Stop Calling 'Riverdale' The Archie Show, Because It Is So Much More Than Its Protaganist
I hate to be the one to break this harsh news to the music-loving jock, but Archie is not the star of Riverdale. Shocking, I know. Even though it was referred to as the "sexy Archie show" before its premiere, The CW's addictive drama Riverdale is about so much more than its red-headed hero. In fact, poor Archie is easily the show's most boring character — but he does deliver some astonishing abs.
It's not his fault, really. With a town populated by the likes of Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Cheryl, and Josie and her Pussycats, Archie never stood a chance. While he broods over his affair with his music teacher, and struggles with his secret Independence Day lakeside rendezvous, the rest of the characters are busy being complicated, mysterious, and utterly original. Betty and Veronica's friendship alone is enough to drive the plot of Riverdale.
Type A Betty is so much more than the good girl her classmates want to define her as, and Veronica is just the reformed bad girl to see how fascinating Betty truly is. Meanwhile, Jughead wanders the halls as a reclusive chronicler of the town's oddities, Cheryl redefines the mean girl trope with moments of shocking vulnerability, and Kevin pushes beyond the gay best friend stereotype as he explores a relationship with a closeted jock.
The town of Riverdale is one where ugly family histories and dark secrets have shaped the tenuous relationships between the next generation. Jason Blossom's murder is the series' true catalyst — one violent moment that forced the high school's established hierarchy to crack. Where the show shines the brightest is in the moments where long-standing familial divides begin to crumble. The scenes where Veronica reached out to Cheryl, and Betty defied her mother's paranoia to choose her own friends, were electric.
By grounding its story with a winning mix of soapy mysteries and compelling coming of age tales told against a nostalgic backdrop where diners and drive-ins are still the hip places to be, Riverdale is utterly unique. If it were to lean too heavily on Archie as its anchor, it would be anything but.
Archie is nothing viewers haven't seen a dozen times before. In the vein of classic teen show characters like Dawson from Dawson's Creek and Everwood's Ephram, Archie is a white, privileged protagonist with dreams of fame. He idealizes his girl-next-door best friend to the point where he can't appreciate her as a complex human being, and he clashes with his well-meaning, attentive father because being the town's golden boy is just too hard. The guy is as basic as they come in the world of teen TV.
Inexplicably, Betty is enamored with her long-time friend, and Veronica is convinced there's more to Archie than meets the eye. Unless there is a major curve-ball coming, there's really not though. Both girls would be better off focusing on their budding friendship than the hotness of their mutual pensive friend. Archie is just one more bland, male teen protagonist around which a deep bench of fascinating characters orbit. Thankfully for Riverdale, those characters are some of the best to grace teen TV in a long time.
Through the likes of Veronica, Cheryl, Betty, Kevin, and intriguing new addition Ethel, Riverdale tackles the nuances of female friendship, the complex spectrum of sexuality, and the punishing social structure of high school. Mixing modern sensibilities with a '50s era style, the show creates a story unlike anything I have ever seen before, and it does it well.
Riverdale is addictive TV — its appeal just has nothing to do with Archie, and that is more than OK.