So it wasn’t one heart that broke that night; it was two. And the night was far from over…

Riverdale wasn’t the same town as before.
–Jughead

The CW’s alternative take on Archie premiered last night, and it will almost certainly be a hit. It currently scores over 80% at RottenTomatoes.

Forget Trump and Putin. This may be the real reason scientists moved the Doomsday Clock forward. If this show isn’t a portent of an Apocalypse, I don’t know what is.

Title: “A River’s Edge”
Cast and Crew
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writers: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

K.J. Apa as Archie Andrews
Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper
Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge
Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom
Casey Cott as Kevin Keller
Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones
Marisol Nichols as Hermione Lodge
Ashleigh Murray as Josie McCoy
Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper
Luke Perry as Fred Andrews
Cody Kearsley as Moose Mason
Colin Lawrence as Coach Clayton
Ross Butler as Reggie Mantle
Sarah Habel as Geraldine Grundy
Lochlyn Munro as Hal Cooper
Asha Bromfield as Melody Valentine
Hayley Law as Valerie Brown
Nathalie Boltt as Penelope Blossom
Daniel Desveaux as Detective
Barclay Hope as Cliff Blossom
Tom McBeath as Smithers
Caitlin Mitchell-Markovitch as Ginger Lopez
Alvin Sanders as Pop Tate
Daniel Yang as Dilton Doiley
Trevor Stines as Jason Blossom

Premise

Riverdale recovers from the apparent death of Jason Blossom, but those events will unravel the dark underside of the idyllic small town.

Also, Miss Grundy is a smart but hot young teacher in Lolita glasses and Big Moose is gay.

High Points

Riverdale looks great. They’ve combined elements of the real world with comic-book retro, creating a stylized reality that sets the tone for the show. I give them full credit for the show’s mise en scène, and the numerous Easter Eggs (“The Town with Pep”).

I also like the way they made some kind of sense of the Archie/Betty/Veronica triangle, and his open involvement with both girls, who remain best friends (though they’ve just met and bonded in this ep).

Low Points

Let’s call it “CW dialogue.” It’s absurdly artificial and self-aware which, I concede, fits a stylized show. Its twenty-to-thirty-something teens make pop culture references that no teen would ever make1. Characters’ mouths are filled with exposition, clichés, and an utter lack of subtlety, or even awareness that dialogue and character exposition can be subtle.

Riverdale‘s dialogue plays as though someone invented a program to create CW dialogue. Then they printed out the results and gave it to writers who were fed cocaine and had guns put to their heads and told, “Make it more CW! It needs even less subtlety! Dammit, there was an actual shading of character revelation there! Remove it! Have them just declare who they are and what they feel! Then they should make another self-aware quip! Have another character point out that someone made a self-aware quip! No, dammit. This character says something on page six that might have been voiced by an actual human being. Change it! Change it now!

1. I know it’s a stylized show, but I have my limits. The show not only gives us teenagers familiar with the works of Truman Capote, they also (twice) reference Mad Men by season. I work with teens. Teens did not watch Mad Men when it was a thing. They certainly have no idea what Mad Men is in 2017.

The Scores:

Originality: 0/6 It’s not just that Riverdale adapts a franchise that has existed in various forms for over seventy years, it does so in the most predictable CW fashion. This is Pretty Little Liars/Gossip Girls with aspirations to Twin Peaks, starring characters with the same names as ones from Archie comics.

Effects: 4/6 Are there effects in this show? I suspect some were employed to create Riverdale.

Acting: 5/6 The show has a strong cast, who handle as best as they can the absurdities of the dialogue.

Regarding the diversity of casting: Reggie Mantle can be biracial, but he should still be a dick. Thus far, he’s been “generic jock #3.” However, he also does little more than lurk in the background this ep, so we may see Reggie emerge in time.

Story: 4/6 They have a good overall story for a soap, marred by some really forced developments and an utter lack of subtlety.

The teen behavior plays as false as a Fox News analysis.

Emotional Response: 4/6 What, exactly, is the tone of this thing? At times, it appears to be going for deliberate camp, and yet we’re served plots about Betty on adderall, statutory rape, and gay hookups. And remember, although these actors are clearly adults, we’re constantly reminded that most are sophomores: fifteen and sixteen years old.

The show constantly references its own tropiness and possible irony, just to let us know that they’re aware. This is old news on TV now, and here becomes annoying.

At other times, we’re supposed to be caught up in the drama. Sure, other shows have successfully blended genres and tones, but this just feels awkward and affected, which I suppose is a little like adolescence.

Production: 6/6

Overall: 4/6 My opening comments aside, the show has too many strong points to dismiss as bad. But the first episode (in case you couldn’t tell) did not win me over. Even the eleventh-hour introduction of a Jughead who doesn’t present much like Jughead, and hints that Sabrina will turn up for a spell, won’t likely get me watching.

In total, “A River’s Edge” receives 27/42

Additional Comments

Archie has constantly reinvented itself, even in dark and adult ways. AfterLife with Archie (penned by the creator of this show) gave us zombies and incest, while retaining the characters’ essential nature. Chilling Adventures in Sorcery gives us a very dark take on Sabrina that works extraordinarily well. Even the kid-friendly Life with Archie (long before its twenty-first century flirtation with grown-up Archies and alternate universes) historically addressed darker- and stranger-than-usual themes.

A couple of years ago, Archie rebooted its main line, with a fresh take on the character that modernized and complicated them, and won rave reviews You know what would have been original for the CW? Adapting that version, even with the mystery plot. I probably would have enjoyed that.

This show pays tribute to the source material, but it has been contrived to resemble other CW “teen” soaps, and it’s about as subversive in 2017 as the forced, faux lesbian kiss that Cheryl Blossom mocks in this episode. And no, constantly lampshading the show’s tropiness doesn’t make it less clichéd or more daring.

Oddly enough, Riverdale most recalls for me the Archies of those ridiculous Spire Christian Comics of the early 1970s. The characters have been forced into a mold that doesn’t really suit them and, while the results will unquestionably appeal to a certain audience, I’m not in that audience.

At least Spire had actual, rather than faux and forced ironic appeal.