Dawn McElligott: RIVERDALE ‘REVISITED’ is RIVETING

by Dawn McElligott

In an age of rebooting vintage television, the development team for the new series RIVERDALE re-imagined a whole lot about Archie’s Comics for the CW network. Far from innocent adolescent hijinks, RIVERDALE has often been termed as ‘Archie Comics’ Meets Twin Peaks.’ What could have been a blasphemous mischaracterization of the milk shake slurping teenagers appears more as an updated twist on the beloved comic book characters.

The show’s development team includes Archie Comics’ Chief Creative Officer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who created the show and now serves as the Showrunner. Additionally, series hit-maker, Greg Berlanti, guides the show as executive producer along with Sarah Schechter and Jon Goldwater.

As of March 7, 2017 the series was renewed for a second season either in spite of or in light of weekly ratings hovering around 0.4, or slightly more than one million fans, the night it airs. During the week, its numbers improve to 0.8 considering delayed digital viewers bringing the audience to two million.

Various sources state that Warner Bros. TV has made a big development deal with Archie Comics, supplying another reason to stick with its sprouting new project. Surprisingly many viewers and critics have commented that Archie’s character is the least interesting in the show. He is a young man torn between school, a music career and helping his financially struggling father, Fred Andrews. Even an affair with young, hot Music Teacher, Miss Grundy, leaves him lackluster. Some have suggested that Archie Andrews is the cog in the wheel, holding together the town’s more fascinating folks.

The most engrossing character may well be its narrator, Jughead Jones. Jughead is a moody writer for the newspaper at Riverdale High School through the first 12 episodes. His father, FP Jones, is a train wreck of a man, heading up the Southside Serpents gang. Jughead’s moodiness clearly comes from his predictably disappointing family moments.

Jughead’s noteworthiness is due in part to choices made in the show’s development but may also spring from the actor, Cole Sprouse. In a February 2nd edition of Vulture.com, the actor described his interaction with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. ‘When I walked in I asked Roberto if I could read it [the narration} like Rod Serling, he was like ‘Uh, yeah, of course!’ I got a good idea of where we stood then. But when we shot the pilot, I really knew where we stood, in terms of the film noir elements and the darker tone. That’s when I knew this was a show I was really excited to do. Because I had just come off a Disney background.’

Twenty-four year-old Cole Sprouse had played Cody Martin in Disney’s two wildly successful series THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY and THE SUITE LIFE ON DECK. Transitioning into an adult entertainer for the young man has been noticeably different from his female Disney counterparts, Britney Spears and Miley Ray Cyrus. Whereas Britney and Miley turned up their sexuality to divorce themselves from the wholesome Disney image, Sprouse agreed to play a character that is sometimes called ‘asexual.’ In the series Jughead dates Betty Cooper, but keeps a wary distance from her, realizing her unrequited love for Archie.

Sexuality is approached quite differently in RIVERDALE. The first episode starts with a redheaded teenage boy, Jason Blossom, driving with a redheaded teenage girl to the river. They appear to be lovers about to go canoeing. We learn later that they are Jason and his sister, Cheryl, (the cruelest girl in town) staging his death and disappearance. Incest and later, eugenics, appear as some of the more disturbing currents to muddy the waters of Riverdale.

When Jason’s dead body appears in the river, we start dredging Riverdale, the town with too many redheads, for answers. The parents in this sad place have about as many lurid secrets as their children. Putting together the parents’ promiscuity and the surplus of redheads, it’s not too surprising when hints are dropped that Archie might be at least a half-brother of Cheryl Blossom. His appearance in a football jersey at a game reminds Cheryl so much of her dead brother, it causes the mean girl to cry.

In the penultimate episode of the first season, Jason’s jacket is found. It yields no clues until Betty decides to search the pocket linings. Instead of putting the jacket on herself, she asks Archie to put it on for the search. Archie is literally wearing the mantle of dearly departed Jason, when a flash drive is found in its pocket linings, containing the video of his own father shooting him to death. Weird!

Women are painted with a fresh brush. Whereas, Veronica Lodge could have been another mean girl, she’s instead looking to make amends for her father’s illegal dealings. She’s still a clotheshorse and has enough sophistication to counter Cheryl Blossom, often beating her at her own game, much to Ms. Blossom’s chagrin.

Betty Cooper is a breath of fresh air. She’s the good little girl who seems to acquiesce at every turn, but by Episode 11 she warns her concern-trolling mother, ‘Alice Cooper,’ ‘Do not push me tonight, Mom, because I will push back.’ Betty wants to right the world’s wrongs, including the alienation of Jughead from his father.

Cheryl Blossom, whose forbearers made a fortune on maple syrup, is the only truly mean girl on the show but her cattiness is explained as a defense mechanism contrived for dealing with a family, no one would want, despite the material wealth. The audience pities Cheryl, FP Jones and especially, Jughead.

Every week this season, surprised viewers have been treated to revilement, pity, prose, exquisitely crafted zingers and plenty of tension, making the show as much of a guilty pleasure as the most tempting malted at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. My glass is raised in the hope that next season brings us even more of the same.


Dawn McElligott is a an award-winning writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles by way of Philadelphia and other points East. You can learn more about her HERE