You can now add Riverdale to the increasing list of media adaptations of various forms of literature. Like most recent adaptations, Riverdale also goes for a darker and edgier feel; however in this case, this approach pulls off and actually works spectacularly well. Riverdale is based upon the Archie Comics, which was a fun light-hearted series about the general lives of different teenagers in a small town called Riverdale. The Archie Comics are probably most well known for their spin-offs, Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The stories told were fairly colorful and comedic, making up for their lack of depth with an entertainment factor.
If you stop and think about it, a completely faithful adaptation ran the risk of being stale or uninspiring. Riverdale takes the comic series and characters and gives it its own spin, which gives the show an extra layer of complexity, while still resembling the original material enough to be considered an adaptation.
The characters are written way deeper than their one-dimensional portrayals in the comics. At the centre of the show is Archie Andrews, an attractive red-haired student (who we see shirtless a number of times), who wants to become a musician whilst struggling to maintain an illicit relationship with his music teacher. Rather than being portrayed as a clumsy, humorous everyman, this version is more driven, uncertain and world-weary. Betty Cooper is still the cute girl next door, but one with an overbearing mother and struggles with perfectionism. She in particular, plays off brilliantly with Veronica Lodge, who’s trying to move past the rich-girl personality she’s known for in the comics. Reggie Mantle is still a tool, but hey, there’s gotta be that one jock who don’t care about.
The overarching story revolves around the murder of a student, Jason Blossoms and the circumstances surrounding his death. This plot point forms the glue of the show, driving several characters together and putting them into contact, and often conflict with each other. We learn several secrets and mysteries from practically all the characters, and it is this mystery that keeps us craving the instalment so that we get all the answers. Sometimes things may happen just to move the plot forward but it’s only a minor point, and one only notice if you really pay attention. An interesting little titbit is how diverse the show is and how it tries to reflect and provide some commentary on real life. We see a young gay man, open up about himself and his feelings; we see Archie get called on for his white privilege when he wants to help the all-black Pussycats band write some of their songs. In one episode, there’s a frank discussion on the impact of slut-shaming as well as how it may affect some of the victims. What’s really nice is that none of these moments ever feel forced or present just to fill a quota, but rather, are naturally woven into the plot to subtly get the message across. As a high-school drama, it’s appreciated that this series is more reflective of current times and society.
At the end of the day, most of the characters are teenagers, so this is largely a high-school drama. For some people, that’s not really an issue but if you’re the kind of person who wanted to get away from all that, this show may not be for you. I’ve read somewhere online that this show is described as “Twin Peaks with attractive people”. I can honestly say that is the case; sure there’s the mystery and intrigue, but there’s also a fair amount of fan service. In fact now that I think about it, I’m sure practically every relevant character is really attractive in some shape or form. I suppose you can’t really get everything right about high school.
Riverdale is a very much ‘CW’ take on the Archie Comics; but it is one with interesting mythos and strong acting, with some shocking story developments thrown in here and there. While seeing old characters with a twist may be a bit jarring and even though we’re a few episodes into the first season, it definitely looks as though viewers are in for a wild and engaging ride.