Riverdale and all the images you see in this recap are owned Warner Bros Television Distribution and The CW
Episode directed by Lee Toland Krieger
The day has finally arrived for Archie and the gang to get their grim and gritty reboot that I’m SURE at least one person out there was asking for! Alright, the trailers didn’t give me a whole lot of hope for this series considering it looked more like The Vampire Diaries than its source material, but adapting ANYTHING from one medium to another does require there to be some changes, so I’m more than willing to give this a shot even if my expectations have been lowered based on what I’ve seen so far. Does the pilot manage to assuage my fears and deliver on the legacy that these characters have, or is this a subpar teen drama with Archie branding splattered all over it? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with narration by Jughead (Cole Sprouse) that reminds me more of an embittered noir detective rather than the easy going burger chomping bro who inexplicably wears a crown, but at least it’s better than whatever the hell they were doing with him in the LAST live action adaptation. At the very least, he does provide us a bit of backstory as the all the interesting stuff seemed to have already happened before we go here. So what DID happen? Back on The Fourth of July, the Blossom twins, Cheryl and Jason (Madelain Petsch and Trevor Stines) pulled a James Franco and went off to do something dangerous without letting anyone know and apparently without any cellphones. The dangerous act in question turns out to be an early morning boat ride on the Riverdale River (I assume that’s what it’s called) where they don’t even bother to bring safety equipment or even life jackets. Then again, I assume those would be ripped off right away ALONG WITH ALL THEIR CLOTHES.
So I’m aware that Cheryl and Jason are characters from the Archie comics even if I haven’t read any with those characters, and from what I understand they were the anatomists for a few of those stories. That said I doubt that this quasi incestuous angle was in those original comics, and it seems like a really odd thing to add here, but we’ll have PLENTY more examples of odd things they added as this goes along. You know what ELSE they added from the comics? JASON GETTING KILLED! As Jughead continues his narration, we learn that Dilton Doiley (played by Major Curda but ONLY for this episode according to IMDB) found Cheryl on the side of the river later that day all by herself and according to her Jason knocked the damn boat over and drowned. The police were not able to locate a body, but Jason hasn’t been seen since so either he really IS dead or he went all George of the Jungle in the Riverdale Forest. Either way, the death of Jason Blossom is the talk of the town at the moment, and Jughead has even started writing a book about it as well as the town in general which is the show’s justification for him to be the narrator. Now there’s obviously more to unfold here as the story goes along, but for now we jump to the present which is the night before the first day of school that ALSO just so happens to be the night that Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) moves to her new home in Riverdale along with her mother Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols) though VERY CONSPICUOUSLY without her father Hiram. Now I’m not gonna spend the WHOLE recap discussing Archie continuity, mainly because I don’t KNOW the whole continuity or what’s considered accepted canon, but also because this show is clearly trying to be its own thing and it’s only fair to give a chance at doing that. The changes to Veronica here MOSTLY seem to be in place to give her a sense of pathos as the two of them seem to be here for the sole purpose of getting away from her father. Also, while she IS still rich, she’s much less so than she’s usually depicted in the comics.
We’ll have to see how that plays out, but for now it’s time to get back to the Riverdale Roundup as we have a bunch more characters to introduce before school begins! From the Lodge’s new place, we cut to Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) who is getting ready to meet up with Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) and finally confess her feelings for him! Serving as her personal cheerleader in this scene is Kevin Keller (Casey Cot) who REALLY is playing up that Gay Best Friend stereotype. So if you aren’t aware, Kevin Keller was introduced in the Archie Comics in 2010 and is the first gay character in that series. I know that I JUST said I wasn’t gonna give this series too much grief for not being exactly like the comics, but this seems like a HUGE misstep. While it DOES seem to be canon that Kevin and Kelly are REALLY good friends in the comics, Kevin was also a character in his own right outside of that; becoming class president and even managing to get elected to the US senate in the Life with Archie series. Now look, I’m SURE they’re gonna develop his character more as the series goes along that will bring him closer to what made him so memorable in the comics, but the way he’s depicted here feels like a HUGE waste as he only seems to exist to be that REALLY outdated stereotype for no particular reason.
