CW’s “Riverdale” Takes Archie Comics Out of the 1940s

As you will see in a few days on JUST ADD COLOR, I am a huge Archie Comics aficionado. Back in the mid ’90s, when I was still in middle school, I happened to pick up an Archie Comics digest from the grocery store, and fell in love with these kids’ hijinks and the art style. The more into Archie Comics I became, the more I loved it. The more I loved it, the more I started to dissect and analyze, and the more I hoped the company would grow into something beyond just reliving its glory days of the ’60s.

Since then, Archie Comics has really come into not just the 21st century, but into its own new identity as the comic book for humorous, slice-of-life teenage comedy. In many ways, the company went back to its core tenet of being about teens, for teens by becoming what it was when it first debuted in the 1940s—fresh and relevant. Archie Comics has exploded now with the new Archie and Jughead series, both of which are amazing in terms of writing and illustration, and the upcoming CW teen drama, Riverdale.

Riverdale continues Archie Comics’ obsession with relevance by rejiggering the concepts of the “America’s Favorite Teenager” and what life in the picturesque Riverdale is really about. To quote Archie Comics:

The live-action series offers a bold, subversive take on Archie, Betty, Veronica, and their friends, exploring small-town life and the darkness and weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale’s wholesome facade. The show will focus on the eternal love triangle of Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty Cooper, and rich socialite Veronica Lodge, and will include the entire cast of characters from the comic books–including Archie’s rival, Reggie Mantle, and his slacker best friend, Jughead Jones.

Popular gay character Kevin Keller will also play a pivotal role. In addition to the core cast, “Riverdale” will introduce other characters from Archie Comics’ expansive library, including Josie and the Pussycats.

Let’s take a look at our group of Riverdalians (with character descriptions quoted from Archie Comics’ Riverdale posts):

Archie Andrews (played by K.J. Apa)

In an exclusive announcement, Deadline described Apa’s Archie as “an intense, conflicted teen, a boyish high school sophomore who got pumped up over the summer working construction and is now juggling the interest of several girls, as well as trying to balance his passion for writing and performing music–against the wishes of his father and his football coach.”

Josie McCoy (played by Ashleigh Murray)

Murray’s Josie is described as “a gorgeous, snooty and ambitious girl who is the lead singer for popular band Josie and the Pussycats. She has zero interest in recording any songs written by fellow teen Archie.”

Jughead Jones (played by Cole Sprouse)

Sprouse’s Jughead is described as “a heartthrob with a philosophical bent and former best friend of Archie Andrews.”

Veronica (played by Camilla Mendes)

In the exclusive announcement, Deadline described Mendes’s Vernoica as a silver-tongued high school sophomore who returns to Riverdale from New York, eager to reinvent herself after a scandal involving her father.

Betty (played by Lili Reinhart)

In an exclusive announcement, Deadline described Reinhart’s Betty as “sweet, studious, eager-to-please and wholesome, with a huge crush on her longtime best friend, Archie.”

Cheryl Blossom (played by Madelaine Petsch)

In the exclusive announcement, Deadline described Petsch’s Cheryl as rich, entitled, and never accountable. A manipulative mean girl who kills with kindness, she recently lost her twin brother in a mysterious accident.

Reggie Mantle (played by Ross Butler)

No official Archie Comics/Deadline character description, but we know already from the comics that Reggie is Archie’s rival in all things, including the dating department.

Dilton (played by Daniel Yang)

Again,  no official description for Dilton, but in the comics, he’s the nerdy, brilliant friend to the core Riverdale gang. He also dated Cheryl Blossom at one point in time, so don’t sleep on Dilton’s hidden mack game.

Moose Mason (played by Cody Kearsley)

Once again, no official description, but Moose is Midge Klump’s long-time boyfriend. Moose is also on the school’s wrestling team, and is often depicted as being, to use one of Wendy Williams’ favorite phrases, “less than smart.” It was only relatively recently that Moose’s depiction was scaled back and taken a bit more sensitively; he was diagnosed with dyslexia, which explains why the character often has trouble with schoolwork. Maybe his dyslexia will become a feature of his characterization in Riverdale.

Tina Patel (Olivia Ryan Stern)

No official description, but Tina is from the later wave of old-style Archie comics. Tina was introduced as the younger sister of Raj Patel, the town’s resident aspiring filmmaker. Unlike Raj, Tina was following in her parents’ footsteps of becoming a doctor, making Raj the black sheep of the family. If memory serves, she also was bumped up a grade, so she’s actually in the same grade as Raj despite being younger than him.

