Riverdale Review: Pretty Perfect Pilot

As far as I’m concerned, Greg Berlanti (and his team) have done it again. Riverdale’s pilot is as close to perfect as it gets, and this MustGeekTV viewer will be back for more. Bring on Chapter Two!

Riverdale - Season 1 Episode 1 "The River's Edge"
Courtesy of The CW

After watching the series premiere, I now understand the Gossip Girl/Twin Peaks comparisons. However, these characters are infinitely more likable than the Upper East Side gang of The CW’s previous hit show. Riverdale does come complete with a blogger writer voiceover, courtesy of outcast Jughead. The murder mystery aspect is the only real Twin Peaks parallel, but it’s probably what will keep me tuning-in. I say that, because I’m not Riverdale‘s demographic, but if a show is well-written, has a great cast and there’s a whodunit angle… I’m usually all in.

Honestly, the vibe here isn’t Twin Peak-ish. It’s much more Mean Girls, Dawson’s Creek, Glee and even Grease (minus the big musical numbers of course). I’m sure many critics will nitpick and call the series “derivative.” In my opinion, there’s no shame in throwing the best elements from successful movies/shows in a blender and creating a mashup that’s brand new. How they decided to use the Archie comics to tell this particular story I’m not 100% sure, but it totally works.

While the teen angst tropes may grow old, Jason Blossom’s murder puts a nice spin on things. Hopefully they don’t give up the big bad too soon, because the reveal of Laura Palmer’s killer did not help keep Twin Peaks on the air. David Lynch is an odd bird though, and his series was not exactly mainstream. The narrative rarely made sense and was tough to follow. I think that’s part of Berlanti’s genius, he’s good at delivering a product/storyline/series that appeals to mass audiences. There’s a little something for everyone in Riverdale.

Riverdale - Season 1 Episode 1 "The River's Edge"
Courtesy of The CW

Okay, so on to the good stuff. The pilot kicked things off with the Blossom twins boating and Jason “falling into the river.” Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) teasing her brother, and the fact she seemed to get over his death fairly quickly makes her an instant suspect. Would she shoot her twin in the head? The writers made us dislike Cheryl Blossom right away since she’s our main “Mean Girl,” which could also be simple misdirection. Betty’s mother, Alice (Madchen Amick), spewed some pretty nasty words at the scene of the crime. She hated golden boy Jason, making her suspect number two. I’m sure more suspicious folks will come out of the woodwork in the coming weeks. Let the guessing game begin!

Archie (KJ Apa), who “got hot over the summer” according to Betty’s bestie Kevin (Casey Cott), was actually getting hot and heavy with music teacher Ms. Grundy when they heard a gunshot. That puts a serious dent in their secret rendezvous. Those private moments will inevitably come out causing all sorts of drama for the ill-fated lovers.

The cast is insanely attractive (as they are on all CW shows), but they are also sensational actors. I don’t care how pretty you are, if you can’t act and pull me into the story… I’m out. Well, I’m pleased to say I fell for all these young actors by the end of the hour. That said, it was Veronica (Camila Mendes) that stole the show for me and not just thanks to her slow-mo entrance at Pop’s diner. She’s gorgeous sure, but also ballsy, funny, honest and loyal. Veronica is the anti-Cheryl, learning from her own past mistakes. I’m hoping she remains trustworthy and the writers manage to make the Archie/Betty/Veronica trio work without falling into the love triangle trope. Besides, Archie seems too obsessed with Ms. Grundy at the moment and can you blame him?

That’s not to say I didn’t like Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart). She is our “Sandy” and will no doubt become more interesting as the series unfolds. It sucks that she’s in the friendzone right now, but we’ve seen plenty of flicks where the BFFs manage to turn that around.

Riverdale - Season 1 Episode 1 "The River's Edge"
Courtesy of The CW

As for Archie himself, the “teen Outlander” does comes across as a series of cliché’s but KJ Apa makes the character endearing. I like the guy and though he’s going to screw up, the way he deals with his mistakes is part of growing up and becoming a man. By the way, the scene with Archie and his dad Fred (Luke Perry) was probably the most touching moment of the episode. Who knew the 90210 heartthrob could act? I mean, seriously act! Aside from the teen trio of Archie/Betty/Veronica, I think it’s Archie’s relationship with his father that’s going to be a major highlight of the series. Did you know famous 80s redhead Molly Ringwald will be making an appearance as Archie’s Mom? How can you not love Greg Berlanti?

Closing Thoughts…

Riverdale definitely came out of the gate running with a strong pilot. Its talented cast, solid writing, great soundtrack and Berlanti’s magic touch almost guarantee a new hit for The CW. I was a little disappointed that Jughead was on the periphery of the story, but his conversation with Archie means there’s a history there. I’m curious to learn what caused their falling out. Josie and The Pussycats rocked and Archie approaching them about his songwriting was a cool way of integrating the band into the story. There might just be a little more Glee on this series than I realize. Kevin and the closeted jock finding Jason Blossom’s dead body in the river brought things full circle and caught me hook, line, and sinker. I’m looking forward to the next episode.

Riverdale airs Thursdays at 9/8c on The CW.