ANYWAY, Betty and Archie go to Choklit Shoppe so they can catch up as they haven’t seen each other all summer because of Betty’s internship… despite the fact that their only sophomores which would make them what, sixteen MAYBE?. I don’t know, maybe Betty went to summer camp or something. Okay fine, the actors are OBVIOUSLY twenty years old and they stay CONSISTENT with that (they didn’t randomly cast a few of them age appropriately which would only highlight how old our main characters are), but the show makes it clear that they should just barely have driver’s licenses. The evening seems to be going well for the two of them as Betty talks about said internship while Archie confides to her his dreams of being a musician, but wouldn’t you know it? Veronica walks through the door and Archie’s jaw hits the floor right before Betty confesses her love!
As much as I’m on Team Veronica, you gotta feel for Betty here. Dude is not subtle IN THE LEAST about how much he wants a piece of that, and is still COMPLETELY oblivious to how Betty feels about him. Obviously this means that there’s no confession that evening and we cut to the next morning as Archie is about to leave for school and we meet his dad Fred (played by Luke Perry which HAS to be a wink to the audience) who wants him to come by the office after school, but Archie has football tryouts he has to go to instead. Even with that slight hiccup, it goes WAY smoother than Betty’s pre-school conversation with her mother (Madchen Amick) which fills in a few more details about the summer we didn’t get to see. Apparently Betty’s sister Polly (who is INDEED a character from the comics but evidently is rarely seen) was dating Jason Blossom and he was an abusive asshole. The timeline is still a bit fuzzy here (were the two of them dating when he died?) and there’s no sign of Polly in the actual show yet, but it’s something that I’m sure will be hearing more about in the future. For now though, these kids need to get their asses to classes! We get to meet Reggie Mantle (Ross Butler) while Archie is at his locker, and this dude is BRO-ed the FUCK OUT! I mean, I GUESS that’s not TOO inaccurate for a modern interpretation of Reggie, but the dude is also built like a brick shit house; on par with Moose Mason (Cody Kearsley) in terms of height pure muscle who is supposed to be the NOTABLY big guy!
We also get to see Betty give Veronica a tour of the school where our good ol’ Gay Best Friend shows up and Veronica couldn’t be happier to meet him, SPECIFICALLY because he’s gay. Sigh, well he DOES serve one purpose other than being witty and fashionable, and that’s to clue us on Veronica’s father when he asks her if he REALLY did what he did. What did he do? I don’t know, but apparently EVERYONE there knows about it and this revelation puts Veronica in a sour mood, but not so much that she doesn’t find time to talk about Archie which prompts all three of them (yes, even Kevin) to put their cards on the table in regards to their feelings for the red headed beefcake. Since the guy is straight and since Betty saw him first, the other two agree to help her get a date with him, though I’m sure Veronica’s gonna pounce the first opportunity Betty gives her. Speaking of which, what’s Archie up to on his first day of school anyway? Well the first thing we see is him crashing band practice for the hottest act in town (at least until The Archies get established) which is Josie (Ashleigh Murray) and the Pussycats. Wait, isn’t this scene taking place at the beginning of the school day? Shouldn’t they all be in class by now!?
