I’ve never really been a fan of the Archie comics. I mean, I’ve been aware of them in the way that you’re aware of everything tangentially that existed in your life. But I was always more of a Calvin and Hobbes kid. I was made aware of the newest adaption from the podcast Who? Weekly. But I think the premise—comic remade into sexy murder-y thriller—would’ve been enough to eventually put it on my radar.
The cinematography is clean, lush and hazy. It’s filmed in Vancouver, so it has that “better than any forest, any town, any place you’ve ever been” combination of familiarity and dissidence.
Let’s start with the light stuff. This is the CW, so we’re expecting certain tropes. And we’re gifted them. There’s the Gay Best Friend who’s proves that somehow gay people are just cloning each other because I swear if I’ve seen one attractive gay with a severely-gelled hairstyle I’ve seen a thousand.
“Is being a cheerleader still a thing?” asks Kevin Keller (the gay).
“Is being the gay best friend still a thing?” responds Cheryl Blossom (the ginger).
And there’s the “sexy” lesbian kiss between Veronica and Betty to give their cheerleading audition some “sizzle.” But rather than bask in the awkward and trite sexuality, they call to the moment.
“Check your sell-by date ladies, faux-lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.” YES CHERYL YES.
I think what I like most is that they’re—at this point—subverting expectations. I can handle the hypersexualized clichés but as long as we’re recognizing them for what they are. And I can handle classic tropes as long as we classifying them in their proper sphere: fucking science fiction. Because no sophomore in high school looks like Archie Andrews. And that’s fine, but we need to remember our place.
Side bar: It’s nice to see depictions of hot redheads on screen. We are a group that are largely unrepresented.
Also I’m tired of jocks wanting to play music and their dads being against it. this is 2017—Donald Trump is president—you don’t need any qualifications to do anything anymore. And of course, because Riverdale is trying to show us it’s woke, Veronica points out much the same thing. “Guys, can’t we just liberate ourselves from the tired dichotomy of “jock” “artist?” Can’t we, in this post-James Franco world, just be all things at once?”
I never watched Pretty Little Liars but I assume it’s a similar thing, how can students and teachers who are fucking yell about their illicit affairs in public places and nobody say, “Whowhatnow?” It seems physically impossible that no one immediately discovers their affair because they’re literally screaming about it.
Aside from Reggie and Josie and the Pussycats,* Riverdale seems entirely full of people so white they’re nearly translucent. You can almost hear the thoughts echoing in Josie’s head as she looks out onto the crowd of students dancing to the song she’s singing (that’s a cover of the song that the Blossom twins were conceived to), “Why am I here with these idiots?” Like I get this is the CW, but if you’re gonna be woke about the Gay Best Friend, you’ve gotta be woke about everything else too.
Now on to the eeriness. The pop culture references are a little uneasy, at odds with Veronica’s sweater set and the malt shop. But maybe that’s the point? The bizarreness of this place existing both in the ‘50s and in 2017—making references to Blue Jasmine, Mad Men, and Ansel Elgort—mimics the bizarreness of Riverdale. You don’t expect people who live like this to know references like that. It begs more questions: do they use Spotify? Why were the Blossom twins in a Thunderbird? WHY is Veronica wearing a sweater-set and pearls? You’re put off-kilter by the “hereness” and “otherness” of the town. Things are off-kilter here.
The classic cinematography showcases beautifully the ice-white face of Cheryl Blossom against the blackness of her smudged mascara and her red hair. The sharply angled eyebrows of Veronica Lodge. The red lipstick from Veronica’s kiss running across Betty’s lips like a nosebleed and the red gashes on her palms from her tightly clenched fists. There’s a gruesomeness in Riverdale.
But the scenes and the music are tinny and Instagrammy—we’re experiencing through a filter. It’s like we’re someone watching the world unfold in front of them, someone beyond the average viewer. It’s a sentiment made stronger by the fact that we’re brought into the world of Riverdale by the voice of Jughead.
And it’s echoed by the song (“The Passenger” by Hunter as a Horse) rising above Jason Blossom’s waterlogged corpse as it’s carried to the ambulance in a stark yellow body bag.
“Someone is watching…someone is watching.”
QUESTIONS FOR NEXT EPISODE:
- Who shot Jason Blossom?
- Did someone drag Jason Blossom’s body from the depths of the river?
- Where did Ms. Grundy get her heart-shaped sunglasses?
- What is “pouring concrete?”
- Is Jughead our Dan Humphrey?
- Does anyone remember The Secret Circle, which was also on the CW? If so, let’s talk.
- Who is getting arrested for the murder of Jason Blossom halfway through fifth period on Tuesday?
*Edit: it has come to my attention that KJ Apa, the actor who portrays Archie Andrews, is part-Samoan.