Riverdale is a trip.
I realize most of the world is obsessing over the ongoing third season, or has abandoned ship altogether, but I put off watching Riverdale for awhile, so I’m only now adjusting to the odd combo that is classic Archie comics meets Veronica Mars. And I gotta say…I don’t hate it.
I grew up on Archie comics. A friend turned me on to them around 4th grade, and they were like a whole new world. I’d never been into comic books. I’d gotten close with comic strips in the newspaper, but had never considered going in a comic book store. I thought of DC and Marvel comics as “boys stuff”. Of course now I know how ridiculous that was, but at the time I didn’t think they were something I would be interested in.
Archie comics were like magic. I could buy them at the grocery store, so they were easy to get, and they almost always had new ones. It triggered my collector’s instincts as well–I’d already fallen for beanie babies, and this involved story and characters.
I remember vividly sitting in a lawn chair one summer, a giant bag of Archie comics next to me, methodically devouring them one by one. It was a perfect day.
Riverdale is a far cry from the comics I grew up loving, but I think that’s a good thing. They inspired an interest in comics, but they couldn’t sustain it. In the idyllic world of classic Riverdale, nothing changed. Archie was always veering between Betty and Veronica; Jughead was always eating; no matter what happened in any one volume, everything always reset by the next one.
I eventually moved on from Archie to fall in love with shojo manga, which had all the drama but with actual consequences, character development, and resolution. But you never forget your first love.
Riverdale is, quite simply, fanfiction at it’s best. It’s an excellent AU (alternative universe) that’s so far removed from it’s original characters that no one would notice the connection if you changed all the proper nouns. It does what great fanfiction does; shakes up the characters, changes the rules, and suddenly those stiff characters are forced to grow and change and evolve in ways most people could never have imagined.
That’s not to say it’s without issue. It’s so different that I almost wish it weren’t Archie; there’s nothing that really requires it to be set in that world. The similarities it shares to it’s original source material are the similarities any teen drama shares: love triangles, the girl next door, the tortured soul of a musician, the reclusive rebel. But I suppose without the backdrop of nostalgia, it would lose some of it’s flavor. Sure, the murder mystery at the core of the story is intriguing, but what’s more intriguing is finding out that (spoilers!) goody-goody Archie is sleeping with his teacher; Veronica’s wealthy father is in jail; Jughead cares for something other than hamburgers. And yeah, almost everyone is a suspect in the mysterious death of Jason Blossom.
Without the history of Archie comics lending that strange disorientation to the show, I think it would be unremarkable in a sea of teen drama. Other shows have done the drama better; still others have done the mystery better. But by combining them, Riverdale has done Archie probably better than it’s ever been done before, and I think that’s pretty remarkable.