I’m not sure exactly what he wants from them, but Josie proceeds to tear this poor bastard down utterly and without mercy; going so far as to call him Justin Ginger-lake. WOW! I mean, I’m not sure he even did anything wrong, but that was some spectacular shit talking! I hope their songs are even half as good as their put downs! Other than introducing us to Josie and her two band mates (who haven’t gotten names yet), this is basically just here to reiterate Archie’s interest in working on his music and that he’s having trouble finding a way to do that what with his part time job at his dad’s construction company as well as football practice, regular school work, and the women in his life. Since the Pussycats didn’t work out, his next best option is to go to the RADICALLY re-imagined Miss Grundy who is no longer defined as being a lifelong and caring educator, but as a super-hot music teacher in her mid-twenties… who had sex with Archie over the summer. THE PLOT THICKENS… in the worst way possible. Alright, let’s get this over with. Number one! Archie is a sophomore which means that he is either fifteen or sixteen (no matter how old the actor playing him is), and Miss Grundy is an adult. Now to be fair to the series, it’s POSSIBLE this isn’t statutory rape as sixteen is the age of consent in some areas, but the show doesn’t establish if Archie IS sixteen or if they ARE in an area where the laws are like that; two things you REALLY want to fucking establish considering the implications of the situation! That said, that’s not the biggest issue. Age of consent laws are not arbitrary; they exist for a reason. A kid Archie’s age really isn’t ready to handle that kind of relationship (your brain is still developing all the way into your mid-twenties) and he’s right in the middle of puberty. There’s also the issue of Miss Grundy being an authority figure which makes it THAT much easier for her to take advantage of him, not just sexually, and the way Archie is acting in his interactions with her make it seem like this is VERY much not something he’s dealing with well. Maybe that’s the point and the show will actually address the realities of this situation and how society reacts to these kinds of relationships through the lens of toxic masculinity which would be a bold move for this series. It unnecessarily throws a character like Miss Grundy who’s always been a role model in the comics into a HORRIFIC and unwarranted light, but I doubt that ANY of this will ever become the accepted canon in the Archie comics which we can separate entirely from this show. THAT HAVING BEEN SAID, they’re screwing this up RIGHT off the bat by having brief flashbacks to their relationship during the summer come off as steamy and scandalous which is REALLY mixing with the message that it LOOKS like they’re gonna try to go for with how Archie is feeling now. I honestly do not see this working out all that well in the long run, but we’re only an episode in so I’m gonna stay at least a little bit hopeful that SOMEONE working on this show knows what the hell they are doing.
Okay, so the rant is over. What actually happens in these scenes with Miss Grundy? Archie asks her to be his teacher in an independent study music course, but she obviously doesn’t want to do that as she wants the both of them to forget the relationship over the summer happened and to stay as far apart as possible. On top of that, we also learn that the two of them were together on the Fourth of July, not far from where Jason and Cheryl were, and they heard a gunshot which they haven’t told the police about because they would then have to explain why they were together. Putting aside the fact that it wouldn’t be THAT hard for Miss Grundy to go to the police and say that she was alone that day (she’s clearly more comfortable with lying than Archie is), this is just another reason why I hope they don’t try to romanticize this relationship any more than they already have because it’s yet another thing that’s eating away at Archie about all this. Miss Grundy, master manipulator that she is, maanges to smooth talk the situation and tries to convince Archie that what he heard was fireworks (GASLIGHTING!) and to continue to say nothing about what happened. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO MISS GRUNDY!?
Thankfully we manage to move onto a subject that is MUCH more interesting and less likely to make my skin crawl; Betty and Veronica becoming besties!! Despite Betty’s initial misgivings and Veronica’s overbearing pompousness (not to mention them going for the same guy), it doesn’t take long for the both of them to start clicking and even stand up for one another. Probably the best scene of the episode is when both of them try out for the Riverdale Cheerleading Squad and Veronica stands up for Betty when she catches unnecessary heat from Cheryl (clearly due to that relationship between Jason and Polly that we still know nothing about) who of course is the Captain of the squad. Now they DO tease the Betty/Veronica ship here in a blatant and unconvincing manner (it’s straight up queer baiting if they don’t have the nerve to follow through on this at any point), but other than their interactions in this episode confirm that Veronica is clearly the best part of the show followed closely by Betty.
While the kissing didn’t seem to sway Cheryl, the subsequent tongue lashing from Veronica (due to Cheryl grilling Betty about her sister) manages to get them both on the team. It probably put Veronica on Cheryl’s shit list for all time, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, GO BETTY AND VERONICA! The latter even goes so far as to finally get Betty and Archie together so she can finally ask him to the dance, and while she KIND of blows it by asking him to go with her AND Veronica (we’ll go as friends!), she’s at least a step closer to winning Archie’s heart and it’s put her in a fantastic mood! That is until Betty’s mom finds out that she’s on the Cheerleading Squad and is adamant against her joining it as it all goes back to that whole THE BLOSSOMS ARE EVIL thing which I CAN buy based on what we’ve seen from Cheryl, but the reaction from Mrs. Cooper is a bit much considering how little context we’ve been given so far. Like… she STILL has to go to school with Cheryl, so it’s not like they WON’T be running into each other from time to time. She may be captain of the team, but she’s still just a freaking teenager! You don’t have to go all Lemongrab on her!
