Last night, I saw the pilot for Greg Berlanti’s Riverdale, coming to The CW mid-season and executive produced by new Archie comics Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and I fell wholly in love.
Of course, “dark and gritty update of Archie” sounds like something of a joke premise, but there’s no denying Riverdale‘s appeal for a certain mindset: the series was described to me as “Dawson’s Creek meets Twin Peaks,” and those are, no question, two of my favorite series of all time, so Riverdale is very specifically my bag. Whether it’s yours, or anyone else’s, remains to be seen. This show feels niche.
The Twin Peaks influences are most compelling: in style, color, tone, score and even plot, the Riverdale pilot brings to mind the first episode of Twin Peaks with great clarity. Riverdale is a tiny, stylish community with eye-catching landmarks: The Bijou theater, MLJ comics shop (a nod to MLJ Magazines, the company that founded Archie Comics), Pop Tate’s Chok’lit Shoppe, a retro diner lifted directly from the pages of the comics. Everything looks atmospheric and alluring; the colors are cool blues and greys interspersed with bright pops of color. And, in a manner deliberately reminiscent of Twin Peaks, a dead body even washes ashore in the first hour of the series.
Yes, the first season of Riverdale will be a murder mystery – who killed Jason Blossom, the twin brother to Queen B Mean Girl Cheryl Blossom? In a breathtaking segment opening the episode, he and Cheryl take a canoe out on the river, but only Cheryl returns. The creepy parts of Riverdale are legitimately creepy, and when we see Jason’s dead body in the final moments before the credits, it’s a pretty gnarly reveal. There’s plenty of mystery surrounding the Blossoms, but most of the adult characters are nestled in intrigue, as well: Twin Peaks‘ Mädchen Amick plays Betty’s mother Alice, who has a deep, fiery loathing for the Blossom siblings. Luke Perry is Archie’s father Fred, who has a romantic past with Veronica’s mother Hermione, played by Marisol Nichols.
So that’s where the Twin Peaks arises, but where’s the Dawson’s Creek (or, more to the point, the Archie)? The high school stuff is great. K.J. Apa is a wide-eyed charmer as Archie, albeit a beefcake wide-eyed charmer after spending the summer hauling bags of concrete for his father’s business. He’s torn between Betty and Veronica, as one might expect, but the love triangle is modernized with an important distinction: Veronica, new to town and recently humbled from her own Queen B status by the fraud arrest of her rich father, is trying to turn over a new leaf, and she starts by befriending the sweet, shy Betty. Betty is desperately in love with Archie, though Archie just sees her as a friend. Veronica’s clearly attracted to Archie, who can’t keep his eyes off her, but she’s trying, at least, to be a good friend to Betty. Both Camila Mendes, who plays Veronica, and Lili Reinhart, who plays Betty, are perfectly cast and wonderfully appealing on screen. I really love both of these girls, together and separately. We’ve also got a character from the new run of comics, Kevin Keller, who plays the first openly gay character in the Archie universe. He’s Betty’s best friend, played by Casey Cott, a little bit of a sassy, posh cliché, but an extremely likeable one.
And what of my favorite character, one Mr. Jughead Jones? Cole Sprouse is heard but not seen for much of the pilot, as our show’s moody, noirish narrator, something of a loner. Halfway through the episode, Archie runs into Jughead at Pop Tate’s, and we learn that they used to be friends until some unknown offense of Archie’s separated the two. There’s a nod to Jughead’s omnipresent crown in a beanie that’s sort of folded up into points, and I know that will drive you guys crazy, but I kind of like it. Jughead is obsessed with the mystery surrounding Jason Blossom – we find him taking notes as he sits by himself at the diner.
My other favorite characters are introduced in Ashleigh Murray, Hayleau and Asha Bromfield as Josie and the Pussycats. Murray is so, so great as Josie, brassy and professional, intent on building her band’s brand. They’re cool, and sleek, and we get to see two performances over the course of the pilot, which should make viewers very happy.
There’s a lot of sex in this new world, stuff that will doubtlessly earn the most controversy, ire or scorn of anything in the series. Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel) is a hot, young teacher, and she and Archie are both trying to move on from an ill-advised affair over the summer. Betty and Veronica kiss in one scene that kind of makes sense for the plot, Moose (Cody Kearsley) is a closet case getting some down-low Kevin Keller action. Betty and Archie are both introduced in shirtless scenes; Betty’s on Adderall. People are going to be annoyed. As a dyed-in-the-wool lover of trashy teen television (and a legitimate childhood fan of Archie Comics!), I loved it.
I loved every part of this pilot: the Twin Peaks, the Dawson’s Creek, the Archie. It’s a gorgeous, colorful, interesting, sexy, spooky new series, and it’s a pity we all have to wait until 2017 to see any more of it.