Upside Down: A ‘Riverdale’ Review

In Featured, Media and Culture, Movie & TV Reviews, Posts by Impact Admin

— By Carly Twehous —

I’ll be honest. This one pretty much came out of left field.

Given the sales pitch, the CW’s particular track record with this kind of lame teen dramas, and the charming, but overwhelmingly corny Archie comic source material, the bar was about as low as it could be. I was expecting an overpowering aroma of teenage angst and the dorky reincarnations of age-old characters and love triangles, with all the backdrop of a cheesy Nancy Drew mystery. I was certain that I’d watch ten minutes of the pilot, turn it off, and sigh in frustration at the CW’s inability to consistently produce good content outside of Supernatural.

For all intents and purposes, everyone expected this show to be utterly stupid, almost to the point that it was set up to fail. In hindsight, it had a next-to-nothing chance of renewal, let alone having a captive audience.

Except, much to everyone’s surprise, Riverdale is every trope, every stereotype, every small-town murder-mystery formula turned upside down. It’s everything I expected in the most unexpected way. And, man, if that ain’t enticing…

Archie Andrews is the attractive red-head, charming and kind, taken right from the comic pages that bear his namesake. He’s the football quarterback who students (and teachers) drool over. Except in this story, he wants nothing more than to leave his small-town life and pursue a career in music, of all things. This Archie is no longer made out of ink and folded into the middle of newspapers. He has a heart. He makes mistakes that have actual consequences and, man, is the fall from grace entertaining to watch.

Betty Cooper is the Girl Next Door, but is far from the blonde and stupid chick who is incapable of intelligent conversation and whose sole purpose is to drool over Archie. This Betty Cooper does not drool or pine after stupid guys who are far from good enough for her. She’s intelligent and has a backbone and might possibly be incapable of accepting the status quo enforced by her small town. This Betty Cooper is fire and brimstone in a high-neck sweater

Jughead Jones is the orphaned and dangerous bad-boy from the wrong side of the tracks, who’s charming enough to get what he wants, but too damaged to form any significant relationship with anyone or anything other than his signature hat. He’s the one who everyone assumes is a walking mistake, who will amount to almost nothing. Naturally, all fingers point to Jughead Jones when Jason Blossom goes missing, because if small towns are good at one thing, its clinging to stereotypes long after they’ve been proven obsolete.

Sure, he’s damaged and broken and might be one tragic backstory short of completely flipping his lid. The stereotype’s not wrong about that. Except Jughead Jones, whether the rest of Riverdale can see it or not, is the heart and soul of this story. He’s the witness to all the bizarre goings-on of this strange little town, that spends every free moment clacking away at his keyboard, determined to find the meaning of life in a town that’s quite literally out to get him.

Jughead Jones is the reason to keep coming back to Riverdale, week after week, because his version of events is no carbon copy Archie adventure or Nancy Drew mystery. This kid has a passion and a look in his eyes that demands a captive audience.

Then there’s Veronica Lodge. In her own words, she’s supposed to be “The Rich Bitch”, a certifiable Mean Girl from the city, who’s pissed at every little circumstance that trapped her in this one-stoplight town. She’s supposed to take over the cheer squad, snag the quarterback in her web, and buy Prada when she’s PMS-ing. The audience is supposed to look at her and see everything they hated about high school.

But even Veronica Lodge defies expectations.

She sits down one afternoon, in the corner booth of Pop’s diner, and decides that she’s tired of the stereotype. Suddenly Riverdale becomes her second chance, rather than her prison and playing field. Suddenly, Veronica Lodge is loyal instead of vindictive, cunning and smart rather than manipulative. She builds people up rather than stripping them of every scrap of dignity. The fire and the attitude may still be there, yet slowly but surely she becomes so much more than the standards set by Plastics all around the country.

This version of the epic saga of murder in Smalltown, USA is so charmingly captivating. It defies my personal bias instilled from having come from a town that breathed and bled these same stereotypes and preconceived notions. Riverdale is so enthralling because it immediately shatters expectations and forces the audience to pay attention to this version of events, rather than the tried-and-true formula of how these things usually play out. It brings these characters to life in 3-D instead of in black and white. For the first time in history, these characters feel human, and the audience is more and more willing to follow their stories through each twist of fate and shattered glass ceiling.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m counting the days until season two.

About the Author
Carly Twehous is a screenwriting alumna from JPCatholic (’17) who possesses a slightly inordinate love of both chocolate and comic books. In what little free time she has, she makes use of it by time traveling, ghost busting, and furiously scouring the globe for potential alien activity.