Thankfully, Betty manages to buck up to her mom and leaves her hanging while she goes out to buy a dress that she’s kinda-sorta going to with Archie. Speaking of whom, what’s he been up to since he got his latest round of mental scaring from Grundy? Well it looks like Archie didn’t just make the football team; the coach wants him to play varsity which is supposed to be really unusual for a Sophomore player and it would also mean he has to spend WAY more time on the sport than he initially intended in his overly convoluted schedule. He stalls for now by telling his coach that he may not be able to do it because he has to work for his dad, but as we saw earlier, he told his dad that he couldn’t go to work after school because of football. This lie manages to work for about… an hour (the coach calls his dad obviously) and so Archie has to man up and tell his dad that he wants to study music. It doesn’t actually go all that badly as his dad is AT MOST somewhat skeptical about the idea, so at the very least he doesn’t have to keep up the lie while he’s deciding where he’s going to focus his efforts. That or he’ll spend that time googling Time Turners. Oh well! We’ll figure that out later! For now, we cut directly the dance (so did we just skip an ENTIRE week at school?) where Archie gets to wear his trademark bow tie and have his trademark arm candy at his sides!
Before he can enjoy the festivities proper however, he has one last thing he needs to resolve and that’s his current scheduling conflicts! Miss Grundy is at the dance and he gives her a proposal. If she’s willing to give him that independent study class he wants and schedules it in the mornings (before school), he promises not to talk about their relationship or what they heard that morning to anyone. Eh… it IS technically blackmail and they’re potentially hiding crucial evidence, but fuck it. Miss Grundy’s gonna get what she wants (silence) and he’s gonna get his music lessons. At least SOMEONE comes out happy in this, though I imagine this will explode in both of their faces by episode four. While that’s going on we get good ol’ Gay Best Friend Kevin Keller once again in a scene that I THINK is supposed to be funny, but is pretty cringe worthy. Apparently Moose (a canonically straight character in the comics considering his relationship with Midge Klump) just propositioned Kevin Keller for sex in the bathroom and now he’s telling Betty all about it; including the fact that Moose has a HUGE dick. AND THAT’S IT! There’s no follow up or even a response from Betty before the scene cuts! WHAT!? Look, if Moose is gay I’m fine with that, but the way it plays out here seems less like “oh, so there’s another gay character in the show” and more “Ha ha! The jock is gay! Isn’t that funny?” and it’s starting to piss me off how badly they’re handling queer representation in this. We’ve got two straight girls making out, a flaming gay stereotype, a joke about someone else being gay (despite LGBTQ+ people coming in all shapes and sizes), and while they haven’t contradicted the idea of Jughead being asexual, he’s been in the episode so infrequently (I think he was in the background of two scenes so far despite narrating at the beginning) that there’s no way to tell I they’ve kept that aspect of him from the comics; not to mention the show’s weird way of handling sex in general.
