In Mic's TV club, senior arts writer Kevin O'Keeffe and arts writer Miles Surrey will watch an episode of a TV show with no regard to how familiar we are with it. The next morning, we'll dissect it in a conversation with one or two other Mic staffers. This week's show: The CW's Riverdale, with guest Jason Berman.
Kevin O'Keeffe (KO): Before we say anything else about the second episode of the CW's Riverdale, we should start with the most spoilery aspect of the episode: Cheryl Blossom's confession. She is quite obviously not the killer — it's episode two! — but there's something up with her. Jason, Miles, what do the two of you make of Cheryl and her episode-ending claim? And with two episodes behind it, what do you think of Riverdale?
Jason Berman (JB): Well, I agree, it is obvious that she is not the killer. Riverdale reeks of a series with a slow-burn reveal of the mystery surrounding Jason Blossom.
Miles Surrey (MS): Oh yes, hopefully nobody who's watching Riverdale actually believes she's the killer! Though there is something very strange (and uncomfortably close) about her relationship with Jason (see: sharing a milkshake at Pop's, matching outfits and holding hands by the river). I'm not saying they're in Jaime and Cersei Lannister territory, but something about them is very off.
JB: There definitely is something up with her. Cheryl has been a difficult character to read in the first two episodes. She is the cliche evil high school student who has turned manipulation into an art form. At times she seems to be genuinely upset over Jason's death; at others, it appears she is putting on one hell of a show. I am curious what was found in that autopsy that would have pointed to her. I doubt her prints will be on a bullet, but with a body being submerged in water for so long, it is hard to imagine there is any DNA evidence there. (Otherwise, that would seem to be a plot hole.)
MS: As far as Riverdale itself is concerned, I love it so far. It feels like it came from the same braintrust at HBO who were like, "The pope, but he's young?" Except this time, it's "Archie, but everyone's hot?" Side note: What is in the water in Riverdale? This gene pool makes absolutely no sense; every single person in this town is incredibly attractive.
But the show as a whole is a really entertaining teen soap and a very acceptable guilty pleasure, which is essentially the CW's hallmark. I would be lying if I didn't say I enjoyed a mindless binge of the latest season of Supernatural on Netflix. Riverdale isn't in that mold — it's like Dawson's Creek was splashed with neo-noir — but it's been great through two episodes.
JB: I agree; I've found Riverdale to be more enjoyable than I would have imagined. I moved away from teen dramas long ago, but there is something about this series that is highly engaging. It's actually funny, because it seems like the brains behind Riverdale took a bunch of '80s and '90s teen dramas, threw them in a blender, and right before they pressed start, an Archie comic found its way in there.
Normally, that lack of originality would be a turn-off for me, but it's so clear they know what they are doing. Everything is so cliché that it is obviously intentional. The clichés have clichés. Archie is the boy next door, who got hot over the summer, does not know what to make of the push and pull between two passions, and, oh yeah, he entered into a taboo summer relationship with a schoolteacher! The blender was clearly turned on high.
KO: I'm a little cooler on it than the two of you. I found the first episode to have some major tone problems — like it doesn't know whether it wants to be soapy and ridiculous or a neo-noir or Gossip Girl or Twin Peaks. This episode didn't do a ton to alleviate my concerns. I'm enjoying it, but I think a more refined version of the show could be even more fun than the one we have.
My bigger problem this episode was Jughead. I'm glad he and Archie are friends again, because I think it'll give him something to do other than be dark and brooding. Because, let's be frank: Cole Sprouse (of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody fame) is not very good at playing dark and brooding. His line readings feel really stilted outside of the omniscient narration, and the only time he really came alive for me was when he was making up with Archie at the pep rally.
Am I being unfair? Or does Sprouse really stick out in an ensemble of other solid, sexy actors?
JB: I think that's a fair criticism.
MS: Yeah, I'm with you 100%. I couldn't help but roll my eyes at his annoyingly trite voiceovers, which has been a staple of the show through the first two episodes (and I'm worried that will persist). There's nothing the character adds to Riverdale aside from some droll narration, which is pretty unnecessary since the second episode in particular did a great job developing the characters. You can go into this knowing nothing about the Archie comics and you can understand where everyone's coming from and what cliches they fit at Riverdale High.
JB: One of the issues with Jughead (for me at least) is he seems to be nothing more than a gratuitous inclusion at this point. I am only marginally familiar with Archie comics, but I understand Jughead plays a large role. But in the series so far it seems like he was thrown in there to say, "We have a Jughead! Look, he's there!" The fact that he has only had a few chances to interact with characters outside of Archie also makes those interactions seem a bit off. Perhaps that is Cole Sprouse's inexperience in this type of a role.
I also am right there with you in terms of what the show needs to do going forward. I definitely am enjoying it more than I thought, but there certainly are flaws. There is so much drama packed into each episode, it is hard to pinpoint what I should be focusing my attention on. Is it the on-again-off-again friendship between Betty and Veronica — who have only known each other for, what, a few days? The best friends trying to stay friends despite one of them now confessing her true love? Or, the freakin' murder mystery? There definitely is a lot there, and some focus could do the series wonders (in my opinion).
MS: Archie's been a bit of a problem for me too. He's incredibly bland, though he's always been overshadowed by the far more interesting characters in his comics. I'm here for the women of Riverdale — especially the dynamic between Betty and Veronica.
KO: Completely agreed about Archie. That's the problem with centering your show on a fairly wholesome protagonist: They're so much less interesting than all the more colorful people around them.
MS: I will want to give the second episode credit for its treatment of the "relationship" between Archie and Miss Grundy, because at least Jughead helps Archie understand that what they did was wrong. Miss Grundy is incredibly manipulative of Archie, who wants to tell the police what they heard the morning they were together (a gunshot that presumably killed Jason).
I was concerned after the pilot that they'd treat the Archie-Miss Grundy relationship with the "sexy" student-teacher trope that most teen soaps fall for. The fact that it paints Miss Grundy in a negative, predatory light gives me hope they won't succumb to it in future episodes.
JB: Will you guys continue watching? I watched both episodes last night, and only because I knew we were discussing it. But there's enough there that I may continue for a few episodes and see what happens. I can't say I would catch it live, but I feel comfortable saying Riverdale has earned a spot on my DVR.
MS: Will I keep watching? Probably! I want to know who killed Jason and, hopefully, unravel the even-bigger mystery of how this entire town is unimaginably hot. There's gotta be some sci-fi element there.
KO: I'm definitely tuning in again, because this is easily one of the buzziest shows of the year. It feels like watercooler TV in the sense that at least someone will ask me about it the next day. But I hope it decides what show it wants to be, and fast — I'm only going to give these attractive teens the benefit of the doubt for so long.