I’m sorry that this is late. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to review before “Riverdale” takes over this blog.
I decided, instead of reviewing another series from the past, I’ll give an overview of the journey to “Riverdale” – and also introduce you to the actors, so the review of the first episode won’t get bogged down with that.
From There to Here
Archie got a radio series less than two years after he premiered in the comics, and the thing ran for a little over a decade from 1943 to 1953. In my opinion, it wasn’t very good. It focused more on Mr. Andrews than on Archie, and each episode devoted nearly a half-hour to a relatively minor problem (it’s hot, and they can’t sleep; Mr. Andrews tries to take a bath; Mr. Andrews tries to paint a room).
There were two attempts at a TV series in the early-to-mid-1960s, neither of which got past the pilot stage nor (probably) even aired on television. The first, “Life with Archie“, in 1962, starred Frank Bank (Clarence Rutherford of “Leave It to Beaver”). According to IMDb: “According to Frank Bank, the pilot was not picked up because the sponsors felt that viewers would still see him as “Lumpy” from Leave It to Beaver (1957).” The second, called “Archie” but also known as “The Electric Cupid”, in 1964, starred John Simpson, whose only other acting credit was appearing as a zombie in “Night of the Living Dead” four years later. I have never seen the 1962 pilot. I’ve seen the first third of the 1964 pilot but failed to download the entire thing before it got removed from YouTube (now, only a short clip exists on that site). I have no info on the plot of the 1962 pilot, but the 1964 pilot involves a matchmaking scheme by Archie, which involves Jughead getting inside a fake “computer”. From what I’ve seen, it’s all right. Typical 1950s-style sitcom stuff. It’s hard to tell who produced these things. According to IMDb, ABC produced the 1962 pilot, Screen Gems produced the 1964 pilot, and ABC distributed the 1964 pilot. According to IMDb, the 1964 pilot actually aired on television, but no specific date is given. IMDb also claims more cast and crew overlap between the two pilots. I’ve been told this is incorrect. Supposedly, only Betty’s actor, Cheryl Holdridge, appears in both pilots, but that might be wrong as well. Take all of this info with a big grain of salt.
Filmation struck gold with a long-running cartoon series that ran from 1968 to 1977 for a total of ten seasons. I don’t really care for these either. The characters all behave like idiots, and the plots feel a bit too much like, um, Saturday morning cartoons (which they were, but, y’know).
While Filmation had Archie and Sabrina, rivals Hanna-Barbera got Josie, and a Saturday morning cartoon series (or two, depending on how you look at it) ran for a total of 32 episodes plus an animated movie from 1970 to 1973.
When the Filmation juggernaut was nearing its end, another attempt at a live-action series was made. The first pilot, “Archie“, aired on Sunday, December 19, 1976, as part of “ABC Saturday Comedy Special“. Yeah, I doubt IMDb’s info. Two years later, ABC was like “Try again”. Supposedly using the same cast, “The Archie Situational Comedy Musical Variety Show” aired sometime in 1978. I haven’t seen anything from the 1976 pilot. According to IMDb, David Caruso was originally cast as Archie but was replaced shortly before filming began. The change was so sudden that publicity photos of Dennis Bowen as Archie credited him as Caruso.” I’ve heard of the plot from another reviewer, who quoted from a book called “Encyclopedia of Television Series, Pilots and Specials – 1974-1984” by Vincent Terrace. According to that, “Archie tries to arrange for a popular singing group (the Hound Dogs) to perform at Veronica’s birthday party.” Archie Comics character “Little Jinx” is credited as a guest star, even though she’s rarely crossed over with the Riverdale gang (and I’m not sure that she even had at all at this point). The 1978 pilot was more loose, consisting of sketches and musical numbers. It also is the only time that Moose and Midge have been featured as members of The Archies. It’s very 1970s. There are neon instruments, frog dissection, the revelation that Veronica apparently fucks everyone that she dates and is damn proud of it (this was in 1978, people!), Jughead’s parents being divorced, a game of Monopoly, Archie working as a waiter at (presumably) Pop’s to buy a car, and Archie and Betty arguing over whether to fuck before Betty finally suggests necking. The 1978 pilot is okay. It’s kind of interesting. It’s what you’d expect of a sitcom from that era. I’ve seen it, but the video is so bad that it’s barely watchable.
After that, things went quiet for nine years. During this time, someone seemingly got a license to make a live-action Archie movie, because the teenage versions of the characters wouldn’t appear on television again for quite a while. Some of you older fans might remember the rumor of Shannen Doherty as Veronica.
