About Me

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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Riverdale, And Graded Expectations

Today's blog will discuss the first episode of the new television series Riverdale. If you haven't seen the show yet--or read a comic book lately--then BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD!

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The cast of Riverdale: Veronica (Camila Mendes), Betty (Lili Reinhart), and Archie (K.J. Apa), with Josie (Ashleigh Murray), Jughead (Cole Sprouse), and Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) outside lookin' in at Pop's Chock'lit Shoppe

Comics fans should be used to seeing their beloved characters change. Even within the comics themselves, things ain't exactly static. If you were a kid who read DC and Marvel Comics in the '60s and '70s, but not since then, you may be surprised to learn that, in current continuity: Spider-Man's alter ego Peter Parker is not a perpetually cash-strapped photojournalist, but a billionaire inventor/CEO; Tony Stark has been replaced as Iron Man by The Fantastic Four's former arch-enemy Dr. Doom; Superman has perished, and has been replaced by both a Superman from another reality and by Lex Luthor; The Hulk is really attorney Jennifer Walters; the original Hulk, Dr. Bruce Banner, was killed by Hawkeye of The Mighty Avengers; Batman has a son, Damien Wayne; before Superman died, he was Wonder Woman's lover (and no, that's not what killed him). Comic books used to offer the illusion of change, while quietly maintaining an internal status quo. But, as these properties have now continued for decades, creators have found it necessary to shake things up more and more.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer still kicks ass, though. But, um, Giles is 13 years old now.

It has always been true that comics characters went through changes when they were adapted into other media. And it's certainly true of the classic Archie characters as they appear in the new TV series Riverdale. Approaching this show has been a weird dichotomy for me: from the previews, it looked to be a potentially interesting series, using the sparkly gimmick of utilizing the names of Archie, Betty, Veronica, et al., but just a gimmick, because these sure didn't seem to be our familiar friends from the comic-book Riverdale; on the other hand, I can't say that I would have even noticed the series if not for the Archie hook. That hook got me, and I've been curious to learn more about Riverdale for months.

And I liked the pilot episode. I liked it a lot.

I've never seen an episode of Dawson's Creek, but I often hear folks say that series provided the matrix for most of the high school dramas that followed. It was an influence on Smallville, the 2001-2011 series that spun the tale of young Clark Kent and his unrequited love for Lana Lang in the years before he became Superman. Riverdale reminds me of Smallville without the super-powers, which probably means Riverdale also draws inspiration from Dawson's Creek.

If Smallville was Dawson's Creek meets, I dunno, The X-Files, then Riverdale could be Dawson's Creek meets Twin Peaks. Because, in addition to the hormonal challenges of teendom, the characters in Riverdale will be dealing with the murder of a fellow high school student, and with the sordid little secrets the people of the town would prefer to keep secret.

In the series, Archie is a nouveau hunk, with freshly-chiseled abs earned in a summer of hard labor in his dad's construction business. His best friend, perfect student Betty Cooper, wants to be far more than just friends; Archie can't think of her that way. (Because this show airs on The CW, we see Betty in her bra and Archie without his shirt within the episode's first few minutes.) His head is turned by the newly-arrived rich girl Veronica Lodge, running from a scandal in New York City, as her financier father Hiram Lodge has been arrested for fraud and embezzlement. Cheryl Blossom in Riverdale, as in the comic books, is devious and manipulating.

And, more than anything, Archie wants to become a musician.

Most of the above falls kinda within the broad parameters of recognized Archie continuity. A studly Archie is a bit of a departure; ol' Arch has traditionally been portrayed as a klutz who is nonetheless never lacking a willing female companion to hug and kiss, but not as a budding potential football star. While Hiram Lodge was never presented as a criminal in the classic comics, he does seem to be a bit more of an amoral weasel in the current comic books. Veronica seems, so far, less pampered and snobbish than we would have expected; if she's not quite a good girl like Betty, she looks like she's trying hard to be good.

But there are more drastic differences between the source material and its prime-time incarnation: during the summer, Archie had a steamy affair with one of his teachers, Ms. Grundy (portrayed here as very much younger and hotter than in previous portraits); Archie and Betty's gay pal Kevin Keller is apparently about to start a strictly-physical relationship with the macho Moose, a character who has always been both straight and violently protective of his girlfriend, Midge; Archie's parents are divorced; Veronica's mom is originally from Riverdale, and she dated Archie's dad when they were both in high school; Betty has an older sister, who is institutionalized; Betty's mom (who I just realized is named Alice Cooper) is a nightmare; the traditionally slacker Jughead is writing a novel; Reggie, at least in the pilot, is kind of obnoxious, but not the full-on jerk we know from the comics, and he seems friendly with Archie; and Cheryl's twin brother, Jason Blossom, took a bullet in the head, setting up the murder mystery that will presumably be central to Riverdale's first-season events.

Archie purists have every right to reject Riverdale. Hell, I know I was pissed with the producers of Gotham, the TV show about the boy who grows up to be Batman, because they so thoroughly screwed up the character of Silver St. Cloud, and took many other questionable liberties with the Batman mythos. But I forgave Gotham; there've been missteps, but it's generally been a pretty interesting series. And I accept Riverdale as a different, but valid take on the Archieverse. The characters have changed in some ways, their circumstances have changed in many more ways, but they're still recognizable, still Archie, Betty, Veronica. Those familiar names and faces give Riverdale its center, allowing its storyline to unfold and entice.

So, Riverdale: I'm in. Pour some sugar on me. And Archie...well, I'd ask you to keep your shirt on, but that ain't happenin' on The CW. But stay true to the character we know and love. You'll fall short sometimes; you'll make wrong decisions, and you'll do the wrong thing. You're human, even if you're just a TV character based on a comic book. But you'll keep trying. And you'll get it right sometimes, too.

And, Arch, my man--give Betty another look already.