MANDY SCREAMS AT RIVERDALE

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Riverdale: Testing the Waters of the CW’s New Take on a Comic Classic

riverdalBy age 12, long before my first date, instinct had told me there’s something inherently wrong with two bright, beautiful girls endlessly scrapping for the attention of one boy. Aside from the fact that both Betty and Veronica thought one hunk of gingerbread was the only sweet thing in the malt shop of their lives, the triangle they formed with Archie Andrews obliterated the legitimacy of their friendship.

Admittedly, I was an advanced reader and a harsh critic, but even at 7 or 8, I longed for rich stories, complex characters, and more sophisticated fashion. So, why have I, like countless others, continued to follow The Archies? How has this franchise, which dates back to the origin of Batman, lasted more than three quarters of a century?

There are many things to like about the crew from Riverdale, but to be concise, the writers and artists offer just enough high school hijinks and grand adventure for us to bring our own fantasies to life. In that sense, we girls (and guys) could do anything—like Barbie. After a while, the generic nature of the series became its strength. As much as we crave the constant stimulation offered by new technologies and trends, we are creatures of habit who long for the comfort of predictability and simplicity.

With that said, my stomach quivered at the thought of my beloved but hopelessly anachronistic girlfriends, B and V, becoming corporeal vixens on the CW. I knew they needed not only an update, but also a major adjustment. However, I’d rather let time simply march on than see my familiar 2-D teens fall into the hands of careless scribes and network execs happy to get a little buzz and a two-season run out of some of the most iconic characters of our time.

That’s precisely why I watched a few episodes before uttering a comment, let alone passing judgment on Riverdale

The show could have had the excitement and emotional impact of a Very Brady sequel. Conversely, it could have induced an episode of retro vertigo by invoking the names of our G-rated guy and gal pals and putting them in perfunctory, pouty Pretty Little Liars scenarios.

While the new series does more than flirt with familiar shows and themes, it’s doing the most important thing a Riverdale refresher could do—make Betty and Veronica real friends. This wise and long overdue decision hinged on the redemption of Veronica Lodge.

Make no mistake, I’ve always been a Betty, despite my envy of Ronnie’s wealth and power—yet the Camila Mendes iteration of the egotistical diva is the linchpin of the Lodge transformation. Reflect on two undeniable teen divas: Blair witches from various decades—Warner from The Facts of Life and Waldorf from Gossip Girl.

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Although both girls matured along with their respective TV series, their niche was narcissism.  The new Veronica is no condescending cliché. As the river tale goes, her pop was into Ponzi. His resulting imprisonment for his financial misdeeds brought her mom, a lonely Hermione Lodge, back to her small town roots.  Their heiress daughter greets that small town with the type of humility that only the strong derive from humiliation. Without this remarkable sense of integrity, the mean girl she once was would have blossomed into the vacuous villain known as Cheryl.

What a brilliant move on the part of the Riverdale writers! The comics have the B and V forming temporary alliances when Cheryl threatens to steal the spotlight they already share with one another. The TV show cements the bond between the eternal frenemies by making Ms. Blossom the vacuous villain from the beginning and positioning Ronnie as the sardonic cheerleader Betty needs as she struggles to subvert her affection for the franchise’s eponymous Archie.

river2The 2017 version of the boy next door lives beside Betty, giving the show a Dawson and Joey kind of vibe.  New V, like ’90s Jen, has been wounded and turns those big city battle scars into words of wisdom. This time, it’s delivered without verbal gymnastics, and the outsider, who quickly becomes a hub of the group, is more elegant and well read than sloppy and emotive.

“I’M BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, AND THIS PLACE IS STRICTLY IN COLD BLOOD.”

                                    -Veronica Lodge

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While we’re talking about Archie, it’s important to mention that he’s not torn between B and V—nor is he distracted by a fellow redhead in the form of Cheryl. Ms. Blossom is all too reminiscent of Holland Roden’s Lydia in the earlier episodes of MTV’s Teen Wolf, but even she can’t captivate the boy who’s hot for teacher! That’s right—Riverdale’s “Dawson” mirrors Pacey’s romance with Ms. Jacobs when he plucks the orchestral strings of music teacher Ms. Grundy, who’s TV persona is at least three decades younger than the schoolmarm in the comics.

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I could go on as long as Archie Comics has, but I’ll encapsulate my take on the CW show with a quote from Stephen King:

Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.

In other words, there’s nothing truly new, but it’s the way writers bring together elements of the known world that make a new work shallow and choppy or as deep and ingratiating as a river.

… at least they didn’t go supernatural on us … but wait, have you met their friend, Sabrina?

-Mandy

Follow me on Twitter! @ScreamWithMandy!

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