This tie-up of the legal rights didn’t prevent the gang from eventually returning to television, though. “The New Archies“, coproduced by Saban and DiC, ran for one season of 13 episodes (26 story segments) on NBC in the fall of 1987 and was repeated two years later. Featuring slightly younger versions of the gang in junior high (I think), it’s an okay – albeit unremarkable – cartoon series that I kind of like.
1990 saw a live-action television movie (and possible series pilot), produced by DiC and airing on NBC, featuring the Riverdale gang in their early thirties. I like this movie. It has charm and heart. Unfortunately, it tanked in “the ratings”, so no weekly television series emerged. This was the last time that the Riverdale gang was seen in live-action form.
Things fell silent again for another six years. What was going on? Who knows?
Then, suddenly, in 1996, a TV movie aired on premium cable – followed by a live-action network series (ABC/WB) that ran for seven seasons and two spin-off movies. Archie Comics finally had a successful live-action series – with Sabrina Spellman.
During this time, in the 1999-2000 season, the teenage versions of the Riverdale characters finally returned to television for a 40-episode animated series called “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” on the new network, PAX. Featuring a supernatural angle and a pitch-perfect voice cast, this series is fun. It gives you what you expect from the characters – with a bit of a twist. A movie in the same continuity – but also introducing the band element suddenly for whatever reason – aired on Tuesday, September 2, 2003 (according to IMDb; Wikipedia says 2002 without a specific date), on Nickelodeon Sunday Night Toons (yeah, this info is definitely sketchy). This was the last time that the Riverdale gang appeared on television in an official capacity).
On Wednesday, April 11, 2001, Archie Comics finally had a big theatrical film – with “Josie and the Pussycats“. I saw it in the theater and bought the DVD around the time that it was released. Featuring a kick-ass rock soundtrack (certified gold), it’s a fucking brilliant satire of the music industry and our consumerist culture and even has a mystery angle similar to the comics and Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. Sadly, it bombed at the box office, crushing any hopes for a sequel. Interestingly, unlike the comics of the time, it took place in Riverdale, yet Archie and the gang were nowhere to be seen.
However, Sabrina got one last hurrah with the 26-episode computer-animated series, “Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch“, which aired on The Hub in the 2013-2014 series. From what I’ve seen, it’s okay. It’s a typical modern Nickelodeon animated series. This was the last official representation of Archie Comics on television.
So that’s the history of Archie Comics on television (outside the occasional parodies). What happened next is kind of hard to explain.
Arriving at Riverdale
In the years prior to now, Archie Comics had still been trying to get a live-action movie of the Riverdale gang made. In 2003, a licensing deal for a bunch of animated series, direct-to-video movies, TV specials, and live bands based on the various Archie properties was announced, but nothing happened. The digests even advertised an upcoming sitcom that never happened.
A “Betty & Veronica” film from Miramax was supposed to come out in 2005, and a script was apparently spotted at Archie Comics’ then-leader Richard Goldwater’s house. Miramax released a bunch of tie-in books and apparel to build interest for the movie. ArchieComics.com had a little banner in 2005 saying the movie was coming soon. Then…nothing. I’d love to read this script.
In 2010, there was a vague rumor of an animated series based on Archie’s superhero alter-ego, Pureheart the Powerful.
Richard Goldwater, the son of one of the company’s cofounders, died in late 2007, and Michael Silbertkleit, the son of another cofounder, died in 2008. Richard’s half-brother, Jon, and Michael’s widow, Nancy, became the new co-CEOs of Archie Comics in mid-2009.
What followed were a bunch of cancellations of long-running titles, the launch of alternate-universe horror titles based on Archie and Sabrina in late 2013 and late 2014 (respectively), talk of movies and TV series from Jon Goldwater (he mentioned a “Katy Keene” TV series), an announcement of a new animated series called “It’s Archie” (featuring the characters as kids attending Riverdale Elementary School) – along with some bad promo art that did not inspire confidence – from MoonScoop Group (the company behind the latest Sabrina series), and the launch of New Riverdale in late 2015.
So what’s happened since then? “It’s Archie” never materialized (thank Goddess). “Afterlife with Archie” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” have fallen comically behind schedule, putting out only 10 and 6 issues, respectively, since their debuts. The new “Betty and Veronica” title keeps falling behind schedule. Rumors persist of Archie Comics’ financial troubles. New Riverdale has barely more continuity than Classic Archie (and certainly no inter-title continuity) and is beginning to, aside from the art style and occasional very mild cursing, feel no different than Classic Archie – almost to the point where I can’t immediately tell if an upcoming one-shot special is supposed to be Classic Archie or New Riverdale or something else entirely.
