Although Netflix’s latest series Riverdale is a modern take on the classic Archie comics, it doesn’t actually feel like Archie and the gang have entered the real world. Rather, they live in some alternative dimension where Twitter, smartphones, gay bars, and strip clubs coexist with vintage fashion and retro diners in a norm that everyone follows, and not in an ironic, nostalgic way.
Riverdale’s season premiere launched last week and like the Archie comics, it’s about teenagers attending Riverdale High, but this time there’s a plot and it’s a murder mystery. The quaint town of Riverdale no longer seems so simple, and neither do its residents. Archie is now a bit more complex, having to decide between pursuing football or music, but most of his wondering is done at a soda shop (which happens to be Rocko’s in Mission), which is still the high school hang out, even though the show isn’t set in the 1940s as the comics.
This unlikely mix of worlds isn’t the only uncomfortable thing about the show. The characters are a lot more grown up than we remember: Betty takes Adderall to help her stay focused in school, Veronica has her eyes on Archie because she’s “had every flavour of boy but orange,” and Archie even has sex with a teacher in the back of a car. (A vintage VW Bug, because apparently new cars don’t exist in this world.) And they’re not the only ones that have changed; some of the comic series’ staple characters are portrayed as different races and as having different sexual orientations.
All of this would be fine, and could even be a positive thing, if it didn’t seem like the show’s writers were only trying to cross off every box on a checklist of how many ways they can make the original narrative more relevant for today’s audiences. But rather than approaching these topics in a way that requires, or even encourages, discussion surrounding them, it seems as if they’re simply put there because they can be; the random girl-on-girl action at cheerleader tryouts isn’t there to push society’s acceptance of homosexuality or add to character development, it’s there because it’s hot. As a result, it seems to be a step backwards more than anything.
However, there are a few things Riverdale does right. Looking back on the original Archie comics, a lot of things just don’t seem right, but Riverdale corrects them. The classic love triangle between Betty, Veronica, and Archie originally just seemed wrong and frankly quite sexist with Archie always stringing along two girls that had no problem with his unfaithfulness. But for the first time, it makes sense. The love triangle still exists, but is presented in a way that relies on the character’s emotions to drive it forward, in such a way that lets viewers know Archie will have to choose in the end. Finally.
The characters are also presented as real people with real problems. Veronica is still a spoiled brat, but she now has emotions; Betty is still really nice, but to the point where she’s a pushover; and Archie is still just as girl crazy but for once he’s actually facing the consequences.
We learn by the end of the episode that the show’s narrator is not just some omniscient voice, but actually Jughead Jones (played by a grown up Cole Sprouse, surprisingly), the brooding loner who has been in the background throughout the whole time, never actually interacting with anyone, and he’s writing a book about everything that happened over the summer.
This raises a lot of questions, mainly: why aren’t Archie and Jughead friends anymore?
Honestly, as uncomfortable as the show is in almost too many moments, and as many cringe-worthy pop-culture references there are to suffer through, it’s safe to guess that viewership won’t drop for the second episode. Like any good murder mystery, I want to know what happens next. Well, maybe that and it let me live vicariously through the characters and eat Rocko’s onion rings without actually making the trip from Chilliwack to Mission.