Archie: Return to Riverdale and all the images you see in this recap are owned by NBC
Directed by Dick Lowry
I was given my first Archie Double Digest by my grandma as reading material for a field trip I was taking in Middle School. Seems apropos considering I had discovered Calvin and Hobbes on her book shelf, and sure enough I was hooked right away. Now this was ALSO a time in my life where I didn’t have disposable income, so I couldn’t get as many books as I had hoped, but those characters are still endearing to me to this day and I’ll try to catch up on them every once in a while. A somewhat foolish endeavor considering how dense the continuity is and the breadth of the content there is out there, but it’s certainly better than trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Marvel or DC at any given time. Now were on the cusp of the CW series Riverdale which I will absolutely be recapping even if the trailers haven’t inspired a whole lot of hope for me. Seriously, WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE IT’S GONNA BE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, AND WHY IS MISS GRUNDY A HOT TWENTY FIVE YEAR OLD MUSIC TEACHER!? That’s all for another day however, as I have something else to show you right now! Did you know that the CW series isn’t the first time that Archie has been in Live Action!? In 1990, NBC premiered a Made for TV movie called Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again which was shortened to Archie: Return to Riverdale when it was released on VHS. I just so happened to find this thing in a Goodwill about a month ago, as if by fate. Like this was in my destiny or something! Is it any good? Well let’s find out!!
The movie takes place fifteen years after the events of… let’s say MOST of the books. For the most part, Archie is a high school student , and while there are plenty of books out there about him AFTER high school such as the reboot of Life with Archie also known as Archie: The Married Life, if you go to the grocery store and pick up a Double Digest, the dude is gonna be racing to his math class and drinking milkshakes at Pop’s Diner. We basically get a montage of the three main characters in this, Veronica Lodge (Karen Kopis), Betty Cooper (Lauren Holly), and of course Archie Andrews (Christopher Rich), who are all preparing for their fifteen year high school reunion; the former two by the way are PARTICULARLY excited to see the latter despite Betty already having a boyfriend and Veronica having been recently divorced. Could you blame them? I mean, look at the guy!
If you don’t recognize the actor here, Christopher Rich, he was a pretty prominent TV actor who’ biggest role was probably as Reba McEntire’s cheating ex-husband in the aptly titled Reba. Now that I think of it, that’s not too far off from where I imagine Archie Andrews ending up in ANOTHER fifteen years. Actually, that might happen sooner than you think considering Archie here has a fiancée (whose name is not mentioned but is played by Christina Hagg) and we can already tell that THAT isn’t gonna work out. Why? Well on top of them working together at a law firm (ARCHIE’S A SELL OUT!), she has a plan for their future which includes moving out of Riverdale in a few days, and she’s also planning on donating some of his old stuff to the Salvation Army so that they can let go of the past and focus on what lies ahead. CLEARLY this woman has her shit together a little too much for a made for to TV movie and will certainly be no match for is high school flames! OH! And she’s ALSO leaving town for the weekend, instead of staying for the reunion! Seriously, if this gets any more telegraphed, Western Union’s gonna have to issue a cease and desist order.
After the setup for these two, we get some more of the Riverdale Roundup that shows us where all our favorite characters ended up between the comics and now. Moose and Midge (Jeff Hochendoner and Debi Derryberry) actually managed to make it work and are now practicing chiropractors in Riverdale, Reggie Mantle (Gary Kroeger) opened a Gym next to Pop’s Diner and is basically a young HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED only with ACTUAL hair and without orange skin, and the oddest of all is Jughead Jones (Sam Whipple) who… well doesn’t look ANYTHING like Jughead really, nor does he really act like him. To me, Jughead always came across as someone of deep tranquility who never lets the world get him down (or at least not for long), yet in here he’s basically a neurotic mess from the Woody Allen school of character writing; right down to him being a lousy father who’s divorced and working as a psychologist who tells his patients about his problems instead of the other way around. I’m seriously getting some Deconstructing Harry flashbacks right now which would be fine if this was that kind of movie, but I get the feeling that the made for TV Archie special isn’t gonna have the sharp writing you find in even the lower end Allen films.
