May 12, 2017

ShowbuzzDaily Season Finale Review: “Riverdale”


Even after a full season of RIVERDALE, it’s not entirely clear what the show is trying to accomplish.  The high-concept premise is clear enough:  take the fresh-faced characters from the Archie comics world, and set them loose in a dark, sexualized YA soap.  But beyond that, series creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who’s also been involved with the Archie universe on the comics side) doesn’t seem to have much to say about the inhabitants of Riverdale, or the interrelationship between pop culture and “reality.”  Riverdale takes the basic characteristics of the famous characters–Archie (KJ Apa) is a nice guy with red hair; Veronica (Camila Mendes) is dark-haired and rich; Betty (Lili Reinhart) is blonde and earnest; Jughead (Cole Sprouse) wears funny hats–and makes small adjustments (Archie is a singer/songwriter, Veronica has a Bernie Madoff-type dad and is a much nicer person than she is on the page, Jughead is a cynical aspiring novelist and Betty’s boyfriend) to limited effect.

Riverdale isn’t a commentary on changing times like Pleasantville, or a mash-up of archetypes like Once Upon A Time  Although Aguirre-Sacasa is heavy on stunt casting of former teen icons (Archie’s dad is played by Luke Perry, his mom is Molly Ringwald, and Betty’s mother is Twin Peaks‘s Madchen Amick), their presence doesn’t elicit more than a knowing nod.  And although Aguirre-Sacasa and the show’s directors tilt the visuals to resemble Twin Peaks wherever possible, Riverdale doesn’t even try to touch that show’s startling surrealism, its utter strangeness, or even its sly humor.

What it is is instead is simply a soap, one that would be considered fairly routine if the characters had different names and hair colors.  Last week’s episode resolved the main mystery of the season, revealing that rich-kid Jason Blossom had been murdered by his own father Clifford, apparently to stop Jason from revealing that the family maple syrup business was actually running drugs.  Once his crimes were revealed, Clifford promptly (or so it seems) killed himself–actually, he hung himself, allowing Jughead’s narration to put the word “cliffhanger” to good use.  Tonight’s season finale, written by Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, was mostly an epilogue, with a gunshot wound to Archie’s dad in the last few moments to set up Season 2’s storyline.  Jughead may be shifting to the dark side, as he starts to identify with his father’s (Skeet Ulrich, another name from teen movies past) drug-dealing biker gang.  Jason Blossom’s twin sister Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), overwhelmed by the tragedies that had engulfed her family, attempted suicide and then burned down the Blossom mansion.  And Archie and Veronica had sex.

It was all reasonably engrossing, as teen soaps go, but lacked the additional dimension that seemed intended.  The uncertainty about the show’s aims extends to the acting, where performers like Sprouse and Reinhart are basically naturalistic, while Amick and Petsch lean toward the stylized.  The show has an unusually rich look by CW standards, although one would like to see it able to put more resources into its musical choices.

Expectations were high for Riverdale, but its ratings were on the lower end of CW’s already low range, although since CW tends to renew almost its entire line-up, the series was never at serious risk.  (The fact that its non-writing Executive Producer godfather is Greg Berlanti, who produces the entire CW/DC line-up, also didn’t hurt.)  Perhaps Season 2 will find more of an organizing principle for its potentially intriguing universe.  For now, it’s probably lucky that Riverdale‘s season has ended just before it might have aired in direct comparison to the return of Twin Peaks itself, a project that has never lacked a truly unique vision.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."