Let me start out by saying that I have never, ever read an Archie comic book before. I have no idea what is contained within those pages. I was always under the impression that Archie was a pretty lighthearted series, but have not seen any real evidence of that. Sure, I am aware of the characters. Could easily recognize them as they debuted in the show, but did not have any base of characterization to judge what I was seeing.
Adding to this lack of knowledge about the source material, I did not watch any previews for Riverdale. So, I really had no idea what I was in for when I started this episode. I give this info because I think context is important with reviews. Someone that is an avid Archie fan may have a different opinion about this episode than myself. But for myself, I was pretty surprised by what I saw. Spoilers ahead.
The episode contained all of the things you expect in a moody, teenage drama. You have Archie and Betty with the typical “they’ve been friends all their life but are not dating” story. At the same time, they are dealing with the typical parental expectations. In Veronica, you have the outsider that is new to the school. Jughead seems like the aloof introvert (which seems odd to me). There’s Cheryl Blossom, who is the token leader of the token mean girl group. She is also mourning the death of her twin brother Jason, who died in a drowning incident on July 4, while the two of them were out in a boat and the body is missing.
Oh, and Archie had an affair over the summer with the high school music teacher, Geraldine Grundy. Adding to this, they were apparently on a picnic on July 4th, and heard a gunshot somewhere. So, Archie is not only dealing with these feelings that he has for his teacher, but also that they may know something about Jason’s death, but cannot say anything, because then they would have to explain why they were together. This was something I did not like in this episode. I felt that this affair story line needlessly complicates matters. The affair angle was used during a school dance to keep Archie distant from Betty, but later on, Archie kisses Veronica. If Archie was so into Geraldine that he is distracted from Betty, then why is he kissing Veronica? It seems like they could have kept the affair secret, to be revealed in a later episode. Go ahead and build tension between Archie and Geraldine, but reveal at a later time why there is tension.
I also did not like having Hermione Lodge, Veronica’s mother, find a bag full of money in her room. Hermione and Veronica moved back to Riverdale after her husband was arrested on charges of fraud and maybe embezzlement. It only really gets mentioned once when Hermione approaches Archie’s father about an accounting job. Oh, and they also dated during high school, because why not just drop that info while you are in the process of dropping a lot of other info. Again, this is something that should have been left for a later episode.
The episode ends with Kevin Keller and Moose about to go skinny dipping, when they come across Jason Blossom’s body. They find him with a gunshot to the head, and now we have a murder mystery. I like murder mysteries. They are a solid, on-going story arcs. I worry that the murder mystery will get too tied into all of the other character arcs, like it already has with the Archie/Geraldine arc. What we know about Jason so far is that he used to play football and Archie was given his number on the varsity team, and Betty’s mother blames Jason for what happened to her sister, Poppy.
Other than that, I was a little annoyed by the pop culture references. The easiest way to make your show seem dated in the future is to add in real life pop culture references that people may not understand in 10 years time. You should be establishing your own pop culture, creating a universe that the show exists in. If you want a character to comment that the surprise, faux-lesbian kiss is played out, then that’s fine. But do not tell your audience that the social scene on Sunday nights is HBO. Yes, a portion of your audience right now may identify with it, but it is lazy. You risk isolating anyone that is not a fan of HBO dramas.
Overall, the show started off okay. I do not particularly like the pace at which they threw information at the audience, but the delivery of said information was not that bad. The look of the show fits the tone they are going with. Soundtrack was full of songs that I did not recognize, but again, they fit the show. I do not know if I would recommend that you watch this show. You may like it, but I did not like it enough to try to get friends to watch it in order to discuss episodes with them. In the end, I will likely keep watching for at least a few more episodes, but I would not be surprised if I gave up on it rather quickly.