I mean, I GUESS this could work if the goal here is to have him go back to his old self, but that’s gonna be a herculean effort as there’s just nothing here that I can really connect with the Jughead from those comic books. Anyway, after Archie shoots the shit with Pops (Mike Nussbaum) and Reggie for a bit (Jughead moved away and is not back in Riverdale yet), he gets forced into a limo so that Veronica’s father, Hiram Lodge (James Noble), can threaten to pull his spleen out through his mouth or any other orifice that can get the job done if he tries to rekindle his relationship with Veronica. Of course, this guy’s been blowing hot air for closing in on two decades now, so Archie doesn’t take these threats all that seriously. Mad respect for this movie though if it ends with Archie getting rolled up in a carpet and chucked off a bridge. Instead of death however, he faces a far worse fate. HAVING TO DEAL WITH A BRATTY KID WHO BROKE INTO HIS HOUSE!!
The little hell raiser in question is Jughead’s son Jordan as the dude had just gotten to town, though that doesn’t explain why he broke into his best friend’s house. The movie is a bit slapdash with what it establishes and it makes it hard to get a solid handle on what’s going on. The scene here plays out like Archie and Jughead haven’t talked in years, and what they’ve established about Jughead in THIS movie doesn’t lead me to think he would just ASSUME someone would be okay with him making coming in and making himself at home. Presumably they made arrangements for him to stay during the Reunion Weekend, but there’s nothing in the movie that really helps you to connect those dots. This problem is persistent throughout the movie and it isn’t helped by the fact that time we could have spent laying the groundwork for these kinds of details is instead filled with trite dialogue and awkward silence. Fair enough as I imagine that’s what would happen in this kind of story, but it’s not all that interesting to watch; especially when the source material is so much more colorful and engaging then this is turning out to be which so far has just been mundane and dull. Well, maybe things will improve once they get to Veronica’s Pre-Reunion Reunion Party… because of course she threw one of those. At the very least, we get to see Betty and Veronica in eighties shoulder pads!
The Pre-Reunion Reunion Party is sadly not all that interesting to watch either, but at least it serves a purpose of establishing the plot threads that will be dealt with throughout the movie which is more than I can say about the first twenty minutes which were boring AND meandering. So on top of Archie’s story CLEARLY being set up for him to leave his fiancée (I still haven’t gotten her name yet), Betty’s boyfriend Bob looks to be a total tool; something you can tell right away when he says he’s not sure that he wants kids (THE BASTARD!) and cemented when he confides in Archie for no apparently reason about how hot he thinks the other chicks at the reunion are (okay, now he IS a bastard). Veronica unfortunately doesn’t really get a subplot of her own other than to aggressively reassert her feelings about Archie which leads me to believe this is heading towards an Archie/Betty hookup which is a shame because I always liked Veronica more. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but I really hope she’s not simply a third wheel here. Wait, Archie’s there, so is Betty and her boyfriend, and then there’s Veronica… Should I also count Archie’s fiancée? What is that, like five wheels!? So far, the only baring she has on the story, at least that I can see, involves her dad being a total pill towards Archie, though I’m curious if this film will even bother to pay that subplot off. We also have Jughead who is scared of running into Big Ethel (we’ll get to THAT eventually), Reggie who is being his slime Reggie self, and… well actually that’s about it. Sure, Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy show up and are AWESOME, but are simply there to round out the Riverdale checklist. NO WAIT! For some reason, Mr. Weatherbee announces that the best band in all of Riverdale, The Archies, are gonna play at the Sunday night dance; something that comes as a total shock to their lead singer. Okay… Remember what I said about this movie having trouble establishing things? I don’t know, maybe those two have a copy of the script or something.
So at this point we have some time to kill before the next Reunion Event, and while I would prefer them to explain that whole “The Archies are gonna play at the dance” situation (The only two members who were in town were Archie and Reggie; the former having no idea about them performing and the latter clearly not sentimental enough to want to do it), but instead we have to deal with shenanigans. SOMEHOW (they don’t show it), Jughead manages to get Asshole Bob to go on a car ride with him while Archie puts the moves on Betty with a trip to Pop’ Diner… I mean tries to convince her that Bob’s a prick. No, you know what? Archie IS putting the movies on her and Pop’s even swoops in out of nowhere to be the perfect wing man! This is what we’re all her for, right? People want to see Archie and Betty (EVEN THOUGH VERONICA IS BETTER!) make small talk while overly sentimental music plays in the background and then to have the reminisce over old photos that Pops JUST SO HAPPENED to find.
