Riverdale Review The CW Archie Reboot Premiere

Riverdale Review: Archie Gets a Dark, Moody Update… and Surprise, It Works!

TV Review Grade B+There are about a million ways that The CW’s Riverdale — a slick new reboot of the classic Archie comics — could’ve gone horribly wrong. (See: NBC’s Emerald City.) And yet the new year is full of surprises, because Riverdale (premiering Thursday, Jan. 26 at 9/8c) actually turns out to be an artfully crafted, instantly engaging teen soap with loads of potential.

It’s an unexpected revival, to be sure, because the original comic-book hi-jinks of 1950s teens Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead are about as dated as sock hops and chocolate malts. But the Archie comics have been given a 21st-century revamp in recent years, proving that the franchise draws on strong archetypes that still resonate: The All-American boy. The girl next door. The rich girl. The nerd. And Riverdale cleverly uses those archetypes as a jumping-off point to tell a freshly compelling — and darker than expected — story.

Riverdale PhotosRiverdale‘s Archie (K.J. Apa) is a football player blossoming into a hunk — as one character observes, “he’s got abs now!” — with dreams of being a musician. Betty (Lili Reinhart) is Archie’s best friend… and wants to be more than that. But the arrival of new classmate Veronica (Camila Mendes) makes for a juicy love triangle. Well, rectangle, if you count Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel), the music teacher Archie had a steamy summer fling with. And then there’s the mysterious death of local golden boy Jason Blossom… (In this post-Pretty Little Liars world, of course somebody ends up dead.)

The Archie universe offers Riverdale a wealth of characters to work with, but creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Supergirl, Glee) wisely keeps what serves his story and gets rid of the rest. (Betty’s gay best friend Kevin, played by Casey Cott, is a nice addition to the usual gang.) And the dialogue feels current, thanks to a sharply self-aware sense of humor: Archie is referred to as “Justin Gingerlake” at one point, and Jason’s head-cheerleader twin sister Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) is a rich source of bitchy quips.

The young cast of newcomers is convincing throughout, especially Reinhart as Betty, the Adderall-popping overachiever who’s tired of being the “nice girl” all the time. And the adult cast is filled with familiar faces, led by 90210 alum Luke Perry — who knows a thing or two about being a TV teen idol — as Archie’s grizzled dad Fred, and Twin Peaks‘ Mädchen Amick as Betty’s domineering mom Alice. The decision to make Jughead (Cole Sprouse) a sarcastic recluse who’s estranged from his pal Archie doesn’t quite work, at least not early on. But his role as world-weary narrator has room to grow as the show’s mysteries deepen.

And yes, that’s “mysteries,” plural: What happened to Betty’s institutionalized sister Polly, who used to date Jason? Why is Veronica’s dad Hiram in legal trouble, and what’s with the fat bag of cash he left for Veronica’s mom? Was Jason murdered? And if so, whodunnit? Riverdale‘s pilot expertly sets up a number of tantalizing plot threads for the writers to tug on all season long.

But the main plot thread, of course, is the love triangle between Archie, Betty and Veronica. If that doesn’t work, the whole operation falls apart. But it does work, thanks to the trio of young actors, and the show is smart to make Betty and Veronica more than just love rivals. The added intrigue of Archie’s affair with Miss Grundy is admittedly a little creepy — he’s only a sophomore! — but then again, it’s meant to be creepy. Riverdale revels in exposing the dark underbelly of this suburban utopia, adding a sinister undertone of secrets, lies and murder. (It even looks ominous; it’s like there’s a perpetual layer of fog hanging over the town of Riverdale.)

It’s a real high-wire act, blending teen soap, a murder mystery, biting humor and a beloved franchise. But Aguirre-Sacasa and uber-producer Greg Berlanti (who, with NBC’s Blindspot and The CW’s superhero lineup, seemingly has the magic touch these days) manage it all in surprisingly nimble fashion. In fact, the show Riverdale reminds me of the most is The O.C. — another show that took a seemingly worn-out teen-soap formula and reenergized it to create something altogether new… and addictive.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Riverdale updates the classic Archie comics with surprising skill, offering a sharp wit and a wealth of mysteries to solve.

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43 Comments
  1. Ian says:

    Teen soap, love triangles plus an affair with a teacher, white kids… there’s no convincing me this is good, it’s just got too many bland, shallow, and tired tropes and elements it’s built on. I know this show is overhyped.
    Im not giving it more than 10 minutes. It might start out fun like Shannara with a brand hook, before it comes too obvious it’s just another Ryan Murphy-like trainwreck.

    • They made Josie Black for people like you.

      • myrcellasear says:

        @Nicolas Mailloux Notice how Josie wasn’t mentioned in the write-up? Guess she’s not that important. Also, sad to say for people like YOU, Reggie is Asian. And also not mentioned! Not that I’m accusing TVLine of bias, just pointing out that the added diversity isn’t in the main cast…

        Except that Veronica is Latina. Hope that won’t offend people like you too much. :(

    • Forklift says:

      I wonder why if this show is so up to date, the “good guys” (Archie, Betty, Jughead) are still white and the “bad guys” (Reggie, Veronica) now minorities.

      • Bartimeus says:

        I think the promos and everything that’s out there about this show currently, makes it clear there is no such thing as “good guys” or “bad guys” in this story… And usually the characters that serve as what you’re calling “bad guys” are more interesting and cooler anyway. So I don’t see the problem.

