Well, it didn’t take long for Riverdale — The CW’s moody, sexy new take on the classic Archie comics — to get dark, did it?
Thursday’s series premiere opens with aspiring novelist Jughead telling us how the town of Riverdale’s innocent exterior hides some nasty secrets. One of those secrets: the fate of high-school jock Jason Blossom, who vanished on the Fourth of July after an early-morning rowboat ride with his sister Cheryl. (Oh c’mon, like you didn’t take early-morning rowboat rides with your siblings growing up.) Cheryl is later found drenched on the riverside, and Jason is missing. His disappearance is ruled an accident. For now.
But before we dig into that juicy murder-mystery: Let’s meet the teens! Betty is the goody-two-shoes blonde next door, and her gay BFF Kevin tells her it’s time for her to finally make a move on her beloved Archie. Throw in the fact that Archie got hot over the summer (“He’s got abs now!” Kevin exclaims), and Betty’s ready to break out of the friend zone. But just as she’s about to tell Archie how she feels in their usual booth at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe… in walks Veronica Lodge.
She’s the rich brunette who’s new in town, just arrived from New York to duck the bad press about her dad Hiram, who’s on trial for fraud and embezzlement… and what do you know? She’s about to be a sophomore at Riverdale High, just like Archie and Betty! Archie’s obviously interested in her, which annoys Betty, but like the good girl she is, she grits her teeth and tells Veronica she’s actually been assigned to show Veronica around school. Oh great, that won’t be awkward at all!
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Betty’s got other problems, too: Her mom, Alice, is a real pill. And coincidentally, she wants Betty to swallow some pills — Adderall, to help her excel like a good little overachiever. Plus, Betty’s sister Polly apparently had a nervous breakdown after her romance with Jason Blossom went south. But luckily, Veronica turns out to be more friend than foe, as she and Betty (and Kevin) bond during a school tour. Veronica’s a little touchy about her father, though. When Kevin brings him up, she coldly says, “I stand by my father.” OK, then.
Archie, meanwhile, is dreaming of a career in music. He wrote some song lyrics over the summer, and he drops by a rehearsal of Josie and the Pussycats to see if they want to collaborate. Josie’s not interested: “Read my glossed lips, Justin Gingerlake. Not. Gonna. Happen.” (Ha!) But Archie’s football pal Reggie welcomes him back to school, asking him, “Did you tap some cougar ass this summer?” Reggie, you don’t know how right you are.
Turns out Archie isn’t just deciding between the classic binary of Betty and Veronica. He locks eyes with music teacher Miss Grundy at a school assembly, and we flash back to what went down between them this summer. He was walking home from work, and she gave him a ride… and then she gave him a ride, if you know what I mean. (Damn, Riverdale!) Archie tries to talk to Miss Grundy in the hall, even calling her “Geraldine” (!), but she makes it clear she intends to keep this professional, and tells him to see her during office hours if he wants to discuss music.
Betty and Veronica become fast friends, with Veronica marveling at how Betty consistently sells herself short: “You should be the queen bae of this drab hive.” They even try out for cheerleading together, and Veronica makes the squad. Head cheerleader Cheryl still has a grudge against Betty, though, because of the Jason-Polly drama, so she’s out. That is, until Veronica says she won’t join unless Betty’s in. And I guess Cheryl needed a blonde and brunette to complete the set, because they’re both in!
Betty can’t understand why Veronica’s being so nice to her. (In the comics, they’re bitter rivals for Archie’s affection. Plus, Betty’s self-esteem is zero at this point.) Veronica explains that when she left New York in disgrace, she decided to become “a better version of myself.” And in that spirit, she pushes Betty to ask Archie to the back-to-school dance. Betty works up the courage… but asks him to go with her and Veronica. Ladies and gentlemen, Riverdale’s first throuple!
Archie’s mind is still on Miss Grundy, though, and it’s not just because of the hot car sex. The two of them were at the river the morning Jason disappeared, and heard a gunshot. Miss Grundy dismisses it as “fireworks,” and wants Archie to forget the whole thing, car sex included. But when Archie confronts her, she relents and agrees to help him do an “independent study” project to pursue his music. (Maybe just to keep him quiet?)
At the back-to-school dance, Archie arrives with Betty and Veronica on either arm. He and Betty share a sweet slow dance as Josie and the Pussycats cover Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night,” and she decides to go for it, asking him why they can’t be a couple: “Is that so impossible to imagine?” But he hesitates, and master manipulator Cheryl senses blood in the water, so she invites Archie, Betty and Veronica to her after-party: “I’m in the mood for chaos.”
That chaos takes the form of an old-fashioned game of Seven Minutes in Heaven, with Cheryl spinning a bottle to see who gets cozy with Archie. The bottle lands squarely between Betty and Veronica, but Cheryl calls it for Veronica… and says she’ll go in there with Archie if Veronica won’t. So Archie and Veronica head into the closet together, and she asks him about Betty. She’s his best friend, he says, but he’s never had those kinds of feelings for her. Veronica sees that as an opening — and yep, they end up kissing.
Veronica instantly regrets it, though (“We messed up”), and heads home when they see that Betty’s fled the party. Archie looks for Betty at Pop’s, only to find Jughead. (Hey, way to make an appearance nine-tenths of the way through the pilot, Jughead!) There’s a weird tension between them; Jughead asks if Archie is “Mr. Popular Football God” now. But he encourages Archie to find Betty, and says talking to her would go a long way. “Would’ve gone a long way with me,” he adds. (Ouch. Definitely some history to explore here.)
Archie finally tracks down Betty at her house, and she wants to know if he loves her… or even likes her. He insists he does love her, but… “I’ll never be good enough for you.” Yeah, Betty doesn’t like that answer, either, and walks back inside. But things are about to get a lot more complicated for everybody: While fooling around with meathead jock Moose (!) at the river, Kevin stumbles upon the bloated corpse of Jason Blossom — and there’s a bullet hole in his forehead. As cops fish the body out, Jughead informs us the autopsy is on Monday, and on Tuesday, “the first arrest would be made.” In other words: Stay tuned, folks.
* Already liking Luke Perry as Archie’s dad Fred — and the fact that he has his own romantic past with Veronica’s mom Hermione. Seems like he’ll be a kind, patient voice of reason for Archie to confide in this season.
* Archie is being a little bit conspicuous while talking to Miss Grundy about their torrid affair, isn’t he? Will that come back to bite him in future episodes?
* By the way, this is what Miss Grundy looks like in the classic comics. Just sayin’.
* So the Riverdale football coach gave Jason Blossom’s old number to Archie… really? Before the poor guy’s body had even been discovered? That’s just massively insensitive, don’t ya think?
* Best nickname for Archie: “Justin Gingerlake”? “The Red-Headed Ansel Engort”? “Teen Outlander“? “The Ginger Stallion”? So many options… and we’re only one episode in, guys!
Now it’s your turn: Give the Riverdale premiere a grade in our poll below, then tell us in the comments if you’ll be coming back to Pop’s for seconds.