water in your own face than watch Riverdale. You have been warned.
As the series begins, the disconcertingly ripped Archie Andrews (played by New Zealand actor K. J. Apa, with a fairly convincing accent and less convincing red hair), has realised that his true passion is song writing, not football. Oh, and part of this realisation seems to have been influenced by his secret summer affair with music teacher Ms Grundy (Sarah Habel).
Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) is planning on telling her best friend Archie that she loves him when school starts back up – but a spanner is thrown in the works with the appearance of a new student in town, the sophisticated Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes).
And then there’s the matter of the Blossom family, with the high school’s queen bee Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) still in mourning after the disappearance of her twin brother, Jason. (Remember when I mentioned that darker tone a few paragraphs ago? Here there are some not-so-subtle shadings of incest).
One of the best things about Riverdale so far – aside from it’s very on trend soundtrack – is that it quickly moves past the elements of the comic book that would hold a TV show back. Rather than devoting an endless number of episodes establishing a rivalry for Archie’s affection between Betty and Veronica - that story line feels like it’s already played itself out - by the end of episode one.
Betty and Veronica in Riverdale are true friends, rather than frenemies – and each of them takes on characteristics that you might reasonably expect the other to embody. Riverdale’s Veronica is on a quest for redemption, and while she remains a badass b*tch queen, her genuine goodness is just as important to the narrative. Betty, on the other hand, is altogether more tightly wound, brittle and damaged. Episode three gives the audience their first look at 'Dark Betty,', and I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.
The best episode to date has, in fact, been episode three. This episode sees Betty and Veronica teaming up to bring down a gang of entitled, nasty high school football players, who spend their days sexually-shaming girls, as well as circulating demeaning images of the female population at school, and keeping a tally on the women they have bedded.
Plus, in this episode we get introduced to Ethel Muggs – played by Stranger Things’ Barb, Shannon Purser. #JusticeforEthel is #JusticeforBarb. (Although, just putting it out there, I predict Ethel is going to turn out to be a villain in a few episodes. I’m writing it down here so that I have somewhere to point to later, when I turn out to be right).
Riverdale is ridiculous – but it's ridiculousness is what has made it such enjoyable viewing so far.