At last years SDCC I was lucky enough to see the pilot for Riverdale the new CW series that starts this Thursday January 26th. I waited to review it because I didn’t want to spoil anything with the show not airing until six months later.
The pilot that will air will be a shorter version of the show than the one that was shown at SDCC. That version ran about 50 minutes with the air version running about 40 minutes. It’s unlikely that there are many major changes just paring it down.
The best way to describe the pilot is its Dawson’s Creek meets Twin Peaks and is set in the more modern Archie era of the current comic series. The pilot was directed by Lee Toland Krieger and along with the cinematographer Stephen Jackson he gives the show a sold footing with strong visuals that set a nice tone for the show. The Twin Peak influence is very heavy not only visually but in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script. It proudly wears its influences on its sleeve with it its nods to previous teen soap operas such as Dawson’s Creek but also some others such as Barry Levinson’s Diner and a bit of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders is defiantly noticeable.
The basic plot of the pilot is After a quick geographic overview and a voiceover promising, “Our story is about a town, a small town, and the people who live in the town,” the Riverdale pilot teases the tragedy of wealthy queen bee Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), still mourning the disappearance of her beloved twin brother. This definitely sets up the “Who killed Laura Palmer” element of the series.
The story is pure teen angst soap opera that take the structure of both classic and current Archie comics but puts a more adult and darker tone than one would have thought. Where the show really shines is in its casting of the Riverdale gang. K.J. Apa as Archie Andrews in this version dispenses with the bumbling fool role and is the super hot jock that still has a heart of gold. Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge does a great job of playing her not as much as the spoiled rich daughter (and there is a reason for that which I don’t want to spoil) and nearly steals the show in the pilot. While Lili Reinhart Betty Cooper doesn’t get a lot of screen time in the pilot she does a nice job of the sweet yet strong sides of Betty. One of the big surprises of the show is Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones who at least in our version shows up later than expected but he is actually the narrator and his reveal is very nice.
Where the show will draw the most controversy is the ill-advised sexual fling of Archie with the super hot teacher Miss Grundy (played nicely by Sarah Habel) that will really upset more old school Archie comic readers. While the ethical question is always debatable, in this case I felt that the plot line has potential for down the road possibilities. While the subject is very touchy it was handled well and it didn’t bother myself. The key for it to work is going to be where they take it in future episodes.
END OF SPOILERS!!!
The show knowing where it’s bread is buttered wisely cast Luke Perry as Archie’s father Fred Andrews and Mädchen Amick as Betty’s mother Alice Cooper as not so subtle nods and winks to shows that inspired Riverdale. They also changed up Reggie Mantle at least in the pilot from Archie’s jerk rival. While still a jock there was very little classic Reggie in the pilot, so we will have to see if that changes down the road. Another very nice element that has not changed is Kevin Keller who is still thankfully very much gay and there is a not so subtle moment at the end of the pilot that has Kevin skinny dipping with a very surprising Riverdale character.
The pilot overall is quite strong and it will be interesting to see where the show goes in its first season. The key to the show working so well is that it still keeps the essence of Archie but the series goes to the edge with the whole teen soap opera elements. Sure there are bits and pieces of other shows and movies that seep into the show but few shows don’t do that. At least in the pilot the writing for the show is very strong and while the pilot is pure exposition it’s a fun little romp of a show. The casting of the show is spot on and the actors and actresses have done a good job of inhabiting their characters. The only big gripe that I had with the pilot was with the makeup departments really inconsistent hair and especially eyebrow coloring of A.J. Apa. It was far too noticeable and while I get that he is not a natural red-head it was very distracting. Hopefully they have fixed this issue for the regular series. The best thing about the show is the noir look of the show that you rarely seen in teen soap opera type shows. This is definitely not your father or mothers Archie that they grew up with. They wisely dispense with the indecisiveness that Archie has in the comics and the rivalry of Betty and Veronica affection for him all of the time that is a great departure of the repetition of the original comics. The show maybe aimed at the young adult crowd, I feel that as with a lot of teen soap opera series that it will play well across the board.
After the airing of the Pilot writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Archie Comics Publisher Jon Goldwater,
Producer Sarah Schechter
were joined by cast members A.J. Apa (Archie Andrews),
Luke Perry (Fred Andrews),
Camila Mendes (Veronica Lodge),
Lili Reinhart (Betty Cooper),
Ashleigh Murray (Josie McCoy),
Madelaine Petsch (Cheryl Blossom),
and Cole Sprouse (Jughead Jones).
With the pilot running long there was sadly no audience Q&A session but there were some reveals for the upcoming season with questions from the moderator. One big question that was answered was would there be an episode based on the Afterlife With Archie horror comic series Roberto said that while this series would not explore that storyline there is a Halloween themed episode that will definitely pay homage to it. He also said that the first season would be 13 episodes and that it will a self-contained storyline for the season but if the series does well they have plans for five seasons. Murray was very excited to play Josie and even wore cat ears to the panel.
Apa said that he really struggled with the hair color process that he had to get done at least twice a week while shooting because the red faded so quickly. Sprouse who had stepped away from acting after his childhood success said that he was not only drawn to the script but was a big fan of the comics both old and new ones. He was initially nervous because of the three pages of solid monologue for the voice over in the pilot. The other big reveal is that Sabrina will make an appearance in the last episode of the first season.
While there was not a lot of huge reveals the panel was filled with a lot of the target audience for the series, it played very well to almost all that attended. A close friend of mine who is a diehard Archie fan didn’t care for it because of the change in tone that the show has. While I was leaving the panel I was going down the escalator with a young woman who was in her teens and asked her what she thought of the pilot. She said that she was a big fan of the comics both original and the new modern version and loved Afterlife with Archie. She really enjoyed the pilot and was excited to see where the series was going to go. And this is why I think that the CW might have a nice little hit on their hands.
I very much recommend tuning into Riverdale with its nice fresh take on the Archie universe that will please both young and old with its moody atmosphere that is a lot of fun.