The romantic afternoon comes to an abrupt end however as Pops is screaming his head off on the phone and tells Archie that Reggie is shutting Pop’s place down to make room for another gym or something. Archie, defender of the little guy that he is, decides that the best course of action here is to confront Reggie directly to see if he has enough compassion to NOT close down the diner. It goes about as well as you’d expect.
Oh, and they finally get around to telling us that Reggie works for Mr. Lodge, which I’m sure is gonna be relevant later. With the diplomatic approach being a total dud, he sulks back home and goes straight to bed. Before he can fall asleep though, he gets a visit from a certain BEST CHARACTER EVER, and so far this is the highlight of the movie.
Archie though, being the upstanding man that he is, rebuffs her advances and reminds her that he has a fiancée. Now I’m sure this attitude won’t carry all the way to the end of the movie as the Betty subplot is very much in play, but I guess we just needed to close the book on Veronica because apparently I’m the only one who likes her! Seriously! What makes Betty so much better? Is it the blonde hair? The down to earth attitudes as opposed to being a successful business woman who’s traveled the world!? Actually, this movie makes it out to be something much more… judgmental. After telling Veronica that it’s not gonna happen which leads to her attempting to storm out of the house in a huff, Archie alleviates the situation by telling her that she’s SO special to him that being together would only ruin it, and that he’s not confident the relationship would work out anyway because she’s already been married four times. Well fuck you too, buddy! What, have too many penises been inside her for you to feel confident? You’d feel emasculated if you were her number five? I’m guessing they didn’t mean it to come off as so misogynistic, but this adds unneeded insult to injury as he could have just stood firm about his engagement or even break her heart and tell her that Betty was always the one. Either one would have been telling her that she’s damaged goods!
Not content to just let this scene die and never be spoken of again, it turns out that Veronica’s ENTIRE existence in the plot was just as the MacGuffin by which the villain of the film, Mr. Lodge, will justify the unyielding wrath that he will unleash upon Archie and all that he loves. Apparently the guy was sitting in a limo across the street, waiting for her daughter to get a deep cock pounding and walk out the house to confirm his suspicions about that uncouth Andrews boy. At least they’re bothering to pay off the subplot established in the beginning, but this just makes the whole thing really gross. THANKFULLY the scene cuts here and we come back to Archie agreeing to be Pop’s lawyer… despite the fact that he’s leaving town in just a few days. I’m pretty sure cases take a BIT longer than a weekend, especially when the courts aren’t open until Monday, but I’m sure there’s legal precedent for telling land developers to go fuck themselves on a weekend. Archie goes to try and find said precedent in the Riverdale Library where Betty obviously manages to find him at and confronts him about his encounter last night that Veronica had told her about. Hey, remember that “I’m engaged so this would be wrong and how would you feel if I did this to you” speech he gave to Veronica last night? I wonder how that’s working for him now…
Yeah, whatever dude. I’m not against him leaving his fiancée if he’s found someone else, but are we REALLY gonna drag this out for an entire movie? Oh of course they are! For now though, Archie manages to find just what he needs for his case against Reggie and Lodge Industries! All he needs now is to present… whatever he found, to the local judge and convince him to set a court date for later that day! Of course… not all is well outside the Riverdale Library.
Are you kidding me right now!? Not only did Mr. Lodge who is SUPER rich just get his limo driver (Monty Bane) to be an assassin, but the guy didn’t even bother to get out of his silly uniform!? Okay, I take back everything I said about this movie! This one moment saves it all! Absolutely amazing. By the way, how does the murderous chauffeur plan on dispatching Mr. Andrews? Well the dude apparently fucked with his car in a number of ways which causes Archie to start barreling down the road with no brakes or any way to stop the car short of a head on collision with something heavy. Oh he’s fine! He, Jughead, and Jughead’s kid (along with another kid who I think is Moose and Midge’s son), manage to drive through several fences, a farmer’s market, and eventually Reggie’s gym before coming to an eventual stop. Asshole, you couldn’t have put a fucking BOMB in the thing? I mean, you CLEARLY don’t care about human life if you’re gonna let the car tear through a suburban area, so why not take a more direct route!?
