As a relatively new, British comic book reader, the Archie comics are something that have been on my periphery for a while, but that I’ve never really paid attention too. The Archie comics have been running since the 1940s, and focus primarily on Archie Andrews, small-town American high schooler, and his various friends and love interests. In a medium filled with caped crusaders and Norse gods, Archie and his pals didn’t immediately jump out at me.
Fade in on me, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, looking for something to pop on Netflix while I worked. I chose Riverdale, a live-action retelling of Archie from The CW, an American network that have found some success on both sides of the Atlantic with programming such as comic book adaptations Supergirl, Arrow and The Flash.
Comic books and superheroes have been in vogue for a while both on the large and small screen, but it’s a lot easier to attract an audience to a comic book show that’s about beating the bad guys, than to one about going to school.
Riverdale needed a hook that its source material doesn’t have – a subtext that the story can be built around that doesn’t necessarily occur in the comics, so they chose murder.
The series opens with the disappearance of Jason Blossom, the popular, high-school quarterback from an affluent family; soon he will be found dead, having been shot and pulled from the lake he vanished in.
As ever, when a murder happens in small-town America, everyone becomes a suspect, and this who-dunnit becomes the thread around which the other narratives are built.
We also experience the more usual Archie fair, such as the closure of the local drive in theatre, the competition to crown the new quarterback, and the usual teenage angst – will Archie (K.J. Apa) fall for next door neighbour Betty (Lili Reinhart) or new girl Veronica (Camila Mendes)?
But Riverdale retains the darker edge – we learn about a student-teacher affair, about a potentially villainous biker gang, about corruption in local politics, and about Polly, Betty’s mentally ill older sister.
This all blends together to build a genuinely enthralling TV show – reminiscent of hits like The O.C. – where the mundanity of life is often juxtaposed with the more outlandish story lines. I am curious to see how the writers maintain these stories throughout the rest of the series, and what on earth they can do moving forward. Usually an unexplained murder is enough to fuel a series on its own, let alone a teacher sleeping with a student or any of the other storylines we’ve seen so far.
With Riverdale, Netflix has another solid show to add to its repertoire – its perfect popcorn TV, nothing too complex to concentrate on, and nothing too emotionally taxing, just enough of a puzzle to lead you into the next episode. In the era of appointment TV, Riverdale is the perfect lazy Sunday viewing.