The road to “Riverdale” begins with “Afterlife with Archie.”
The debut of the horror series in 2013 was the starting point for Archie and his pals’ comic book renaissance.
The success and popularity of the series, which felt like Archie combined with a zombie apocalypse, proved to the comic book publisher that they could play with darker and sexier tones that were much different from the mom-and-pop, awe-shucks feel usually associated with Archie’s adventures. “Afterlife’s” monsters, secrets, same-sex hookups and darker art let the higher-ups at Archie know it was okay for these characters to grow up a little. It helped lead to “Riverdale,” the teen-hormone, CW-ified version of Archie that debuts Thursday on the network.
The bridge between “Afterlife” and “Riverdale” is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who wrote “Afterlife” and became the chief creative officer at Archie Comics during its subsequent reboot of its main “Archie” series in 2015. Mark Waid was brought on to write “Archie” with new artists who weren’t beholden to the classic Dan Parent cartoonlike style of drawing. Aguirre-Sacasa, who also wrote for “Glee” and “Big Love” as well as Marvel comics, was the perfect person to bring Archie’s modern, Instagram-swag iteration to Hollywood in his role as executive producer of “Riverdale.”
There was never any question that this comic book world would be adapted to live-action like so many others, from superhero movies to Fox’s “Gotham” to the CW’s multiple DC Comics-inspired shows. “Afterlife” and the new “Archie” comics gave Aguirre-Sacasa a much more potentially scandalous storytelling template to play with. Without Archie’s current comic-book rebirth, “Riverdale” probably would take on a lighter tone much closer to “Jane the Virgin” — what many Archie fans would be expecting if the last time they’d read these characters was that time their parents picked them up an Archie Digest while paying for their groceries.
“Riverdale” is an Archie show with more sex appeal than you may be ready for from these characters. But that’s not the only thing that makes this show hum.
This is a CW show. So everyone is young and gorgeous. No surprise there. But beneath the sexy drama, gossip, mystery and even murder (yes, people die in “Riverdale”) the show has the two things that have to be there for a show adapting Archie and the gang: one of comics most classic love triangles and the always hungry crown-wearing best friend.
Archie, the beautiful, blond girl next door/best friend Betty and the rich, raven-haired Veronica are there from the very beginning. There’s none of the classic competing for Archie from the old days between his two favorite gals so far, but the seeds of a potential rivalry are planted. Archie’s too busy trying to figure out what to do in his romance with, yes, his teacher, Miss Grundy.
One of the classic blonde/brunette duo has already smooched Archie, and Betty and Veronica will kiss each other (although that kiss isn’t nearly as serious as you think it could be). When his attention eventually switches to the which-girl-is-the-right-girl drama that has fueled Archie Comics for more than seven decades, that is when “Riverdale” will really have some kick and probably won’t even need the murder mysteries.
And who better to help with his eventual blonde/brunette debate than Luke Perry as Archie’s father, Fred. Who can forget Perry’s “Beverly Hills 90210″ character’s Brenda/Kelly drama from back in the day? Perry doesn’t flex those eyebrow muscles nearly as much as he used to, but he’s a surprisingly good choice to play the man who has to be there for Archie’s repeated mistakes (if you know the comics, you know Archie is destined to screw up something as soon as the sun rises daily). And just wait until Molly Ringwald shows up as Archie’s mother, Mary.
Betty can’t come out and let Archie know how she feels about him despite them being close for years. Not even the teasing of Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), the recently created and critically acclaimed gay character of the Archie universe, can get Betty to stop being so shy around Archie. Veronica is new to Riverdale, having reluctantly moved there with her mother, who just split from her extremely wealthy father. Waid’s current Archie run featured Veronica having an almost hypnotic spell on Archie. No signs of that being the case in “Riverdale” … yet.
Jughead rounds out “Riverdale’s” fantastic four. With so much hooking up and hiding of the truth going on, he’s the one person asking any questions, working with his high school newspaper to try get to the bottom of his town’s dark secrets.
If you’ve been following Archie’s new, more mature comic book adventures, you’ll probably enjoy “Riverdale” a lot.
Don’t worry, though. For all the sex, murder and mystery, the characters can still get a chocolate shake at Pop’s Soda Shoppe.