Neon tubes will fill up the ragged fog until it looks like alien exhalations. All clothing, all buildings, all textures will hold a confusing - but alluring, reassuring - retro-present sensation. Everyone will say dramatic, or witty, or mysterious things.
You will be in Riverdale.
If you needed a reminder that you don't have sculpted abs or perfectly bouncy hair, hip or “on trend” clothes, or a curated soundtrack playing above all your stupid decisions, you should watch Riverdale, on the CW. It carries the tropes of its genre with confidence, don't worry about that. It has a good time and it brings you along.
A teen drama filtered through several layers of reliable standards - Gossip Girl, The O.C., Dawson’s Creek - with some interesting cues from unexpected genetic cousins - Twin Peaks mostly, but maybe The Killing, and the film Clueless, kind of. There are only two episodes as of now, so the genetics of inspiration could change quickly.
Knowing the Archie of the decades old comics isn't necessary. Someone may say it might even be a hindrance. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Carrying a deep love for those characters - and here I mean so deep it has almost, or has, calcified into an unchanging and steady obsession - could mean you'll hate these iterations of the classic crew, so keep that in mind.
Some of the most recent and noteworthy Archie stories were written by Riverdale developer, and current Archie Comics (that’s the name of the publisher, confusingly) Chief Creative Officer (CCO) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. There are two Archie books you can find strains of inspiration for the CW’s new show, at least in their confidence and experimentation with the material, and both are written by Aguirre-Sacasa, and both have memorable art styles. There is the lurid Argento-like hues of Francesco Francavilla’s art in Afterlife With Archie, and the charcoal smoothness and chalky soft colors of Robert Hack’s work in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Both books feature lettering by Jack Morelli, which delivers devilish words in black balloons, sickly green and jagged pronouncements of the damned, and narration that helps to pull a page into focus, a tableau for you to live in.
The show may remind you that we never feel young, and it may remind you that pop-culture is partly to blame. Shows like this, where twentysomethings play sophomores in high school, gets us all drunk on the idea of what could be, or what could have been, if only our hair was better, or we didn’t look like we actually do. That’s not the point though. The point is, who the crap killed Jason Blossom, and why is his sister so nuts, oh yeah how about Betty’s mom, what the holy hell is her deal? You totally forget that we’re all dying and are ugly.
Riverdale is self-aware, it’s not above smacking itself around for a faux lesbian kiss meant to titillate, or the Gay Best Friend trope. So far that understanding hasn’t touched on its weakest plot, that of Archie Andrews sleeping with teacher Miss Grundy. It isn’t that Archie wouldn’t do something like that, because with this show those types of worries are meaningless. Of course Archie would sleep with a teacher! He’s hot. Nevermind it’s a crime, and is gross, and the little visual nod to Lolita is icky. It sets up a dramatic arc related to a different crime - although I bet there’ll be a plot about the sex crime, at least in one episode - one that will fill our main cast with dread, guilt, and probably plenty of horniness.
These are the Archie characters you’ve heard of and seen, kind of, but these versions are not anchored by continuity. And I do have a theory about Miss Grundy, one that would justify their choice to have her sexing Archie up, but it’s a little spoilery. If you’re interested you can listen to Hideous Energy Presents: Rivertell, and use the hashtag #Rivertell on Twitter to join in on the conversation.
Watch Riverdale for the mystery, for the soundtrack, for the (mostly) good performances, and for a design sense that does a wonderful job of putting it in your head that everything is normal, except...