What I Love About ‘Riverdale’ Season One

Image Source: The CW

Season Two of Riverdale airs on the CW on October 11, which gives you time to get out there and watch season one and get yourself caught up in case you haven’t already. I know I’m a little late to the game, but I just finished season one of Riverdale, and I have to say I’m hooked. It is so deliciously wrong that I simply must talk about it.

I grew up reading Archie comics, and while I don’t recall exactly what drew me to the stories, I could wax nostalgic and speak to how the stories of “normal” teens let me at least know what I was missing. Riverdale appeals to the adult in me that recognizes that, while I wasn’t part of the “popular” scene in high school, it was certainly never going to be as interesting as the show made it out to be.

Right from the start, we know it’s not going to be the clean-cut wholesome story that we grew up reading. And that’s what makes it so deliciously enjoyable.


WARNING

This post is full of spoilers. As in, I’m going to step through the season and review what I loved. If you want to wait until you’ve watched each episode before you read the review, that’s cool. But be sure to check back and let me know if you agree with my assessment. And if you don’t agree, well, I’m not sure why you’re still reading.


“Chapter One: The River’s Edge”

A pair of twins, Cheryl and Jason Blossom, take a boat ride. Later, Cheryl sits alone on a rock, crying. Jason is dead. This is the underlying murder mystery that frames the entire season. Now, I haven’t gone back to re-read the comics, but I’m almost positive there was never a Cheryl Blossom in Riverdale. But I suppose killing off an actual character from the series would be tough, so introducing characters that you can just kill off works a bit better. And, I must say, it works.

I love the casting of Luke Perry as Fred Andrews. While the cartoon version was a happy, slightly pudgy, balding man, I could buy Luke in this role. Interesting twist: he’s separated from his wife. Wasn’t sure what I thought about that, but didn’t think too much of it. Mr. Lodge being in prison? Interesting twist. Offers some nice material to work with.

As far as setting the stage, though, this episode rocked it. Didn’t really remember Hermione Lodge from the comics I read growing up, so her casting was fine. Betty looked the part, as did Veronica and Jughead, while the actor chosen to portray Archie managed to convey both his wide-eyed innocence and be at least fathomable as being engulfed in a love triangle (something I never quite bought in the comics). The most delicious twist in this episode, however, had to be the role of Ms. Grundy. She only appears in a few episodes this season, but oh, how glorious. That storyline, by itself, firmly establishes (beyond the underlying murder mystery thread running through the season) that Riverdale is no longer the wholesome small-town environment we grew up reading about.

We join the narrative in the middle of summer, learning that Betty has always been in love with Archie, that Jughead and Archie are recently on the outs, and that Ronnie has just moved to town. I had often wondered about Betty and Veronica’s love-hate relationship, wondering how they could be at each other’s throats one issue and best buds the next. Now, I’ve always been more a Betty (not because I’m blonde, buxom, or have ever been in love with my neighbor, but because I identified with her nerdiness) than a Veronica, whom I had long dismissed as being rich and spoiled. So imagine my surprise to find myself adoring Veronica, getting her, rooting for her. All in all, a great pilot episode.

“Chapter Two: A Touch of Evil”

Robin Givens is the mayor. Looks like she really did make it to the head of the class. She’s the mom of Josie of Josie and the Pussycats. Reggie is Asian, Mr. Weatherby black, Veronica Latina, the mayor and the Pussycats black. And while the Pussycats’ storyline delves into a bit of ethnic identity later in the season, otherwise they’re just characters that represent the ethnic diversity of life. It’s just normal, even in Riverdale. And that’s wonderful. The focus on Archie’s love of music helps to tie in that side storyline that repeatedly appeared in the comics, where the characters were all in a band. Cheryl Blossom’s character is delightful. She’s the Queen Bee, and she loved her brother. Her relationship with her parents is fraught with tension. Cheryl Blossom grows into a complex character who you’re not sure if you want to revile, pity, or admire. Wait for it. Watch her.

“Chapter Three: Body Double”

There’s an odd scene here where Betty kinda loses it, revealing a dark, possibly unstable side. It seems to then disappear until later, but it does help to lay some groundwork to give her character some depth. And frankly, that is far more interesting than a squeaky clean Betty. She and Jughead revive the school newspaper, which makes total sense, as Jughead is the narrator of this series that is concurrently a novel he is writing about the murder in town. This particular structure isn’t flawless, as the story does often head into places that Jughead doesn’t—and couldn’t—know about (scenes between characters unrelated to Jughead), but I suppose we’re meant to assume that as a reporter, he’s pieced together all these details later and is compiling the novel at a later time. Except that a draft of the novel is completed during the course of the season. But honestly, it’s possible to view this as the story he’s writing, plus extra scenes that aren’t narrated (and thus aren’t part of the novel about Jason Blossom’s death). Cheryl’s role in this episode is understandable if you understand her love for her brother. She is not so easy to simply dismiss as evil, and that’s awesome.