Now this is where things get… odd. We cut from there to the police station where the judge (Ryan Birk) who Archie wants to rule on the case thinks that Archie driving his car like a madman was a token gesture to get the judge to open up his courtroom that day… and the judge agrees to do so because of it. WHAT!? It really makes that little sense. The judge is pissed that Archie is trying to get his attention this way (Archie doesn’t really press the point that HIS CAR WAS CLEARLY SABOTAGED) but rather than NOT reward this blatant disregard for the rule of law, he gives Archie everything he wants. I don’t… ugh… whatever. Let’s just get this over with. We cut RIGHT to the courtroom where Reggie presents Pop’s lease that confirms that he and Lodge Industries can close down on the property at any time. Pretty cut and dry, though for some reason it’s a SHOCK to everyone in the… I don’t know, the courtroom audience? Is that what it’s called? Everyone in the courtroom audience, which includes all the named characters in this, is surprised to learn that Lodge Industries is a part of this. Even Veronica is shocked! How the hell does SHE not know when it’s her own father, ESPECIALLY when she works for the company!? Archie’s only defense here is to try and convince the court to make Pop’s Diner an official Riverdale landmark… even though it’s a commercial building which the judge brings up, but Archie just goes on about how we’d be selling the soul of Riverdale if we allowed this to go through. Ah, the slippery slope defense. Made just as much sense as it did in God’s Not Dead 2! Just like in that movie as well, all of this manages to move the Judge enough to need a full day to think on the case. I guess this means we’re gonna put a pin on this subplot for the moment which frees us up to see Veronica yell at her dad for a bit.
Veronica manages to storm out of the mansion at the EXACT moment Archie pulls up to do… something. I’m not sure why he’s there or what his plan was, but it doesn’t really matter as Veronica leaves with him with dear old dad watching. Archie and Veronica have a conversation in the park that doesn’t really go anywhere (rich girls got it bad too you know!) and then we cut to… the junkyard!? It’s the dead of freaking night (which means we jumped ahead like six hours from the last scene), and yet Archie Jughead, and Jughead’s kid are hanging out in a junkyard; a location by the way I don’t recall popping up in the Archie comics. They place is filled with a lot of old junk (surprise surprise) which fills them with all sorts of nostalgia, and Archie laments his love life where he has to choose between his fiancée who FINALLY gets a name (Pam), his obvious true love Betty, and… Veronica? Wait what!? She’s back in play!? WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN!? The conversation they had in the park wasn’t THAT good! From there we cut to the next day where… Archie is being moved out of his house!? Wait, why!? Why did he and Pam set the date for the movers to come and take all their shit BEFORE the Reunion was over!? Oh who cares, there’s more important stuff like watching Jughead dance poorly with his son. WAIT, WHAT!?
This scene of course also reminds us that he’s scared shit less of Big Ethel who still hasn’t shown up in this movie, but don’t worry. We’ll get to that soon enough! Until then, let’s just get back to the trial and figure out how the judge ruled. Surprising everyone in the movie but no one who would be watching this, the court finds in favor of Reggie because he has the freaking contract. Oh well! No use crying over spilt milkshakes! We’ve got a carnival to go to!
The problem with this movie is that it only has three modes and none of them are well written enough or focused on long enough for any of it to mean anything. We’ve got the subplot about Pop’s Diner (yes, I’m aware it’s called The Choklit Shopp) that doesn’t manage to hit a strong emotional beat because the movie never lets the audience get a sense of what it meant to everyone who went there, there are the subplots about Archie’s love life which aren’t well developed and rely on hokey rom-com cliches as well as some sketchy gender politics that shouldn’t have flown then and definitely don’t now, and then just random shit regarding the reunion which occasionally manages to hit when we see characters we like doing what they did bets in the comics (in particular Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy played by David Doyle and Fran Ryan), but they’re ultimately a distraction that wastes time that could have been used to either beef up the romance subplots or the situation with Pop’s Diner and Hiram Lodge. Instead, we spend five minutes on a confusing game of bumper car soccer or something, and the only point of it is for Bob (remember him? Betty’s boyfriend we haven’t seen for like half an hour?) to knock Archie’s bumper car around which puts yet another wedge between the obviously dead couple here.
