If you haven't encountered an Archie comic book in years, the CW's new Riverdale could be a shock, and not just because Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa, A Dog's Purpose) is so obviously not a true redhead.
Those dark brows always were a mite suspicious.
A little bit Twin Peaks, a little bit Dawson's Creek, the teen-centric drama premiering Thursday features a murder mystery, a girl-on-girl kiss between Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) that's dismissed — rightly — as a passe gimmick, and a Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody) who thinks about much more than hamburgers.
Don't blame the CW, or executive producers Sarah Schechter and Greg Berlanti, if Archie's hair isn't the only thing that seems darker than you remember.
Because if you've read the updated comics series in the last seven or eight years — a period when the freckled ginger apparently married both Betty and Veronica, faced a zombie apocalypse, and died staving off a political assassination — the Vancouver-filmed Riverdale might seem as comforting as the old Archie Andrews once was to me when Superman's multiple universes were making my head hurt.
Archie is still Archie: a 75-year-old teenager who can't choose between Betty or Veronica, football or music, Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel) or someone his own age. So, OK, that last one's more from the Dawson's Creek playbook, schoolteacher Geraldine Grundy having undergone a dramatic makeover to become yet another female for Archie to moon over.
Onetime Beverly Hills, 90210 heartthrob Luke Perry is Archie's dad, Fred, and Mädchen Amick adds to the Twin Peaks vibe as Betty's controlling mother, Alice. Marisol Nichols (NCIS) plays Veronica's mother, Hermione, who fled New York after her mogul husband became embroiled in a financial scandal.
Riverdale's a lot of fun, but what I like most so far is that Betty's much more than a ponytail, Veronica's not nearly as spoiled as I remember, and together they're navigating friendship and romantic rivalry in what I'd like to think are 21st-century ways. Plus, Ashleigh Murray is dynamite as Josie McCoy, the strong-willed center of — wait for it — Josie and the Pussycats.
You might be wondering about the murder mystery. Turns out it was Berlanti who convinced Archie Comics' chief creative officer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, that they'd need one.
Berlanti, the uber-producer who oversees the CW's superhero shows as well, has a history with coming-of-age stories that goes all the way back to Dawson's Creek. In their first meeting, Aguirre-Sacasa told reporters this month, "we talked about how I wanted to do a coming-of-age show and a slice-of-life show, and Greg said, 'Yeah, you're going to need a dead body, though.' And I remember thinking, 'No, no, no. We're not going to need a dead body.' "
But after the show was sold without one, "one of the first things they said is, 'We need to make this a little edgier. It needs to have a little bit more of a hook.' And seven months after Greg said to me, 'You need a dead body,' I was sort of like, 'We need a dead body.' "