The idyllic town of Riverdale is reeling in the wake of the death of teenage Jason Blossom, whose twin sister, Cheryl claims accidentally drowned in the lake. As the school year begins, Veronica Lodge moves to town with her mother following her parents' divorce and a scandal involving her father being charged with fraud. She starts at Riverdale High, and becomes friends with Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), who is in love with her childhood friend, Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa). Her love is not reciprocated because Archie is smitten with his teacher, Geraldine Grundy (Sarah Habel). Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) narrates the mystery of Jason's death as it unfolds, along with the various feuds and love triangles between other characters.
"Archie has abs now!"
"Six more reasons for you to take that ginger bull by the horns tonight."
Riverdale is an interesting new take on the characters and story of the Archie comics. The murder mystery angle gives it a Teen Noir vibe, in the manner of Veronica Mars, though the writing is not as clever (at least not so far). It also reminded me of the Scream TV series, which has similar narration, but without the level of violence and gore (Riverdale episode one featured just one corpse, and a bloodless one at that). I'm intrigued as to what caused the rift between Jughead and Archie, and what is behind Mrs Cooper's hatred of the Blossom clan, which appears to be more than her anger over her daughter Polly's relationship with Jason. Some of the darker elements of the show come from the sexual relationships between the characters. Cheryl and Jason (who is in the episode only briefly, in a flashback) have a slightly creepy vibe suggesting possible incest. Archie has had an affair with his teacher, Geraldine Grundy, which is at best inappropriate since she is his teacher, and at worst (depending on his age, which I don't think was mentioned) possibly statutory rape.
Instead of a stereotypical ditzy blonde, Betty is bookish and a big Toni Morrison fan. Veronica is also no intellectual slouch, referring to Truman Capote: "I'm Breakfast at Tiffany's and this place is In Cold Blood".
The casting is satisfactory overall. Betty and Veronica look like they do in the comics, but I found it mildly annoying that they didn't get a real redhead to play Archie. Can't Rupert Grint do an American accent? Josie (Ashleigh Murray) and the Pussycats are African American, which is different but works fine and adds some much-needed diversity to the fairly monochromatic Riverdale High. I quite liked to see Luke Perry finally playing a character his own age in a teen drama as Archie's dad, Fred Andrews.
On the subject of diversity, there is also Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), the first openly gay character in the Archie series, who in Riverdale is Betty's gay best friend. Moose Mason (Cody Kearsley) is also secretly gay, or at least bi-curious. There are still no lesbian characters (at least none who are introduced as such in this episode). Veronica and Betty share an attention seeking faux lesbian kiss, which thankfully the other characters thought was a bit off. Lili Reinhart, who plays Betty, has stated will be no Betty/Veronica love story in the show.
"What's a Chock'lit Shoppe and why does it sell burgers?"
As well as a little diversity in race and sexuality, the show may touch on neurodiversity too. It's mentioned in passing that Betty takes prescription Adderall. If she has ADHD this is the first time I have ever seen a female character on a TV show with the disorder, so that's quite refreshing and may help normalise girls with ADHD in a climate where people with little knowledge of it insist that it doesn't exist or don't believe that it affects girls and women as well as boys and men. Here's hoping it is a positive portrayal of someone with ADHD and doesn't descend into denial or shaming people who take prescription medication for psychiatric conditions.
Riverdale looks to be off to a promising start, with a murder mystery featuring many suspects and a town full of secrets. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.