Before we can find out if they really are over at this point, we cut to Archie who’s now in some crappy motel with a bunch of crap he picked up from the junkyard. The scene devolves into a Three’s Company sketch where Betty shows up (which is the only indication we get that this is taking place some time after the last scene) and is ready to jump his bones, but while she’s in the bathroom Veronica shows up too and is ready to try again even though she was pretty definitely rejected last time. Oh wait! Is there someone else at the door!? Pam shows up out of nowhere! Wait, wasn’t she going out of town for something important? Eh, who cares! Let’s take her to Pop’s and leave Betty and Veronica to battle to the death once they find each other in the tiny motel room!
So the only purpose that Pam serves here is to remind us that she’s NOT going to end up with Archie as she’s blatantly unmoved by Archie’s plight involving Pop’s Diner. CLEARLY she’s unworthy of the such a catch as Archie freaking Andrews! Okay, so we’re about ready for the final part of the reunion (the dance), but let’s just make sure we closed up all the loose ends first. Betty seems to be done with Bob, Pop’s diner is still set to be closed, Veronica is acting extra rebellious and is ready to sleep with Archie to piss off daddy, and Pam has set herself up to get dropped like a ton of bricks. Are we missing anything? Oh right! That whole Big Ethel thing with Jughead. We FINALLY get to that! To recap, throughout the movie Jughead has been trying to avoid Big Ethel because she was obsessed with him and he didn’t find her attractive. Okay, fair enough I guess. I mean, he and Archie didn’t have to be so fucking mean about it (she can crack mirrors and make babies scream!), but if Jughead doesn’t want to see her, that’s his business. However, he decides to conqueror his fear and see her at least once before the big dance. And what does he and his son find?
So Ethel Muggs, also known as Big Ethel, is a character in the Archie comics with a… complicated history. Jughead, even though he’s only recently been confirmed to be asexual, was never one to chase after girls the same way Archie and Reggie would. This was further confirmed by having him be pursued relentlessly by a gawky and exaggerated caricature with big buck teeth named Ethel, and they mined that Pepé Le Pew shit for all it was worth. In more recent years though (at least from what I’ve been able to gather) they really cut back on that premise making her a character who has an interest in Jughead but not to the point of exaggeration, and they toned down the needlessly over the top design. She was also in one of those awful Archie Christian Comics, but no one talks about those. EVER. I don’t know where they were with her in 1990, but they managed to hit two crappy birds with one stone here by keeping the original premise of her being a caricature to be mocked and then diffusing it by turning her into a sex object for both Jughead AND his rather young son to ogle. Look, I like seeing attractive women in films, but this is blatant and unnecessary pandering that falls on the side of creepy when the kid is fucking undressing her with his eyes as well. It’s not like she has personality or anything to go with the hot body, so she exists just to be objectified which is flat out unimaginative and obnxious. Fortunately now that we have that cleared up, we can finally go to the dance and finish this movie before I find something else to hate. Archie and Pam are immediately accosted by Betty and Veronica who OFF SCREEN decided they would ask Archie once and for all which one of them he liked. Kind of a dick move when his fiancée is RIGHT THE FUCK THERE! Good ol’ Mr. Weatherbee comes to the rescue though as he tells Archie that The Archies need to get on stage RIGHT NOW! Oh don’t worry about Pam! I’m sure she’ll be fine! Oh look! It’s Bob!
Everyone else on the other hand is not so fine as The Archies are about as good as you’d expect from a bunch of out of practice amatuers in their thirties, but thankfully something comes along to interupt them in the middle of their song. Apparenlty Lodge Industreis have not only decided to tear Pop’s Diner down instead of repurposing it, they’re doing it in the dead of night for… some reason. Pops isn’t about to let this injustice happen on HIS watch though, and is making one last stand against a GOD DAMN BULLDOZER!! BAD! ASS! How did this movie manage to get awesome again!?
