I used to read Archie Comics as a kid, but it’s been many, many years since I’ve read any and it’s clear that executive producer Greg Berlanti and co. are taking a different kind of approach to the story while still maintaining a bit of strangeness. The series premiere of Riverdale is chock full of drama, mystery, and a few questionable relationships. But it’s off to the kind of start that will seek to hook you from the very beginning.
The show kicks off with the mystery death of Jason Blossom, whose body was never recovered after supposedly drowning on the morning of July 4th. Now a sophomore, Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa) is back from summer vacation and has changed his tune, no longer wanting to work at his father’s store or try out for the football team. Instead, he’s been channeling his inner turmoil into song lyrics after hearing a gun go off the morning of Jason’s murder. But Archie can’t tell anyone because he spent that morning on the river with his teacher, Ms. Grundy (Sarah Habel). I don’t think it was a good choice to include a teacher/student relationship because it breaks so many legal and ethical laws, but its existence will hopefully be minimal.
Ms. Grundy is leery of engaging with Archie, but agrees to help him with his music so long as they don’t sleep together. It’s clear that this particular storyline is being used to involve Archie in the larger mystery, but the show could have done so in other ways. Archie is broody and isn’t always very clear on where he stands or what he wants. “Whatever you decide, be confident in it enough to not lie,” says his father, Fred (Luke Perry). He also lies several times throughout the episode, and he’s not the type of character you immediately want to cheer on.
Although Archie is obviously the main character and his point of view will be driving the story, I found myself drawn to Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) and Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) in particular. It’s already clear that there will be a love triangle between Betty, Archie, and Veronica, but it was very much appreciated that the two young women weren’t immediately enemies or anything over a guy. Veronica helps Betty join the cheer-leading squad, even though it’s run by Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), Jason’s sister who still holds a grudge about Betty’s sister, Polly, dating her twin brother. Veronica also encourages Betty to tell Archie how she feels, and it’s bold that Betty puts herself out there so quickly.
Camila Mendes has a bit more chemistry with K.J. Apa, though, and it’s on display in the closet scene specifically. Drawn to each other, it’s Veronica who doesn’t want to hurt Betty, while Archie tells Veronica that he doesn’t feel the same way about his best friend as she does. Later, he tells Betty that she “deserves better,” and I found myself frustrated with his obvious lack of tact and his ability to lie to everyone in his life. These three characters will be taking center stage moving forward, but I hope the show continues to build the already interesting friendship between Betty and Veronica.
Elsewhere, Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) and Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray) made small appearances that were hardly enough for someone who wanted to see more of them. The pilot spends a lot of time making character introductions and setting up the mystery of who killed Jason. The fact that the show already plays on wealth to a certain degree and a murder mystery makes it feel like a cross between Gossip Girl and Veronica Mars.
Riverdale has a direction it’s going in, but besides Jason’s murder, the episode isn’t heavy on exploring any other major plots and is mostly setup for the series moving forward. The atmosphere is most definitely moody and dark. This is complimented by the cinematography, which is largely devoid of any rich colors and is a steely gray throughout. It’s like a dark cloud has permanently found its way into the town and won’t let up anytime soon. Riverdale is a bit weird, but in a good way. It gets off to a good start as it sets up enough drama between the characters and a mystery that needs solving which will most likely draw people back every week to watch.
Riverdale airs on Thursdays at 9/8c on The CW. The series stars K.J. Apa, Camila Mendes, Lili Reinhart, Cole Sprouse, Marisol Nicols, Madelaine Petsch, Ashleigh Murray, Luke Perry, Casey Cott, Ross Butler, and Sarah Habel.