A memorable scene in episode one of “Riverdale” perfectly captures what makes this CW drama work. Archie and Veronica end up in a closet for Seven Minutes in Heaven during a party, and Veronica begins to see through Archie’s wholesome exterior.
“You’re a lot more dangerous than you look, aren’t you?” she asks.
“You have no idea,” he says.
“Riverdale” is far more dangerous than the historically G-rated comics universe it’s based on, and therefore destined to be polarizing. But if last Thursday’s crackling debut is any indication, it promises to be a juicy treat full of curveballs and intrigue. The show pulls off an impressive feat in maintaining the essence of beloved and loathed archetypes while turning their volume way up and messing with viewers’ expectations.
Produced by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa — Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer and writer of the fantastic “Afterlife With Archie” series — “Riverdale” certainly contains shock value. However, it’s a well-used spice, not the entire meal. Speaking as someone who has been an Archie fan since first grade, I’m thrilled that “Riverdale” takes risks instead of confining characters in safe boxes.
On the fence? Here are four reasons to tune in.
It’ll keep you guessing
“Riverdale” throws viewers off immediately by establishing a creepy vibe between twins Cheryl and Jason Blossom (Madelaine Petsch and Trevor Stines) as they drive to the lake with dreamy music playing in the background. Jason dies mysteriously during their sibling boat ride, which casts a shadow over a town with plenty of other secrets. Something feels slightly off about the place from beginning to end, so you can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen next.
Familiar characters, new problems
Though Archie (winningly portrayed by K.J. Apa) is basically a good guy, his newfound passion for songwriting was inspired by some scandalous summer activities. He’d never intentionally hurt his hopelessly smitten friend Betty, but Archie is drawn to neon warning signs in the romance department. Speaking of Betty (Lili Reinhart), her Miss Perfect persona comes at a high cost that shows itself in literally painful ways. The real MVP thus far is Veronica (Camila Mendes), a surprisingly likable character who’s trying to leave her evil princess past behind but will still verbally cut a bitch (Hi, Cheryl) with aplomb.
Secondary players make big impressions, too. Casey Cott in particular is delightful as Kevin Keller, and even without much dialogue, Ross Butler firmly establishes Reggie as the frat boy we all know and hate. Jughead (Cole Sprouse) mostly narrates, yet lurks in the background silently calling shenanigans.
It’s witty as hell
While the hyper-articulate, pop culture-referencing teenager has been done to death in TV and film, it works for “Riverdale.” I chuckled at choice lines, like Kevin informing Veronica that the town’s entertainment offerings include “a tragic gay bar called Innuendo.” There are many creative references to Archie’s newly hot status, and the show acknowledges tropes to excellent comic effect.
Archie’s big reveal aside, the award for Most Surprising Moment goes to a spontaneously arranged tryst between two characters I never would have put together. Also, kudos to the creators for casting non-white actors/actresses in unexpected roles (Josie, played by Ashleigh Murray, and all of the Pussycats are black) and keeping it moving.
Episode two of “Riverdale” airs Thursday at 9 p.m. (EST), so catch up and get your popcorn ready.