Riverdale Season 1 Episode 1 – TV Review
Riverdale answers the question: What would Gossip Girl look like if it were set in Mystic Falls?
It would look pretty fuckin’ good.
TL;DR Riverdale has all the familiar trappings of a sexy teen show, but with the twist that they’re based on super twee comic characters from your grandparents’ childhood. The murder mystery element is starting the series on a strong note, and there’s plenty of drama bubbling under every surface. But I am concerned about Riverdale’s ability to sustain its broody premise.
TVD and Gossip Girl are cautionary tales on the inevitable slide into self-parody these kind of shows must face.
So I’ll start off by saying my only knowledge of Archie is a cursory one of cultural osmosis regarding his love triangle with Betty and Veronica. And I adore that 2001 Josie and the Pussycats movie (what a soundtrack). Anyway, everyone’s sexy now, so whatever. Things kick off with the mystery of Jason Blossom’s disappearance and presumed death. He is survived by his incest-vibey twin and cookie cutter queen bee Cheryl, and a pall of dread hangs over the small town of Riverdale when we pick up a few months later. Our main characters are Archie, a sexy teen who plays football, but really wants to be a musician; Betty, Archie’s best friend who is desperately in love with him, although he’s oblivious; and Veronica, a New York sophisticate who’s new to town following her father’s embezzlement scandal. These three (mainly the girls, though) form an unlikely Power Trio, with plenty of sexual tension. Simmering around them are a slew of secondary characters, including Betty’s GBF Kevin; Archie’s estranged former childhood friend, aspiring novelist, and narrator Jughead; Veronica’s mum, whose past is connected to Riverdale; Betty’s mum, who is a fucking cunt about everything; the sassy and black Josie and the Pussycats; and Archie’s music teacher who he fucked over the summer, but now he just wants help with his art. Oh, and they may have heard a gunshot on the day Jason Blossom disappeared, but they’d rather ignore it lest anyone discover their tryst. But Jason’s body turns up with a bullet hole in his head to close out the episode, so we’ll see how long that lasts.
The whole “teacher stautorily raping their student” thing is not addressed. Because he’s hot.
But Riverdale has more than just sex appeal (let’s not forget Archie’s abs, though). From the very start, it looks like it’s going to be the pulpy, trashy teen sex-and-soap opera that’s been missing ever since Gossip Girl went away, and TVD got too caught up in apocalypses.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t take a PLL turn for the worse.
Why I hate this episode:
Can you imagine if a show with so much promise ended up becoming the baffling, alienating garbage fire that Pretty Little Liars turned into? At least PLL was low budget, low expectations from the start. Dear God, we don’t need another repeat of that.
Similarly, I’m also worried Riverdale could, at any moment, take a sharp left turn into supernatural territory. I’ve seen that Riverdale’s creator is also the creator of supernatural Archie comics series Afterlife With Archie, and by all accounts Riverdale is borrowing elements. Let’s keep this one grounded in reality, please. Ghosts and shit never did the PLL-verse any favours.
Speculation of future complications aside, Riverdale isn’t without flaws in the present. Again, I’ve never read any Archie comics, but already I’m frustrated with Archie’s callousness in the way he’s handling Betty and Veronica. When he first meets Veronica, he’s on a date with Betty, but he completely ignores her when Veronica walks into the diner. Then Betty spends most of the school dance throwing herself at Archie, which he is oblivious to (because he’s pining after Sexy Teacher), and then he and Veronica kiss during a Seven Minutes In Heaven game at the after party. Despite Veronica acknowledging how cruel that would be to Betty, who’s waiting outside (Cheryl had engineered their pairing, natch).
And to top it all off, Archie runs to Betty’s door at the end of the episode and tries to excuse his rudeness by saying Betty’s too good for him. Yeah, quick bro tip? Girls don’t want to hear that. Archie’s kind of a dumbass.
The show also doesn’t seem to know who its main character is. You’d think it would be Archie, but Betty gets the most play early on as she develops her friendship with Veronica. And then Veronica becomes the character whose decisions actually drive the plot, so it feels like she’s the protagonist. Pilot pains, I’m sure. But I’m keeping my eye on it.
Josie is stereotypically sassy and black. Yawn.
Archie’s “I don’t wanna grow up to be like you” conflict with his dad is horribly trite.
The girl-on-girl kiss worked in the trailer, but does not work in the episode. How is that supposed to help a cheerleading tryout? Thankfully, Cheryl is similarly unimpressed by it.
Oh, and Cheryl is basically a carbon copy of Blair Waldorf. There’s a shot of her pouting, flanked by her minions, that I could swear was just a face-photoshopped frame from the Gossip Girl pilot.
But it’s not all bad:
I’m not sure if being compared to Blair Waldorf is a bad thing, Cheryl. Just don’t fall in love with a prince or Dan Humphrey, and you’ll be fine. Who’s Riverdale’s Chuck Bass?
Riverdale’s greatest strength so far is the atmosphere of its setting. I earlier said it was like Mystic Falls, but it’s mistier and more isolated than that vampire-infested burg. If I could compare it to anything from the top of my head, I’d say it’s more like the town in 2015’s A&E series The Returned. But where The Returned suffocated under the weight of its gloom, Riverdale is a sleepy, creepy town punctuated with chirpy characters and pops of colour (Archie’s red hair; the neon of the diner; those flashy blues and yellows of the school’s cheerleading uniforms and letterman jackets).
The mystery is also off to a scintillating start. Cheryl and Jason were clearly fucking. And a clandestine boat ride, gunshots, and dead body later, I think we’ve got some fingers to point. But the town is clearly full of more secrets than that, and I’m not writing anybody off as a suspect yet.
Especially not Betty’s mum, who hates everything, but seems to hate Jason and his family just a scooch more. We get some exposition about how Jason had been seeing Betty’s sister Polly, who subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. And given how cruel Mama Betty is to her own daughter, I can see her taking a gun to the boy who ruined her other one.
Veronica’s mum seems to be a promising adult character who is avoiding falling into clichè. She could have easily been the vapid New York princess type, but she’s got history with Riverdale, and with Archie’s dad, who she humbly asks for a job. And even when he refuses her, both due to their history, and the fact that it wouldn’t look good to have the wife of an embezzler doing the books on his business, she doesn’t flip out. She gets it.
That bag of money that turns up in her lap later on should come in handy, too.
Betty and Veronica’s friendship could form to be the emotional backbone of the show, as long as they both stop sending such mixed messages.
Kevin is requisitely fabulous and bitchy, but he’s charming and self-aware enough not to be a caricature. He closes the episode by taking a closeted football player on a romantic jaunt out to the river, and they’re the ones to find Jason’s body. Gossip Girl and TVD never managed to put a good foot forward on a gay character (Eric faded away, Luke never materialised, and the lesbian Heretics were dully chaste), so here’s hoping Kevin doesn’t suffer the same fate.
Jughead is only glimpsed this episode (apart from providing the narration), and he and Archie have a strained relationship as they apparently used to be friends, a long time ago. But despite their rift, Jughead has some kind words to offer Archie when he needs advice on salvaging things with Betty. Jughead isn’t a bitter, obstructive cunt, is what I’m saying. Which is refreshing.
Oh, and Josie and the Pussycats already perform in this episode. Can you imagine if they did a cover of one of the original songs from the movie?