As I write this, I have not yet seen the pilot episode of Riverdale--a presumably dark 'n' gritty re-interpretation of the classic Archie comic books--which debuted on The CW network Thursday night. Since I haven't seen it, this certainly isn't a review. This is just an examination of the preconceptions and expectations a comics fan (like me!) can bring to an adaptation of a beloved four-color property.
First, I have to say I've been looking forward to Riverdale for many months, ever since it was first announced. The show is produced by Greg Berlanti, and I enjoy three of Berlanti's four existing comics-inspired TV shows, Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl; I also watch his other comics show, DC's Legends Of Tomorrow, but haven't gotten into it quite as much as I've liked the others. The current revamped Archie comic book is one of my favorite titles, and the framework and continuity set by Archie comic book writer Mark Waid would make for a pretty damned good television series. I kinda thought Riverdale would be something along those lines, but all trailers and promotion for the show have indicated that Riverdale is clearly not intended to be anything at all like that.
Maybe that's okay. I'm not sure.
There's a dichotomy, maybe even a tug-of-war in play here. The trailers for the series are interesting, intriguing...and plainly not the Archie we know. That's fair; there are traditional Archie fans (my daughter among them) who don't care for the characters' recent comics makeover, just as I have occasionally been dismissive and/or hostile to various brain-dead takes on Batman over the years. Like Batman, Archie can be open to different creative interpretations. My favorite comic book in 2016 was Archie Meets Ramones, which depicted the traditional Archies alongside Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy. I was able to enjoy that (and how!) while still digging the current ongoing Archie continuity. Similarly, I enjoy both the campy Batman of Batman '66 and Batman: The Brave And The Bold and the fearsome Dark Knight of other Batman adventures in comics and films.
But, as a Batman fan, I probably wouldn't care about, say, a plainclothes detective who calls himself Batman, or an assassin who calls himself Batman, or a Batman sitcom, or a psychotic Batman, or a Nazi Batman, or a masked cowboy Batman. Well, that last one actually sounds kinda cool. But those others? They're not Batman. Those interpretations would violate my idea of what Batman is supposed to be.
One could say the current Archie comics aren't what Archie is supposed to be, though I would disagree; the narrative style has changed, but these are clearly, identifiably the classic characters taken seriously. One could also say that Riverdale isn't what Archie is supposed to be, either; that's a bit more difficult to dispute. Many have already compared Riverdale to David Lynch's quirky, violent, prurient, and deliberately weird TV series Twin Peaks. I'm pretty sure that no previous Archie incarnation has ever been compared to Twin Peaks before.
As a (theoretical) grown-up who still immerses himself in all this stuff that was originally created to be juvenile entertainment, I'm well aware of how we've stretched, contorted, and wrestled these characters away from the kids that were supposed to be the target audience. Still, one wonders just how much we can change these properties, mix 'em up, make them all relevant and adult and edgy, and still retain some line of sight to the source material.
When I was in my late 20s, I wrote a parody of Archie, a mock Rolling Stone interview with dissipated former pop star Archie Andrews. I submitted it to National Lampoon, and it was sent back quicker'n Jughead Jones could scarf down a plate of cheeseburgers at Pop's Chok'lit Shoppe. A note said that the editors couldn't touch Archie for legal reasons. Even if we disregard NatLamp's apparent fear of lawsuits, I can't honestly say whether or not my piece could have or should have been considered. Was it funny? I thought so at the time. It was also puerile and rude, delighting in the supposedly hilarious mash-up of our square ol' Archie now drunk, disgusting, and solely interested in pursuing carnal sheet-shakin' with Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Houston, and Madonna.
I was so proud of my clever, acerbic wit. I disavow the stupid thing now.
Riverdale reminds me of that foolish, childish thing I wrote decades ago. And that's probably not a fair comparison. It's an officially-licensed adaptation, not a lampoon or fanfic, and it looks like it's really well done. But it still wallows in the odd juxtaposition of those familiar characters of Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, et al., with subjects like murder, sex, corruption, illicit intrigue, the girl-girl titillation of Betty and Veronica kissing, and the seamy sensationalism of a rumored subplot involving Archie having an affair with his teacher, Miss Grundy (albeit a far younger, hotter version of Miss Grundy than we've ever seen before--it is The CW, after all).
|Sarah Habel plays Miss Grundy on Riverdale. Yep.|
I'm not an Archie purist. I'll watch Riverdale, I'll probably even like Riverdale, and I'll try to judge it on its own merits, divorced from the expectation of what an Archie adaptation should be. But let's not pretend this is Archie. Even old man Weatherbee would know better than that.
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