Adaptations are tricky. They can either go horribly, HORRIBLY wrong or they can be a surprise hit. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground. This is especially true if the property being adapted is something that has been beloved for generations. The key to any good adaptation is to be different, to give it something the audience hasn't seen before, to be unique. But at the same time, it must stay true to the heart of the original property.
When I first heard that The CW was going to be airing a television series based on the Archie Comic books called Riverdale my first thought was "Why?" The comics are bright, cartoony, and all about clean good-natured fun. They're about as Americana as you can get and I wasn't quite sure how it would translate into a live-action medium.
The answer is... perfectly.
Produced by Greg Berlanti (Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow eat), Riverdale is a dark and dramatic take on the wholesomeness that the "town with pep" is known for and it's iconic teenage inhabitants. The pilot opens with a monologue by Cole Sprouse as budding author, Jugehead Jones. He states that the safe, innocent town we might know, a town like any other small town in America, is gone. It drowned along with one of the town's most popular high school students, Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines). His beautiful but cold-hearted twin sister, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), claims that he fell in the water after reaching down to get a glove she dropped, but the boat tipped and they both fell in. She made it to shore. He did not. But not everyone seems saddened by the death of the town's golden boy. In fact, two residence, Alice and Hal Cooper (Mädchen Amick and Lochlyn Munro), hope that he suffered before he died.
As the pilot moves forward, one by one the familiar characters are brought to life. As Betty (Lili Reinhart) gets ready for a date with Archie (KJ Apa), her gay best friend Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) encourages her to "grab that ginger bull by the horns," and finally make her move. But, as Riverdale's goody-two-shoes, it takes her a while to build up her courage and just when she does, the town's newest resident, Veronica (Camila Mendes), rolls into town and one of the most iconic friendships in comic book history is set into motion.
But this isn't your parent's Riverdale.
As Kevin says while watching Betty get ready for her date, "Archie is swell." He's the typical all-American teenager, who just also happens to be sexy as hell. Another fact Kevin blurts out when he sees Archie shirtless through his bedroom window. The familiar "Aww shucks," moments of the comics have been replaced by "OMFG! Did that just happen!?!"
With the main roles perfectly cast, one by one other familiar characters in the Archie-verse start to make their appearances. Ashleigh Murray rocks it as Josie, the lead singer of the Pussycats, while Cody Kearsley is an adorably confused Moose.Veteran teen heartthrob, Luke Perry, portrays Archie's father, Fred Andrews, while the Queen of the 80s teenagers, Molly Ringwald herself, has been cast as his mother, Mary. Ross Butler is football hothead Reggie Mantle and Shannon Purser (Barb, from stranger things) makes an appearance as Ethel Muggs. With so many character cameos, the only one that seems to be missing is Sabrina Spellman. However, fear not, because at last year's San Diego Comic Con Apa said that the teenage witch would be coming to Riverdale.
Oh, and that drowning... well, let's just the golden boy's death is a bit more mysterious than that.
The death sets the dark-drama tone for the series and gives it a very Twin Peaks kind of vibe, which is delicious. But it's just one of the stories that will unravel over the thirteen episodes of Riverdale's first season. With fraud, vengeance, and more than one forbidden love affair, the series will keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Each episode will leave you wanting more. It takes familiar characters and puts them in entirely new situations, but where others have failed (ie 2015's live action Jem and the Holograms film), Riverdale excels, mainly due to the writing. The first two episodes (The River's Edge and A Touch of Evil) were written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the creator of Afterlife with Archie. It's got the mystery of Veronica Mars mixed with drama of 90210 and the eye candy of Gossip Girl. Riverdale has it all. It's total teen drama perfection.
Riverdale will premiere on January 26th and air on Thursdays at 9/10 ET on the CW.