CW’s new Gothic comic drama embraces clichés

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Distribution

“Archie” comics have been on newsstands and grocery check-out lines since 1941. The CW network premiered “Riverdale” on Jan. 26 as a thriller take on the lovable comic characters.

The teen drama is set in the town of Riverdale with characters from “Archie” such as the namesake played by K. J. Apa (“A Dog’s Purpose”) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse, “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”).

The pilot, “Chapter One: The River’s Edge,” began with a seemingly normal narrated flyby of a small town but quickly devolves into an eerie first acquaintance with Riverdale.

The Blossom twins embark on an early morning Fourth of July boat ride — an activity usually reserved for couples. The portrayal immediately drew a tenuous cloud of doubt above their relationship.

The outcome of the suspicious boat ride leaves one twin, Jason (Trevor Stines), dead and the other, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch, “The Curse of Sleeping Beauty”), soaked and traumatized on the shore. It seems everyone in Riverdale has secrets, from how Archie spent his free time in the summer to how the Blossom twin truly died.

Since actors with previous experience that includes some hits were cast as the parents of the main characters, the show will likely branch off into subplots as Veronica’s mother (Marisol Nichols, “24”) and Archie’s father (Luke Perry, “90210”), among others, have their lives melodramatically intertwine.

The most interesting plot line thus far seems to stem from Jughead. He narrated the opening and seems to be following the sordid tale of the Blossom tragedy in the river as he writes a novel about Riverdale. His character may have the most depth and intriguing possibilities for the future.

Cole Sprouse may be the only reason CW continues with this series, along with the fascinating and already so complicated friendship between Betty (Lili Reinhart, “The Good Neighbor”) and Veronica (Camila Mendes).

The “Archie” comics on the small screen and in a much darker world is the publicity stunt keeping the show afloat as the writers borrow storylines from teen dramas of the past, like “Gossip Girl” and “90210.”

The stylistic homages to the original comics, such as the usage of a diner as a common hang-out and letterman jackets, brought the town of Riverdale to a fuzzy intersection of the 90s and the present.

Even with the comics as source material, the show feels like another take at “Veronica Mars.” Jughead’s journalistic qualities parallel Kristen Bell’s (“Frozen”) character, and the death of Amanda Seyfried’s (“Les Miserables”) character was a revolving mystery for many episodes.

Even though the creators and writers decided to make use of a humongous number of clichés, this choice is tempered by the self-awareness of exaggerated reflection of current culture.

One of Veronica’s lines exhibited this bumping against the fourth wall: “You may be a stock character from a ‘90s teen movie, but I’m not.”

Other than the titular characters and town, little else is the same from the comics — unless secretly Jughead was a budding novelist and murder mysteries were a halftime pleasure during the innocent children’s comic.

The whole episode is a small town teenage experience overly dramatized with scandals, shady lighting and dark lipstick thrown in.

This medley places the show in the category of a guilty pleasure similar to “Pretty Little Liars,” with the haunting enigma of a dead boy overlaid with the usual teen necessities such as
cheerleading try-outs and school dances.