Riverdale is a stunningly well-produced adaptation of the Archie comic book series. It draws from the modern world and has traded battle of the bands concerts in 1942 for a small town horror story full of secrets and dark themes. Within the first 30 seconds of the introductory episode, we’ve been introduced to the small town of Riverdale. The writers were sure to allude to the dark themes right from the start. This is shown in this quote from our narrator, Jughead Jones played by actor and co-writer Cole Sprouse. “From a distance it presents itself like so many other small towns all over the world, safe, decent, innocent. Get closer though, and you start seeing the shadows underneath.” All 7 of the primary characters in Riverdale are introduced within the first 5 minutes and given a mild backstory which is extrapolated throughout the rest of the series, scene by scene. The writers did well to show many different facets of our heroes and villains, depicting everything from their romances, their home lives, their school responsibilities, to work pressures, conflict, and family secrets.
I’ll start by saying that I have recently watched the first season of Riverdale start to finish. With this in mind, I can speak to how masterfully the first episode was crafted to foreshadow what’s to come. Five minutes into the show and not only do we know the characters we’ll be following, but we have already been shown a precursor to the major conflict of this season, the disappearance of Jason Blossom. This is thanks to the planning of writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Jason’s character functions more as a motif than as a living person interacting with the rest of the gang. At the end of the episode, we find out that he was murdered when we stumble upon his decaying body with Kevin as he walks through the forest on a late night tryst. This is the hook for the next episode, a tragic and yet expected event that affects all characters differently.
Another interesting fact is that Jason has no dialogue, yet we consistently see him interacting with loved ones and classmates throughout the series via flashbacks and hallucinations. His presence is more similar to a dream than to reality, which adds a mythological characteristic to his persona and to the show. While it may seem like episode 1 should be the one in which we see everyone’s reaction to the death of Jason Blossom, we do not find out that he is dead until the end of the episode. With this, the writers are saying the first episode is better suited to introduce the complexities of the relationships we follow throughout the season. If they had chosen to kill off Jason at the start of the first episode as opposed to the end, we wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know our heroes and villains as intimately as we do.
Another aspect of the show has less to do with the gang and more to do with the dramatics that seem to follow their parents. Hiram Lodge, in prison for white-collar crime and running his criminal empire from behind bars. His actions drive the story of the Andrews family through business, while also affecting Jughead Jones’ family through criminal activities. The Blossom family, occult traditions with company and family secrets, their actions drive many aspects of the story. The Coopers are a family with long-standing grudges against the Blossoms that go back generations. Both the Coopers and the Blossoms are excruciatingly controlling of their children which corrupts their mental health and way of living. Polly Cooper, for instance, is sent off to a religious institute because her parents want to hide the fact that she’s pregnant, they even go so far as to say that Polly is crazy or unstable to hide this. One could write a 10-page paper just about the parents of the main characters in this story.
In the end, the show Riverdale is just as much about the stories of its main characters as it is about the shady dealings of their families. It’s a true to life drama based off of a massively successful retro comic book series that influenced generations. The writing blends several complex plot lines together seamlessly and after watching the series, one may remain consistently surprised at how drawn in they are to watch the next episode, and the next. It is equal parts wholesome and progressive as it is thrilling and dramatic. The show is easily one of the best new dramas in the past 5 years.