“Chapter Four: The Last Picture Show”

Riverdale had a drive-in theater. Of course it did. And in this episode, Jughead gets a backstory, which is awesome. We’ve already met the Southside Serpents, the “gang” from the wrong side of town. And here we discover that Jughead is the son of one of them. Of course. We’ve know that he’s a little different from everyone else. And Ronnie continues to impress, with her open communication with her mother. Places where you figure, “Oh, here’s where they’re going to misunderstand each other,” they talk it out. It’s unexpectedly a great model of good parenting.

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“Chapter Five: Heart of Darkness”

Cheryl Blossom must have been a fun role to play, totally embracing each aspect of her angsty bitchy existence. I love when you can feel both contempt and compassion for someone in the same episode, and nobody evokes that more than Cheryl. Ronnie becomes the best side of us, the one who acts like we’d like to think we’d act in a similar situation. That’s right. Veronica Lodge. She’s been the keeper of the high road in this series, while Betty is allowed to delve into some darkness. And that’s been nice. Loving Jughead’s cap, too, especially on the suit at Jason Blossom’s funeral.

“Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!”

While I know Midge will appear at some point to steal Jughead’s heart, and the Ronnie-Archie-Betty triangle will certainly find its day in the sun, I am definitely a fan of Betty-Jughead. (Is there an official abbreviation for that yet? Jugty? Bethead? I don’t know…) It works. For now, anyhow. Honestly, Archie’s musical journey is not so compelling a storyline, but whatever. I don’t need to love everything. It offers nice lightness relative to the doom and gloom of the murder mystery (and Betty’s revelations about her own family’s history. A pregnant sister locked up? Ooh, how sinister). I do appreciate, though, how Archie is called out for his selfishness. It’s fair criticism. The whole “everything works out anyhow” thing was bound to happen, so don’t mind that.

“Chapter Seven: In a Lonely Place”

Polly’s missing. The evidence is in flames. Alice Cooper (Betty’s mother, not the heavy metal artist) has a dark side. There’s some messed up family dynamics in play here.

“Chapter Eight: The Outsiders”

A bunch of high school kids ignore the advice of adults, head into a bar on the wrong side of the tracks where the Southside Serpents hang out, looking to cause trouble. They leave unscathed. Because Jughead’s dad (head Southside Serpent, you’ll recall) called Archie’s dad (with whom he has a history not yet fully explored), resulting in a heart-to-heart chat between Fred and Archie. It’s hokey and simplistic, but it’s very much an Archie Comics reality. That’s what’s great about Riverdale: it’s crazy unrealistic, simultaneously dark and safe, yielding a satisfying exploration into what life would be like if Archie and his pals lived today.

“Chapter Nine: La Grande Illusion”

Archie continues to serve his self-interests, which is refreshingly honest. He toys with Cheryl’s feelings because he stands to benefit from accompanying her to the Blossom family maple-tree tapping ceremony. And that, in itself, is delightfully quaint. Polly (Betty’s sister) is now living with the Blossoms, and these meddling kids of Riverdale—between Archie, Ronnie, Betty, and Jughead—are snooping around trying to solve a murder. Because, of course, they’re more insightful than the adults, who are too stuck in their ways and hiding their own pasts to face the truth. Secrets, secrets, lies, lies. That’s what adults are all about.

“Chapter Ten: The Lost Weekend”

Of course, there has to be one weekend with a drunken house party. But if you think that’s all this is about, you’re mistaken. It’s Jughead’s birthday, and misunderstandings abound as Betty insists on throwing him a party. It finishes with probably the best moment of all—Archie’s mom returns, played by… Molly Ringwald! It was perfect. What a magnificent merging of childhood fandoms–90210 meets Breakfast Club! Love it! I may have actually squeed aloud. Love the touch of wisdom provided by FP (Jughead’s dad) to keep Jughead from ending Bethead too soon.

“Chapter Eleven: To Riverdale and Back Again”

The mystery continues, stereotypical high school tropes are explored, la dee da. But seeing Molly Ringwald and Luke Perry at Homecoming? Yeah, that works. And the fact that I see them not as Dylan and Samantha (Sixteen Candles), but rather as Fred and Mary Andrews, is a credit to their acting in my mind. Archie and Ronnie break into FP’s trailer in a stunning betrayal of friendship, but, of course, it’s well-intentioned and helpful, as all plot twists ought to be, and the Archieness of the storyline is preserved. And I mean this in a good way.

“Chapter Twelve: Anatomy of a Murder”

FP is arrested, but thanks to Archie and Ronnie’s snooping, they know—and let Jughead know—that FP is innocent. Things are dark, get darker still, we’re in the penultimate episode of the season, and we’re hooked. We gotta stay up and watch the last episode even though it’s already past bedtime. We gotta know how it all resolves itself. It’s gripping, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ve long forgotten that Cole Sprouse ever lived on a cruise ship putting up with his twin brother Zack’s crazy antics. He is Jughead, through and through.

“Chapter Thirteen: The Sweet Hereafter (Season Finale)”

A good season finale not only wraps up issues raised throughout the season but makes you want to come back for more. This one did both. This is a messed up world, and I can’t wait to revisit it.

Nivi Engineer is a novelist and playwright in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a mom of three boys, and escapes the never-ending sports calendar through reading. This month, she's learning that the capital of Nepal is Kathmandu. And now, so will you.