The adults cast so far include:

Yes, ’90s friends; that’s Mr. 90210 himself! With him as a part of the cast, this already feels like the baton of stellar teen dramas has been handed down to the next generation. Riverdale has the Luke Perry Seal of Approval.

What can we expect?: Already, we can see some ways in which Riverdale is distancing itself from the Archie stories of old while bringing the Archie Comics company further into the now. We have a multiracial, multicultural cast, with several characters cast as non-white actors, including Apa, who is Samoan-Kiwi.

But a Rainbow Coalition cast isn’t the only reason this show has my radar. As I wrote above, the show is setting up a subversive take on the Riverdale we’ve come to know and love, and if Season Zero is to be believed, the Riverdale pilot is something that must be seen to be believed. There’s murder, sleeping with a teacher, intrigue, and all sorts of soapy turns. Also, Jughead’s the narrator, which seems like a cool, Jughead-ish thing to do (he is, after all, divorced from all the drama of his friends and acts as the observer of their lives).

As much as Riverdale promises, there’s still some more that it could have done. At one point, Jughead was supposed to be played by a deaf actor. TV Line (as reported by The Mary Sue) had the official casting calls, which asked for a “hearing-impaired” actor. As far as I know, Sprouse isn’t hearing-impaired, so I wonder why the change in Jughead’s character was made. If it was made—maybe the narration we hear are Jughead’s thoughts, and perhaps Sprouse signs on screen. But still, it could have been a great opportunity for a hearing-impaired actor to get his moment. I’m not poo-pooing Sprouse’s acting ability before we’ve even seen him in the role; I wish him goodwill. I’m just sayin’, from an observer’s perspective, some could find an issue with a non-deaf person playing a deaf role, especially since there are deaf actors and actresses out there (such as Freeform’s Switched at Birth stars Marlee Matlin (also an Oscar winner), Katie Leclerc, and Sean Berdy, late night host Stephen Colbert, There Will Be Blood‘s Russell Harvard, and many others in stage theater).

Other observations: Jughead is canonically asexual in the new Jughead books. In the show, Jughead is described as a heartthrob, and that’s actually in keeping with his character, since Jughead gained a kinda heartthrob status through later runs of the old Archie books. Part of Jughead becoming attractive to girls was because he never wanted a relationship anyways, and some girl characters took at as a challenge (like Ethel, who hasn’t been cast as of yet). But parts of the fandom had also decided that Jughead was gay, which may or may not have led to issues featuring Jughead in an ill-fated love triangle of his own. Stories of Jughead in one-off relationships would then become peppered throughout the old Archie canon for whatever reason there was at the time, but Jughead had already been linked to someone in the old ’40s comics—Betty. Back then, it seemed like there was less of a love triangle between Betty, Archie, and Veronica, and more of Betty trying to disrupt Veronica and Archie’s relationship and, being desperate for any male attention, would try to seduce Jughead, who just went along with it because of his friendship with Betty.

However, with all of that said, will Jughead actively engage in relationships on Riverdale because he is a heartthrob? Or is he a heartthrob because he’s unattainable? Will Jughead become the second out asexual character on television (the first being Voodoo from USA’s Sirens)? Or, if Jughead’s asexuality doesn’t extend to the show’s canon (which it might not, since the show’s not adhering to old or new Archie stories, anyways), then will Jughead’s sexuality once again become the hot button issue of the day? One of the enduring parts of Jughead’s character is that, because he’s removes himself from the heteronormative discussion, everyone can see some element of themselves in him. You can believe he’s straight, gay, asexual, aromantic, bisexual, and any other type of sexuality, and you’d be justified in your theory. Jughead is one of those characters in entertainment who become a sexuality litmus test, and it’s fascinating to see just how everyone interprets him differently and why.

Last, Riverdale is breaking new ground by casting two actors from the AAPI spectrum as part of “the beautiful people.” Like I’ve written several times before, Asian men rarely get the heartthrob treatment, and to have Archie and Reggie played by Apa and Butler is awesome. Of course, we’ve got some caveats to discuss. Apa can easily code as “white,” which will surely help him land more leading roles than someone like Butler, who might still have to work against racist casting calls. But both Apa and Butler might face less discrimination than Yang, who is playing a character that now has a very complicated situation. Dilton is white in the comics, so having someone else represent Dilton plays into the movement to have more inclusion on screen. But, Dilton is also a nerd, so what does it mean that an Asian guy was cast as the nerd? Again, like with Sprouse, I’m not ragging on Yang getting a job, but I am an entertainment/cultural critic. I wonder what Yang will do to take the character out of the easy stereotype and into a nuanced, layered performance.

With all of that said, I’m excited to see what Riverdale holds for us. What do you think? Give your opinions in the comments section below!