So outside of all that awkwardness, the dance seems to go just fine with Josie and the Pussycats even doing a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s All Through the Night. Betty finally gets that dance with Archie and asks him if they could be an official couple… but he hesitates which Betty takes a rejection. Why? Well when she asks, he looks over at Miss Grundy which should tell you everything you need to know, and FINALLY we have a worthwhile reason for that subplot to be in here. Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this, but I don’t see it so much as he WANTS to be with Miss Grundy again, rather he’s still processing what happened between them (possibly feels shame about it?) and therefore doesn’t feel comfortable in another relationship right now. Now THAT’S something I can believe from Archie and it doesn’t necessitate Miss Grundy acting like an awful human being to get that across! To make matters worse, Cheryl is going full on Mean Girl (to the point that she has two girlfriends with no names that she gives orders to) and invites EVERYONE back to her house for an after party. What will they be serving there? REVEGNA!! Apparently she’s got her eye on Archie, Betty, AND Veronica, so she has this Machiavellian scheme to break up their newfound friendship. The plan is to have Archie play Seven Minutes in Heaven with Veronica as a way for Betty to get jealous. That’s it. Not much of a plan really considering ANY of them can just tell her to piss off at any point, but none of them do… for some reason, and Archie and Veronica go to the closet to SOMEHOW resist the urge to make out. I mean sure, Veronica IS the best, but you’d think they’d realize they are right in the middle of some dumb ass scheme. They start talking in there, inching ever so closer together, and eventually Veronica straight up asks him if he has romantic feelings for Betty, and he says… no? I think? The answer isn’t that clear, but it’s enough for both of them to start kissing on the spot which… alright then. If Betty’s not in the picture, than do as you will!
Now naturally they come out of the closet with looks of deep shame on their faces, but the good news is that Betty isn’t there to see it… because she bolted the moment they went inside. Alright, so maybe it was a bit early to start celebrating my favorite ship as Veronica heads back home while Archie looks for Betty to smooth things over. He starts at Pop’s Choklit Shoppe but finds Jughead there instead who starts narrating again, though it’s less informative than it is stock noir lines. The two of them have a talk that doesn’t have much substance, but it does indicate that there was a falling out between the two that will need to be resolved at some point in the future. I’m not really feeling this interpretation of Jughead as a Sherlock like anti-social (though WAY more toned down than that), but hopefully they’ll give him more to do in future episodes. Eventually Archie DOES find Betty at her house (well duh), but the reunion doesn’t go quite as well as either of them hoped. Apparently Archie is unwilling to commit to Betty because… he’s not good enough? Okay, I guess that could work if his relationship with Grundy left him with a sense of self-loathing (again, too young to handle that kind of relationship), but if this show is gonna be THAT solemn and dour, I don’t know who exactly is gonna want to keep watching it; especially if it doesn’t seem to be doing much else to compensate like how Breaking Bad masterfully created tension and stakes to keep us invested in the character’s downward spiral. Then again, it COULD just be a ploy considering he didn’t have a problem making out with Veronica like half an hour ago. The episode is almost over with just one more subplot we need to update so that we can end this on a cliffhanger. Kevin and Moose go out into the woods to fuck! Okay, that’s not ALL there is (and they’re still playing it off like a joke) as they JUST SO HAPPEN to find Jason’s body in the process. Not only that, but the bloated corpse washed up on the river’s edge ALSO has a bullet wound right in the forehead! And so the episode ends with narration from Jughead who explains that Riverdale will be forever changed by the discovery that this was in fact a murder, and that by Tuesday, the first arrest will be made. Who is it? Well you’ll have to tune in next week to find out, though if it’s NOT Cheryl I’m gonna call bullshit as this DIRECTLY contradicts the story she gave to police!
This was pretty rough as it makes SO many poor choices throughout, but there is enough there to at least keep me interested to see what happens next. It’s clear that Betty and Veronica (and I’ll even throw in Josie and the Pussycats) are the best part of this show by a country mile, and the show does manage to find a solid groove when it’s not being over the top with how much it takes itself seriously. The murder subplot doesn’t feel all that intriguing considering the victim is someone we don’t know and I doubt we’ll be dealing with a serial killer here, so the identity of the murderer doesn’t feel like it’s going to have THAT much impact. Oh no! It was that person who I’ve only known for one or two episodes that killed that guy who was on screen for thirty seconds! I mean it COULD build up to something more, but they didn’t really sell it enough as something that will have long lasting implications. The rest of the bad subplots (Miss Grundy, Betty’s mom, Hiram Lodge, Jughead) are similarly set up poorly and without creating much ACTUAL drama that will hook us in for future episodes which is not what you want from a pilot episode. Still, the show looks nice, the characters have room to grow and improve, and Veronica will always be the best. Let’s just hope with this episode having handled all the hard work of setting things up so that future episodes will have more time to expand on what works so far and to fix what doesn’t work just yet.