The big break can be traced back to, of all things, the comically-behind-schedule horror title, “Afterlife with Archie”. It’s then-success led to its writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (a comic book fan only a few years older than me), being named Archie Comics’ chief creative officer in early 2014.
Roberto Aguirre-Sacase (left) and Jon Goldwater (right)
Around this time, another live-action Archie theatrical film was being talked about, and it briefly turned into a possible “Afterlife with Archie” movie or TV series in December of 2014 before seemingly reverting to a traditional Archie film. Then, according to the official company line, they were like “Fuck it, we’ve got so much material, let’s do a TV series instead!”
Sacasa is writing “Riverdale“, so Afterlife, despite its overall lack of material, is a bit of an influence on it. It was originally in development at Fox, with the network landing the project in 2014 with a script deal plus penalty. However, Fox did not go forward with the project. In early July of 2015, the show’s development was moved to The CW, which officially ordered a pilot on January 29, 2016. Filming of the pilot began on March 14 and ended on April 1. It was picked up to series on May 12. Production on the remaining 12 episodes of season 1 began on September 7 in Vancouver. In December of 2016, Netflix acquired the exclusive international broadcast rights to “Riverdale”, making the series available as an original series to its platform less than a day after the original U.S. broadcast. The series is being executive-produced by Greg Berlanti of CW superhero series fame.
Soon after the series was announced, Archie fans started complaining. Jon Goldwater said “This is a current, modern, live-action take of Archie and Betty and Veronica. It’s the love triangle with a lot of surprises. Very current, very modern, not anything that’s retro or that anyone could view as stuck in the past. It’s contemporary high school 2016 of Archie and the gang.” Sacasa described this series as a subversive take on the Archie story in the style of “Twin Peaks” (which I never saw more than the first episode of) and “Gossip Girl“, exploring the darkness going on beneath the bright, cheerful facade of small-town life. So it’s weird but without the supernatural elements (maybe), but it certainly follows “Supernatural“. Sacasa has said he’d like to bring in Sabrina eventually and/or do a spin-off series (which would be separate from the Sabrina relaunch that Melissa Joan Hart is currently “in talks” to do).
Fans criticized the plot elements, the sexualization of the characters (because the Riverdale gang has never, ever, ever wanted to fuck), and the casting choices (especially the race changes). Let’s look at the actors that will be bringing life to our characters.
Most of the teen characters are being portrayed by relative newbies (most of which don’t even have Wikipedia articles), which I think is a good thing. It’s good to get fresh faces to play such iconic characters.
Archibald “Archie” Andrews is being portrayed by New Zealander actor Keneti James “K. J.” Apa. “Riverdale” is actually his third television series but his first American one. Also, he’s got two upcoming film roles this year: “A Dog’s Purpose” and “Altar Rock”. He was born on June 16, 1997, in Auckland, New Zealand, and won the role of Archie after a four-month worldwide talent search.
Forsythe Pendleton “Jughead” Jones III is being portrayed by Cole Mitchell Sprouse. He’s had the most acting experience out of the teen characters’ actors, having acted since 1993, mostly with his twin brother. He was Cody Martin on Nickelodeon. “Riverdale” is his 30th acting credit. He also produced “The Suite Life Movie” in 2011, and he can sing. He was born in Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy to American parents on August 4, 1992.
Veronica Lodge is being portrayed by Camila Mendes (heh, Camila succeeds Camille). “Riverdale” is her first role, which is awesome. The fans have criticized a Hispanic actor playing Veronica, and it’s sort of understandable, because Lodge is an upper-crust name from New England, originating in England. However, while her mother seems to be Hispanic as well, there’s no indication yet what Hiram is. It’s possible that Veronica is only half-Hispanic. Regardless, from what I’ve seen of her in the promos, she pulls off Veronica well. Let’s give her a chance.
Elizabeth “Betty” Cooper is being portrayed by Lili Reinhart. She’s relatively new to acting, having started in 2010, but “Riverdale” is already her 14th credit. She can also sing. She was born on September 13, 1996, in Cleveland, Ohio. Reinhart has a tattoo on her left arm. It’ll be interesting to see if they conceal it.
Cheryl Blossom is being portrayed by Madelaine Petsch, who is very new to acting, having started in 2015. “Riverdale” is only her fourth credit and only her second named role. Cheryl Blossom is certainly her first major role – as a main character, no less. I love the fact that Cheryl Blossom is a main character. She’s one of my favorite Archie Comics characters (it’s a toss-up between her and Betty). She’s got an upcoming film role this year in “Fuck the Prom”.
