Riverdale: Pilot Review

riverdaleWhen The CW announced that it will be developing a new series based on the popular Archie comic books, I was totally psyched to see how they would adapt the Riverdale gang to live action television. I was expecting it to be edgy but I was totally unprepared for the completely different approach to the beloved comic book characters that I grew up with.

Synopsis: The small town of Riverdale was just like any other town in the US — everybody knew everybody. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. Not until the Blosssom twins decided to go boating on the fourth of July and only one of them came back. Now, everyone is a suspect in the murder of Jason Blossom and dark secrets threaten to unravel the normalcy in the town that thrived on the routine.

I was completely taken aback by the general sense of darkness in dread in the first episode. Every one of the characters were treated differently from their comic book counterparts. Jughead (Cole Sprouse) was not best friends with Archie (KJ Apa). Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel) was not a spinster English teacher but a hot music teacher. Veronica (Camila Mendes) was not a scheming spoiled rich brat. Betty (Lili Reinhart) was mainly depressed and lovesick over Archie and Archie was mainly portrayed as the subject of Miss Grundy (yes, Miss Grundy — talk about goosebumps), Betty and Veronica’s romantic interests. It gave me a completely weird feeling that none of these characters had even a trace of their comic book counterparts except of their names. The general feel of the comic book was also nonexistent. The joy that was part and parcel of every comic book strip was stripped completely from the series, leaving only the element of teen angst, emotional upheaval and a general sense of danger.

This works in favor and against the series. Perhaps, this might turn off original fans of the comic books who are expecting a lighter approach to the show. But for television fans who are looking for a slightly different series to follow, this may prove to be an interesting choice, once they get over the initial shock of Archie having an affair with Miss Grundy (again, Goosebumps). The series is dark and it banks on the mystery surrounding Jason’s death and the pieces of the puzzle that each of the characters hold. The series gave me the same feeling as when I was reading 13 Reasons Why. It carried the same sense of suspense and despair about the eventual end, but so far, in a good way.

By its complete departure from the comic book premise, the series is free to steer the show in the direction that it wants without limits. Archie is troubled, but his turmoil stems from his general sense of wanting to do the right thing. Betty seems ready to implode any second but who can blame her, given how her character is set up? As a Betty fan, my heart shattered into a tiny million pieces watching her lovesick look at Archie for the entire first episode and her subsequent heartbreak when Archie rejected her feelings so easily. I don’t know, but no matter how I wanted to appreciate the “better” version of Veronica, I couldn’t connect with the character and kept thinking that she would be doing something really bad in the end. I actually liked how Jughead was portrayed because despite the fact that he wasn’t a glutton and a woman hater, he was still generally a loner who keenly observed everything. He was really sharp too, for a guy who mainly kept to himself. I have high hopes for Juggie for the upcoming episodes.

I also liked how the pilot set up the connections among the characters and dangled the idea of more secrets waiting to be unraveled, which leveled up the sense of suspense and danger in the mystery drama. I also liked the cinematography that clearly illustrated the dilapidation of the old town which runs parallel to the crumbling of its peace with the unsolved death of Jason Blossom. I’m not however, a big fan of Archie being being shirtless half the time. I think after they established that he got buff (I think this was mentioned a couple of times in the pilot), they should stop reducing the character to eye candy and instead develop him as someone that fans of the show could really root for.

All in all,  The CW really pulled all the stops to make Riverdale completely different from what comic book fans expected and it was a gamble that mostly paid off. It generated interest in the new series but also piqued the interest of its new fans to see what the difference with the original material was — and vice versa. Its off to a good start, and by breaking the chains of its connection with its source material, it also liberated itself to tell its story in its own way and the journey promises to be exciting as it is dark. I think though, that its not gonna be for everybody’s taste.