The CW’s got a new comics-based show, but there’s nary a masked vigilante to be found. Instead, Riverdale feels like a series from the teen-focused CW of old. Here are our spoiler-free first impressions of the very strange, very goofy, and very fun pilot.
Riverdale really wants to be Twin Peaks, but it’s not weird enough to pull that off. It should feel like Veronica Mars, another noir-ish show with teenagers quipping quickly and full of pop culture references. It’s not quite clever enough for that either. Instead, Riverdale ends up more like Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars, which, if you’re a fan of silly shows that take themselves very seriously, isn’t a bad thing at all.
Riverdale isn’t deep. Every plot point is one we’ve seen before—a murder, adults with secrets, teenagers trying to buck expectations and get into college—but with all the familiar Archie trappings. Every shout-out is seamlessly worked into this version of Riverdale. It feels EXACTLY like what modern versions of these characters would look like.
Betty (Lili Reinhardt) is perfect, but under pressure from her mom. Veronica (Camila Mendes) has a scandal-plagued father who was in finance (of course), and she has a desire to reinvent herself from her rich bitch past.
As Betty and Veronica, these two actresses are really great together, playing perfectly as two opposites who complement each other. Their budding friendship rightfully anchors the pilot, to the point where Archie’s (K.J. Apa) dilemmas about pursuing music while trying to play football and work for his father seem vaguely hilarious. He’s just too talented! Plus, his secrets are more plot-relevant than character-relevant.
In praising this cast, special attention has to be paid to Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom. She’s mean, but in a very charismatic way. There’s something just slightly off about her facade—the way her smile actually looks cracked. This is a character using her twin brother’s death to cement her social position, and it’s kind of amazing. The pilot features Cheryl and Veronica going toe-to-toe in a battle of high school titans, and it’s fantastic. I hope the show does it every week.
Riverdale takes place in nothing even close to the real world. No one talks like a real person, everything is fuzzy, and all the colors are over-saturated. Jughead (Cole Sprouse) narrates the whole thing in a temporally impossible way. But the constant reminders that the show’s gonna be a teenage noir soap opera just make it more fun and more watchable. This is going to be a show where everyone’s parents are hiding bombshells from their kids and every kid is hiding a secret desire. And it’s all going to be entertaining as hell to watch.