Year-end 2017 stuff: 'Riverdale' is my favorite new TV show in a long while

It's the end of the year, so I'm writing about stuff I enjoyed in 2017 after several months of neglecting this blog. Here's a link to all of the 2017 year-end stuff

Riverdale came back to the CW for its second season on October 11, exactly five months after its first-season run of thirteen episodes concluded in May. The second season is running for nine straight weeks with nine new episodes through next week (Dec. 13), then there's a tenth episode scheduled for mid-January; another five episodes have titles on Wikipedia, but no dates on those just yet. So either way, it's very easy for me to say the ten episodes scheduled for release in 2017 were my most anticipated episodes of television for all of 2017 heading into October.

The first season of Riverdale was awesome. It's very highly overdramatic in a fun way that captures the nostalgia of mid-2000s teen dramas like Gossip Girl, SmallvilleThe O.C., One Tree Hill, 90210, Gilmore Girls, shows like that. This type of high-stakes, semi-artificial-feeling drama translates surprisingly well into the world of Archie Comics. There's a layer of heavily applied, thick mystery and intrigue and #darkness on top of the over-dramatization of the Riverdale world, meaning that of course nearly every episode ends on a cliff-hanger and of course the "next week on" teaser at the end of each airing leaves you breathless.


Generally speaking, Riverdale is combining two pieces of culture that I have nostalgia for, in both immediate and longer-reaching senses. I used to read Archie Comics regularly as a kid -- the digest kinds that you'd buy in the grocery store shopping line. I'd toss one onto the checkout conveyor belt every time we were at Publix, and my mom would only put it back like 90% of th time. This left plenty of Archie digests for my sister and I to read over the years. My favorite types were the Archie & Friends double digests, which were quite long and featured loads of stories about the main group of Archie's friends -- Archie Andrews himself, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, Jughead Jones, Reggie Mantle -- but also the secondary characters like Cheryl Blossom, Moose Mason, Josie & The Pussycats, and more. You'd get a lot of variety in those double digests.

The comic book storylines often weren't so dramatic. It felt more like reading stories that, if produced for television, might be in the kind of format where you fit two 15-minute mini-episodes into a regular 30-minute show block. Single and double digests often had dozens of stories crammed in, frequently unrelated to any of the other stories they shared their pages with, aside from the understanding that these were consistent characters and archetypes within their own world.

Archie was the all-around guy, who led a band but was also athletic enough to play on seemingly every sports team, good at most everything; Betty and Veronica were, respectively, the blonde and brunette that Archie always had crushes on but could never really "choose" between, so standard love triangle stuff there; Jughead was Archie's best friends and was a bit of an "outsider" type who ate a lot of burgers but never got fat; Reggie was Archie's frenemy type who seemed to be slightly better than him at sports and therefore could probably beat him up; Moose Mason was the jock, Cheryl Blossom the wild-card redhead, etc. The archetypes of these characters were neither super original nor particularly well-written, but they were consistently fun and presented an extended escape into another world.

On television, the characters are largely dialed up to eleven in terms of personality characteristics. And like a lot of young adult television, everyone is required to be very sexy and able to take off their shirt at any time. Archie Andrews is extremely hot in this show; Betty and Veronica are pleasantly much more equal in stature on the show as well, blending the lines between Betty's "friendly, humble girl next door" crutch and Veronica's "spoiled rich brat" cliché a bit. Television gives Betty a dark side and Veronica a set of morals for which she'll fight.

Riverdale's first season was dedicated to solving the murder of Jason Blossom, who is Cheryl's brother. The show is, like I already said, quite overly dramatic ... and that translated during the first season into a relatively needless level of semi-comical "darkness." It works and it's good because it's aware of its own game: What the writers and creators of this series realize is there's no point in going halfway there in terms of making this a dark drama. It has to be a dark drama all the dang time and never let you forget it. Rarely is there a fully sun-shiny day in Riverdale; rarely is there more than a few minutes of screentime without a critically serious exchange of dialogue.

That first season sparked joy while watching it, and the second season is off to a pretty good start as well. We're very solidly playing the same game here, with the #darkness of Riverdale extending firmly into our main cast of characters and even into our hero, Archie. During this season, which I'm not quite up-to-date with at the moment, there's a serial killer haunting Riverdale and seemingly hunting only people that Archie cares about. So it's another mystery-solving set of episodes, fairly divorced from the mystery we solved in the first season.

This set-up could work well for the series. Keeping each season of the series relatively separate from the others harkens back to the piecemeal nature of the stories in those comic digests. If this were made in 2002 on Nickelodeon, the show would have been a cartoon where Archie and Co. get into a different crazy adventure every 15 minutes ... a la the structure of Spongebob, Rocket Power, etc. But in this "golden age" of TV that we are either still enjoying right now or recently exited from, depending on who you ask, the season-long arc makes a lot of sense. It keeps a focal point throughout the character and setting development, constantly leaving us something to fall back on, but without providing a burden to create anything super long-ranging for the show's writers.

Riverdale may not be a "good" show, but it's definitely a great show to me. It's the most fun I've had watching a new TV show in 2017 and I hope they keep it up for a good while. There's also a whole new wave of Archie comics coming out now -- I've purchased the first few trade paperbacks to start digging in soon.