Naturally everyone at the reunion find out about Pops taking on The Man and they all rush down there to show their support. Well not EVERYONE. Bob and Pam naturally aren’t keen on their significant others being a part of this… for some reason, which signifies that the end of those two relationships have finally come to pass. While all this is going on, that chauffeur from earlier just randomly gives Archie a present that is supposedly from Veronica, but that’s something we’ll get to in just a minute. For now, the important thing is that Veronica is finally confronting her father, who is watching all this from his limo by the way, like a real grown up. Well… sort of. She throws her credit cards at him and promises to never see him again if he goes through with this which is still a bit juvenile, but at least she learned how ultimatums work. Swayed by his daughter finally standing up for herself, he calls off the construction crew and all is happy once again! Except for that present that Archie got! What exactly was that, as it OBVIOUSLY wasn’t form Veronica? Well it looks like the homicidal chauffeur took my advice and just handed Archie A FUCKING BOMB!! HOLY SHIT!! Even Mr. Lodge is surprised by this, though I’m not sure WHY considering he didn’t feel this strongly when the guy cut Archie’s breaks. For some reason, the chauffeur has decided NOT to listen to Mr. Lodge anymore and won’t hand over the remote which detonates the bomb because… I guess he really hates Archie or just wants to watch people die. While Mr. Lodge is wrestling with him, Veronica goes to warn everyone of the bomb which Archie is still holding in his hands. Everyone starts running for the hills to get out of the blast radius, including Moose and Midge who have one final hilarious moment here.
EVENTUALLY (as in a lot longer than you’d think it would take), Archie throws the damn thing right into Reggie’s gym and takes its namesake behind a car to await the imminent explosion. Sure enough, it goes up in SPECTACULAR fashion and leaves nothing but a hollow shell of what I can assume was the only gym in town. NOW where are the citizens of Riverdale gonna stave off the heart disease they’ll surely get by drinking all those milkshakes at Pop’s!?
After that we ABRUPTLY cut to the next day where Archie is saying goodbye to Pam who’s officially going out with Bob now, and we see him say goodbye to Jughead as well who has to get back to his life in the city. Archie, now all alone, heads back to Pop’s Diner to drown his sorrows in ice cream and cheese fries, but before he can consume enough calories to necessitate the use of Reggie’s now destroyed gym, Betty and Veronica show up to check in on that ultimatum they gave him at the dance. Naturally he doesn’t actually pick one of them and manages to avoid the issue when Jughead and his son come through the door as they decided to stay in Riverdale! I’m sure his ex-wife is gonna love that! Oh, and let’s not forget Reggie! Sure he was a jerk this entire weekend (and probably for every day before that), but he meekly apologizes and they invite him to take a picture with them. And so the movie ends with everyone back in the town they grew up in at the same place they were fifteen years go with very few appreciable differences! Wait, this is supposed to be a happy ending!?
This movie is PRETTY bad on several different levels, from its story and characterization, to it’s editing and structure. Still… there are parts of this that do work, particularly the ending which gets pretty goofy which is a lot better than the earlier parts of the movie which were mostly boring. I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of our main characters (Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy non withstanding), but I think Sam Whipple did an okay job with his role even if was in NO WAY Jughead Jones. With a better editing job and a few more scenes to set up some of the plot points, it could have been pretty decent, but there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding at the core of this. In many ways this is a fan service movie , but the premise they chose for it doesn’t really fit as well as it should if that’s the stated goal. Everyone in here (Jughead aside) are doing a pantomime of the characters from the comics and all the dynamics seem to be the same; particularly when it comes to the love triangle with Archie, Betty, and Veronica. The problem is that… well they’re still acting like they were in high school despite them being grown ass adults in here, and it just feels like a waste to have them not take full advantage of them being older and wiser at this point. Hell, Archie and Jughead are still talking about Big Ethel like she has cooties, despite the fact that they’re grown ass adults, and you’d think that in a small town like this that Archie would have KNOWN that Big Ethel had changed over the years! Couple that with some early nineties cring-iness and a plot that meanders way too much, and your left with a movie that’s an okay novelty, but not really worth watching beyond that. Hopefully the CW show manages to be more engaging which seems to be the case from what they’ve shown so far, though I kind of wish it would take some of this movie’s sincerity and its lighter tone rather than make everything GRIM AND SERIOUS. All I’m saying is I don’t know if Hannibal Jughead is a such a good idea!