        • Forklift says:

          Actually, everything that’s out there about this show so far suggests that Archie, Jughead and Betty are much more “good guys” than Reggie and Veronica. Reggie is written as a total jerk according to script excerpts and Veronica messes around with Betty’s crush Archie right after she befriends Betty. Betty and Jughead are the heroes who decide to investigate the murder and the show sounds like it’s being written to build them up. I think it goes without saying that Archie will probably be the biggest hero of all.

          And you may consider bad guys to be more interesting and cooler, but most people don’t. Reggie and Veronica have always been the least popular of the main characters due to this. They would have to be given a lot better business in this show than they’re probably going to get, to have a chance of erasing the public’s preconceptions of them.

    • S says:

      What a day we live in. Can’t anything just be discussed without bringing race into the conversation? Does everything have to look like a college brochure with a person from every race sitting around a picnic table in harmony?

  2. IgE says:

    I’m really excited to see what they do with the Betty & Veronica relationship. They always had such an interesting dynamic. Being best friends but both interested in the same guy. And Veronica’s rich upperclass upbringing vs Betty’s working class one.

  3. Dave says:

    Saw the first four and it is indeed fabulous. So excited though I just realized it will be forever until I get to see the 5th installment.

  4. I hope they eventually bring in Sabrina. It’ll be interesting to see who they pair Kevin with.

  5. Philip says:

    I am intrigued to see the first episode at least. Ir’s kind of odd seeing the mixture of characters and changes in personalities and storylines. (Jughead, Jason’s death). I grew up with the comics. I know this is just a TV show and everything but still…

  6. hopemullinax says:

    I’m still on the fence about watching this. If it’s anything like the “Archie” reboot in the comics last year, it’s going to be pretty awesome (Heck, Riverdale’s Archie looks like he walked out of Fiona Staple’s artwork). I’ve been enjoying the rebooted comic series, so I might give this show a try.
    I have to admit when all the articles were coming out that Archie was going to get “dark,” I really hoped they were going the route of the “Afterlife with Archie” comic. Pretty much the Archie crew fights zombies and monster in that title. It’s so much fun watching Jughead maim a zombie. It really shouldn’t work, but it totally does. That’s actually what I really, really hoped this Riverdale show would do.
    Maybe after Riverdale’s been out a couple season, they can bring in zombies to be their shark jumping season (kidding!).

  7. Stacey says:

    Looking forward to this one! Looks interesting!

  8. Teresa says:

    Way to mess up with The Archie’s. You could not use new characters, instead of ruining this one. Well I will not waste my time.

  9. Luis Roman says:

    Archie’s affair with Miss Grundy??????????? NO, NO,NO, NO, NO, NO! Just wrong!!!

  10. Monica says:

    i’ll check it out kj is cute i think they should have cast Dylan instead of Cole to play jughead i think they cast the wrong twin but that’s my opinion he probably do a good job i’ll see tho can’t wait to see this teen drama mystery should be good

  11. Azerty says:

    To be honest, I am excited to see this show because there is no real teenage drama anymore, specially with PLL ending this year. But all the trailers I have watched gave me the same vibe that The Secret Circle which was good at the beginning but the ratings dropped really quickly. I hope they won’t do the same mistake, but I have big hope for this one.

  12. A fan of TV says:

    I still can’t get over Archie not being a redhead. I know it’s superficial and minor to most people, but I can’t even look at brunet Archie without disappointment.

  13. Josh says:

    I love the whole, “It’s sexy when it’s an older woman/younger boy” dynamic TV goes too(save for Pretty Little Liars which is just…weird). I mean, sure it’s illegal and is known to mess the kid up but it’s sexy and scandalous and makes for good plots, right? *EYE ROLL*

  14. Forklift says:

    I’ll expect this show to do well early on since it’s Berlantified, but dunno how long it will last. All the appeal comes from seeing squeaky clean kids characters get gritty, anyone who says otherwise is in denial. Even the producer admitted it and said they have to see how long they can keep people intrigued in the contrast between their old image of Archie and this new one.

  15. Marc says:

    When I heard this was being turned into a TV show I was happy but after reading more aboutitand seeing pictures, I’m not so sure this willwork.

  16. mrmcgee says:

    What about Mr. Weatherbee?? And Moose? I always imagined that Moose was the going to come out as gay.

    I am really looking forward to this.

  17. JEANMARIE GONZALEZ says:

    you got me with The O.C

  18. PartyWill says:

    I am beyond excited to watch
    ” Riverdale ” I grew up reading and collecting Archie Comics ..I especially like Kevin the new gay character they added into Archie’s world ..

    It’s interesting CW is making it edgy and twisted like a younger Twin Peaks ” version ..Can’t wait !

  19. peterwdawson says:

    I lost it when they mentioned Archie having a fling with Miss Grundy. I know this is the sexy CW reboot where she’s now 34 and its a bit less comical (which of course leads more to the flat-out creepy territory), but I’m well-aware she’s typically portrayed as a white/silver-haired teacher who is probably solidly in her 50s and probably only a few years away from retirement. That image will not go away.

  20. Paloma says:

    I gave it a chance but it wasn’t very good. It was bland. The acting was mediocre. It was full of stereotypes and standard high school TV show tropes. And all the 20-something actors playing what were supposed to be high school sophomores looked too old for the roles. They certainly didn’t look like 15 and 16 year olds.

  21. Lina says:

    I don’t mind they changed and darkened up the Archie’s. Fine. But the cast picks for the girls for me aren’t good enuf. Veronica is almost there. But Cheryl blossom where is the voluptuous curves and sex appeal. Betty is too plain.