By GP ABRAJANO
I’m one of those children who grew up reading Archie comics — on the toilet, in the school bus, in bed — and I spent so much time in the fictional town of Riverdale, U.S.A. that I felt like a local. The sprawling grounds of the Lodge mansion, the halls of Riverdale High, and the All-American vibe of Pop Tate’s Chocklit Shoppe, I’ve visited them all, so imagine my excitement when the CW announced they would be airing a live-action version of Archie and friends entitled Riverdale (what else). I was expecting a successful or at least a decent comic-to-screen crossover, but after watching the pilot, I finally understood what “having your childhood raped” felt like.
Generally, I found my excitement and eagerness waning with each passing episode. Yes, I thought Cole Sprouse was the perfect Jughead, and I thought making Ms. Grundy an insanely hot 30-something music teacher was a brilliant move. But starting off the series with the murder of Jason Blossom, a minor character in the comics, but a major (alebeit dead) one in the series? The Jason Blossom murder will basically stretch out unsolved for rest of the season, maybe even longer. But please, no. Let’s hope this gets resolved in the first season. Comic book Riverdale is probably the most peaceful fictional town in middle America. Death and old age don’t seem to exist here. Things like drugs (of which Jason Blossom was involved in) and murder (of which Jason Blossom was a victim of) have absolutely no place in Riverdale.
This show has quite a few things going for it, though. The casting choices, as I mentioned earlier, as well as some character adaptations, were brilliant. I couldn’t imagine a better Betty Cooper than Lili Reinhart, whose girl-next-door looks complement the bitchy beauty of Camila Mendes’s Veronica Lodge. An Asian Reggie Mantle? Check. A black Principal Weatherbee? Check. And an all-black Josie and the Pussycats? Check, check, check.
But K.J. Apa as the iconic Archie Andrews? Well, let’s just say I’m not completely sold. Riverdale’s Archie is a handsome jock with musical talent that pretty much makes sure he covers the entire spectrum of sporty to artsy. The comic book Archie, the one I grew up with, wasn’t the underwear model-type. He was, quite frankly, just an average Joe: a freckle-faced carrot top, and a big, adorable klutz with a big and kind heart. Where he gets that mysterious sex appeal that started the Betty and Veronica rivalry, we’ll never know. But Riverdale’s Archie seems to explain a lot. Of course you’re gonna score with Ms. Grundy if you have a six-pack.
And speaking of scoring, I find it quite bothersome that hook-ups and romances seem to be the activity of choice for Riverdale’s teenagers. Of course, the famous Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle is still here. Then there’s Archie’s fling with The Pussycat’s Valerie, which came about after Archie asked for songwriting tips from the girl-band’s keyboardist. Yes, we all know Ol’ Carrot Top has always been a ladies’ man, but this makes me wonder whether the mere act of making music together is an aphrodisiac experience, or Archie Andrews just has a weird thing for music teachers. Not to mention the romance between Archie’s old man Fred Andrews and Veronica’s mom Hermione. I rarely saw Mrs. Lodge in the comics, who would’ve thought that she’d become a major character in the television series? And also, who would’ve thought former heartthrob Luke Perry would age so gracefully?
And then you learn that they made Moose Mason, athlete and brute extraordinaire, a closet homosexual. Why, though? Is it because Kevin Keller, the only openly gay character in the comics, needs a romantic interest, and the producers feel that Moose is the most expendable character and has the least chance of inciting any Internet backlash? That’s okay, though, compared to this show’s biggest, most unforgivable heresy: a heterosexual Jughead Jones. That’s right. The coolest character in Archie comics, the high-metabolism eating machine, the smartest and laziest slacker, and the coolest and most asexual character in literature, has been reduced to the boyfriend of none other than Betty Cooper. I mean, come on. I remember as a kid, I seriously considered practicing the Jughead method of celibacy, for the simple reason that it blew my mind. How can someone not like girls? And yet in Riverdale, the enigmatic charisma of Jughead Jones is no more. It’s a shame, because I believe Cole Sprouse would have done justice to the comic book Juggie.
That said, it’s safe to say that Riverdale the television series shares nothing at all with its adapted source material except for the characters and their names. The comics were light and fun, meant for easy reading, while this show has decided to adopt the same approach of every superhero film since Batman Begins: dark, gritty, and more realistic. Sorry, but I would have preferred an Archie screen adaptation that remained true to the comics’ theme which, in the hands of the right comedy genius, could have become the new most popular television comedy since The Office. Until then, I’ll be watching the upcoming episodes until the first season finale, or until my interest level reaches zero. Whichever comes first.