Riverdale: The Complete First Season Review
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Not many comic book characters without capes can claim a 70-year publishing history, but near the top of that list has to be the red-headed, disaster-prone Archie Andrews and his friends from Riverdale High. Since 1941, the comics have traded in squeaky-clean high school hijinks alongside the occasional detour into other media. There have also been attempts to update the tone and content, and some artists have traded on that somewhat stiff image to great effect. The latest attempt comes by way of Riverdale, a very CW take on the material that just saw a huge ratings bump for its second season premiere. The first season is available on Netflix and on Blu-ray, and if you can get past some questionable storytelling decisions, it’s a binge-worthy addition to the property.

This particular version sees the surprisingly buff Archie (K.J. Apa) getting drawn into a murder mystery along with best friend Jughead (Cole Sprouse), next-door neighbor Betty (Lili Reinhart), and new girl in town Veronica (Camila Mendes). Along the way, secrets are uncovered, steamy trysts are had, and a group of unreasonably attractive “teenagers” acts out storylines that were hard to buy when adults did them on shows like Melrose Place.

The smart thing is that Riverdale and show creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (a guy with some solid experience both comic books and TV) know exactly what kind of show they’re making, and populating it with former prime-time soap stars like Luke Perry as Archie’s dad gives a direct nod to those influences. Sometimes it’s too much, especially an early storyline that sees Archie in a physical relationship with one of his teachers, but the writers have shown some ability to course-correct as they go. If in trying to find that balance it also occasionally lapses into absurdity—Jughead narrates the opening and closing of episodes as part of a novel he’s writing about the seedy underbelly of their idyllic small town—it’s a forgivable offense given the show’s canny sense of style.

No matter how you feel about the “Twin Peaks by way of Beverly Hills 90210” of it all, there’s no denying that the show looks fantastic. Everything’s drenched in color, from the neon lights that illuminate Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe to the blood-red lipstick of the schools chief mean girl, Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). Combine that intense visual aesthetic with more willingness to explore hot-button topical content, and I can easily see why it began to catch on with younger viewers looking for a binge-worthy summer distraction.

A Side Note about the Comics:
It’s worth mentioning here the new wave of Archie comics that emerged in 2015, also under Aguirre-Sacasa’s guidance. With well-respected writers like Mark Waid and Chip Zdarsky and artists including Fiona Staples, it’s much more in line with the all-ages tone of the original audience while still feeling fresh and relevant. Riverdale may be a little too soapy and self-indulgent for those who remember Archie as a good-hearted goofball or who are looking for a version of the Riverdale gang more appropriate for a younger audience. The storylines in this new run of comics don’t shy away from modern issues or artistic styles, but they approach them with a nuance and restraint that’s actually refreshing compared to most of what’s out there right now. If you get the chance, I highly recommend checking them out.

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