If you ever wondered what it would be like if Dawson’s Creek and Twin Peaks got together to have a television love child, then Riverdale could be your answer.
Immediately, Riverdale didn’t feel like an obvious adaptation of the world-famous Archie Comics. With Greg Berlanti as executive producer, the series developed a somewhat stylishly gothic edge to go with the drama around the tangled personal lives of Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead.
Admittedly not as original as its creators may think it is (it does remind one a little of Veronica Mars and Pretty Little Liars in the teen soap/murder mystery stakes, at least in a narrative sense), but in the way it was presented, Riverdale marked itself out as a little different, at least in comparison to other teen series from The CW mould. With Berlanti basically a one-person comic book television series producer on The CW, it’s no surprise that the network would turn to their most high-profile producer to make their latest adaptation into television gold.
With a mysterious death at the centre of its story, the first season of Riverdale focuses heavily on the death of Jason Bloom. In a scene that feels like David Lynch got his hands on a CW teen series, we see Jason and his twin sister Cheryl on a boat in a dreamy opening sequence scored to the heavenly ‘Tell Me’ by Johnny Jewel and Saoirse Ronan, a scene that establishes the mystery of Jason’s death right away.
With the accompaniment of a voiceover courtesy of Jughead, the series builds its mystery around several subplots; Archie’s attempts at becoming a songwriter, Betty’s growing relationship with Jughead, corruption within the town’s mayoral office and the activities of the Southside Serpents, the local biker gang of which Jughead’s father is a member. As the season builds to its climax, Betty and Jughead investigate the mystery of Jason’s death, while Betty’s mother also takes an active interest, fuelled by Jason’s relationship with Betty’s sister Polly.
The series mixes its soap opera tropes and mystery brilliantly until the penultimate episode, but when Jason’s killer is revealed it unfortunately leaves the finale with nowhere to go but set up next season. It doesn’t even feel like a finale as much as a nicely paced season two premiere. This nitpick aside, the good far outweighs the bad.
The Archie/Veronica/Betty story, that most famed element from the source material, doesn’t dominate the drama. It would be such an obvious course to take, but Betty finds love with Jughead and is happy with the writer, who is a much more interesting and fascinating character than the one the series revolves around. The writers allow the characters to find a balance to their feelings for each other instead of wallowing in romantic entanglement and taking any of the fun away from the enjoyment of a well-crafted teen mystery drama.
Somewhat mixed finale aside, the first season is incredibly enjoyable. At thirteen episodes, its tightly constructed and very engaging, a perfect series to binge on. Glossy and gothic, and with a lovely mixture of feeling both modern but with a 50’s aesthetic (everyone hangs out at a malt shop), it scarcely puts a foot wrong, other than the fact that Archie is probably the least interesting character on the show, something the series shares with 90’s teen drama juggernaut Dawson’s Creek.
With season two upon us, it will be interesting to see whether it can sustain the momentum of season one with a longer, twenty-two episode second season, but undoubtedly the first season was a definite creative success.
Riverdale premieres on Netflix on Thursday 12th October. Let us know what you thought of Season One…