Similar shows: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars
Now, I'll be the first to admit, I wasn't absolutely crazy about Riverdale when I started it. I certainly enjoyed the aesthetically pleasing scenery and camerawork and started to like the characters, but the story didn't really capture me until about halfway through season 1. And I did binge-watch half the season and not really get all the hype I was seeing for the show. In fact, for a second I entertained the thought that maybe, horrifically, I was growing out of Teen Dramas (say it ain't so!).
Riverdale is a show based on the characters from the Archie comics, and the premise of the first season is the mystery surrounding who killed Jason Blossom, twin brother of Cheryl Blossom and heir to a maple syrup empire in the town of Riverdale. It's about unveiling the darkness of this once 'innocent' town and how it's become corrupt and full of secrets. So there's murder, there's mystery, there's romance, friendship, family, a bit of singing, a lot of cheesy dialogue but ultimately a riveting Teen Drama that's really very enjoyable.
As the show progressed and we got to know the characters more and they became more involved in the mystery of Riverdale and the murder of Jason Blossom, I got more and more invested. In fact, by the time we reached the finale, I was looking forward to it as a highlight of my weekly TV schedule. It's really found it's footing for what it wants to be as a show and while some of the dialogue and character's choices are easy to mock, that's true of how melodramatic teenagers are sometimes even in real life.
I applaud the show for actually getting to the bottom of the original murder mystery in its first season (and don't worry, I'm not going to spoil that for you!) and not dragging it out unnecessarily like some other shows do (*cough* Pretty Little Liars, looking at you). I like that they didn't go an unrealistic route with the plot and that they set up new storylines and mysteries for the progression of the show rather than looping around the same one and making it more and more complicated for the sake of shock factor.
I'll be honest when I say my knowledge of the Archie comics is limited, and I understand that the show has very little in common with them other than the characters' names and some of their personality traits. I actually like that, because I think if any show is an adaptation, changes need to be made to fit the flow of the show/film and adapt to its audience. When you consider some of the most popular couples in show adaptations, like Chuck and Blair in Gossip Girl or Spencer and Toby in Pretty Little Liars, these are couples that were born out of chemistry the actors had and that the writers and audience were captivated by. They didn't have any history with one another romantically in the source material, they came to be because the show brought something else out of the story and the characters.
Following that thread, my favorite relationship of the show is Betty and Jughead's (Bughead) and how beautifully that's developed into a core romance despite the fact that we're inevitably going to dive back into the infamous love triangle of Betty/Archie/Veronica eventually. While at first, I thought Betty and Jughead's relationship was too rushed (I like a slow burn, what can I say?), you have to remember that they did only have a 13-episode season at the point of writing it and they weren't renewed until after they finished shooting the first season, so they had to develop relationships at a fast pace to tell the stories they wanted to. I'm head over heels for them at this point, and while I was very interested in Veronica and Archie too, it annoys me that Archie keeps running after the next girl as soon as one shows interest in him. It makes him hard to like as a character. In a 13-episode season, he's had so many love interests he basically has a carousel of girls set up at this point in a constant rotation.
I also really enjoy some of the acting and the depth that is brought to these characters. It's a little unexpected, but at the same time with how well-known many of the actors playing the parents are (Luke Perry as Fred Andrews, Skeet Ulrich as FP Jones, Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper) it really feels cohesive as a talented cast. The character development has also been great, and I'm a sucker for good character development. I didn't think when I started this show that I'd ever like Alice Cooper or be such a huge fan of Cheryl Blossom, but they're really interesting characters and I look forward to seeing theirs and everyone else's storylines in season 2. I do think there are characters that have been woefully underused like Josie, and I'm happy that Casey Cott (Kevin) has been upped to a series regular for next season (because truthfully I didn't even know he wasn't one already and I'm all for more Kevin involvement).
I do think this show has a problem with diversity. I would like to see more LGBT+ representation, and I know there's a lot of people angry that the show has dismissed the previous version of Jughead being asexual. I do hope they introduce another character as asexual because there does need to be more representation of asexuality on television. I'm also partial to the idea of Veronica being bisexual even though that hasn't been canonically introduced, though I do feel like there's groundwork that could suggest that implication. It's something I feel the show could work on to make it stand out as not just another heteronormative Teen Drama with marginalised LGBT+ characters. They need to utilize the Pussycats more in season 2 as well because they've been unfairly pushed to the background and there's been too much singing from Archie and not enough from the resident girl band.
All in all, if you like Teen Dramas, pretty mise-en-scène, murder mysteries, etc., this is a show you will likely enjoy. This show has really filled the void I felt was left in my life when Gossip Girl finished (and can we talk about how it's almost half a decade since that, OH MY GOD??), and it's genuinely made me really happy these last few months. If you're in the UK the whole season is on Netflix and it's added the day after the American airing, and it's being added to the US Netflix imminently. Riverdale airs on The CW and Season 2 will premiere this autumn.