Review: Riverdale (Season 1, Episode 1)

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60%
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Bumpy

With a troubled and largely unoriginal start, Riverdale's fate rests on the plot's progression in future weeks.

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Netflix and the CW’s new mystery show endeavour, Riverdale, is a dark twist on the classic Archie Comics tale, and has the potential to be a compelling, if rather generic, teenage show. All of the iconic plotlines morph their way across onto the screens, including the famous Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle, but the show is turned up a gear with the added tension of a local mystery murder.

The characters all seem to have had a dark makeover; whilst there is a preppy enthusiasm in the episode plots, both colouring and overarching plotlines are much darker than in the comics. Riverdale does follow the model of various other teenage shows – mysterious behaviour in claustrophobic American towns is hardly new. The pilot appeals to similar audiences of Pretty Little Liars and Vampire Diaries by combining relatable teenage angst with some darker problems. For fans of these stagnating shows, Riverdale does seem an intriguing new option.

The pilot works well to introduce its key plotlines, romances and characters. The mystery is compellingly introduced, with enough sinister behaviour to create some real tension within the show. The first and last scenes are genuinely creepy, leaving viewers intrigued at the ways the show will unfold. The episode also introduces us to the main gang, focusing particularly on Archie (K.J. Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes). The characters come across somewhat bland and the writers’ attempts to free them from stereotypes is not entirely successful. Betty Cooper is absolutely adorable and well played, and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) – who we sadly saw very little of – also seems promising, but the others fail to convince in terms of their individuality.

The iconic love triangle, and the romances of the show in general, is perhaps the most problematic area of the episode. Betty and Archie seem to have no real chemistry and if they are going to be a recurring element of the series, I can imagine them becoming rather bland. Veronica and Archie, whilst sharing a stronger spark, still seem rather contrived. My largest issue with the whole episode, however, is a scene in which Betty and Veronica kiss in their cheerleading try-outs. The scene did not seem necessary or realistic; under no circumstances can I imagine anyone choosing to kiss another person at a school extra-curricular activity, or deeming it appropriate. It seemed a contrived attempt from the writers to create drama, but with the confirmation that no relationship between Betty and Veronica – which would perhaps be the most intriguing deviation from the comics – is intended, it seems like bad writing and a clear case of ‘queer baiting’.

Whilst the romantic element of the show is disappointing, it was made up for in the presentation of the friendships. Betty and Veronica is an iconic love-hate relationship, and the chemistry between the two is well done, with real touching moments; the ways that this relationship could evolve over the course of the show looks to be one of the highlights. Female-female friendships are always fascinating to see on television, and even if this turns out to be a turbulent one, I am intrigued by where it goes. The friendship between Jughead and Archie, which is only hinted at in the last few moments of the show, is another element I am looked forward to being unpacked.

The show is enjoyable to watch, with some problematic and weak elements which will ultimately either make or break the show depending on Riverdale‘s future development. The show is far from groundbreaking, but it is compelling and interesting – and as a fan of classic teenage shows, I think this is a promising show and could evolve into something really interesting.

Riverdale appears weekly on Netflix.

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