Kevin Keller is being portrayed by Casey Cott. This is his first role.
Reginald “Reggie” Mantle is being portrayed by Ross Butler, who started acting in 2012, but “Riverdale” is already his 17th role. He’ll apparently be only a recurring character, but don’t feel bad for him; he’s also starring on another series currently in post-production. He was born on May 17, 1990 (11 days after the TV movie), making him way too old for the role. There were some complaints that he’s Asian (or at least partly Asian), but it’s not a big deal to me.
Then there are Josie and the Pussycats.
Josephine “Josie” McCoy is being portrayed by Ashleigh Murray, who has been acting since 2007, but “Riverdale” is only her 6th credit (and first major role). She’s also got a movie role coming up this year.
Melody Valentine is being portrayed by Asha Bromfield, who started acting in 2010. “Riverdale” is already her 14th credit. IMDb confusingly credits her character as both Melody Jones and Melody Valentine.
Valerie Brown is being portrayed by Hayley Law, who is new to acting. “Riverdale” is her first role, but she’s currently filming a guest appearance on a television series.
Yeah, all of them are black, whereas only Valerie is black in all previous incarnations. This caused fans to complain. Personally, I don’t mind as long as they can sing some kick-ass rock songs. Also, I love that they’re using the last names from the 2001 movie.
Now for some minor teen characters.
Dilton Doiley is a bit of a mystery. He’s initially being portrayed by Daniel Yang. This is his first role. Yeah, he’s Asian (or at least part-Asian), but it doesn’t matter to me. What’s odd, though, is the cast list at the front of Camila Mendes’ script for episode 10 confirms Dilton has been recast. He’s later portrayed by Major Curda, who IMDb credits for only episode 03, oddly. He started acting in 2010, but “Riverdale” is already his 24th credit. He’s Asian too.
Tina Patel (Raj’s little sister) is being portrayed by Olivia Ryan Stern.
Marmaduke “Moose” Mason is being portrayed by Cody Kearsley.
Ginger Lopez is being portrayed by Caitlin Mitchell-Markovitch.
Ethel Muggs is being portrayed by Shannon Purser. She was born on June 27, 1997.
Charles “Chuck” Clayton is being portrayed by Jordan Calloway. He was born on October 18, 1990 (exactly 12 years after me), making him way too old for the role.
Let’s look at the parents and other adults.
Fred Andrews is being portrayed by Coy Luther “Luke” Perry III, who looks nothing like the Fred Andrews of the comics or the previous cartoons, but I get what they’re going for: the Riverdale gang are the children of the 90210 generation. He was born on October 11, 1966.
Mary Andrews is being portrayed by Molly Ringwald, which I like. She was born on February 18, 1968. She won’t be on the show much.
Alice Cooper is being portrayed by Mädchen E. Amick. She was born on December 12, 1970.
Harold “Hal” Cooper is being portrayed by Locklyn Munro. He was born on February 12, 1966.
Hermione Lodge is being portrayed by Marisol Nichols. She was born on November 2, 1973 (she’s not quite five years older than me), and she’s a fellow Chicagoan. She was Audrey Griswold in “Vegas Vacation”. They really de-aged Hermione for this series, which is nice, since there’s no longer a joke of whether Veronica is adopted. She has Spanish and Mexican on her mother’s side and Hungarian and Romanian on her father’s side.
Penelope Blossom is being portrayed by Nathalie Boltt.
Clifford “Cliff” Blossom is being portrayed by Barclay Hope.
Geraldine Grundy is being portrayed by Sarah Evelyn Habel. She was born on July 30, 1982. Yeah, they really de-aged her and sexed her up for this series, which caused complaints among the fans. This is the one change that I feel deserves the backlash, though. Why use Ms. Grundy for such a role instead of creating a new character?
Pop Tate is being portrayed by Alvin Sanders.
Smithers is being portrayed by Tom McBeath.
Coach Clayton is being portrayed by Colin Lawrence.
As for the other actors, I’ll leave their coverage for their first appearances.
My Thoughts So Far
I’ve watched the trailers. I’ve watched interviews. I have a basic idea of what this series is going to be like.
Members of the cast and executive producers attended San Diego Comic-Con in July to promote the series. They premiered the first episode there, seemingly to a positive response. It’s gotten some good reviews online since then. Luke Perry has said in interviews that there is plenty of humor in the scripts – “a lot of light amongst the dark”. I’m cautiously optimistic and going into it with an open mind.
“Riverdale” premieres tonight on The CW at 9:00 PM, EST. Enjoy the show, and I’ll see you next Wednesday…in a little town called Riverdale.