Confessions of a 30-Something River Vixen: Episode 1
I love soap operas.
It's true. My favorite shows are ones that just have ridiculous story lines with fabulously beautiful people acting completely irrational. Storylines that make no sense. Tori Spelling dully saying "but I'm not a hooker officer." I wasn't allowed to watch Beverly Hills 90210 when it was first on. When I was in grad school we lived in a literally rathole but we had SoapNet. I would sit and devour One Tree Hill, Beverly HIlls 90210, and re-runs of The OC. My freshman year of college I would stop everything to watch that show and I fell in love with Adam Brody. Adam, if my SEO is working correctly, please know I'm happily married with the world's cutest son but you stole my heart as an 18 year old. You were the ultimate dreamy safe boy. I had real feelings for Seth Cohen. He isn't real. That's the excitement of soaps. You get to totally escape in a fantasy made for women. When you get good actors, beautiful outfits, and campy storylines-it is the most perfect *chef's kiss* TV. This past winter, I was living through the first winter of daycare flu season and it was nasty. My son would get sick, I would get sick, my husband would get sick, and it was so draining. One night Rhys was sick, my husband started vomiting, and I couldn't stop coughing. We were all up at 3 AM and we were so weak. None of us were sleeping. I literally came into work about 2-3 days a week because one of us would have to stay home with Rhys or we were recovering. During this time my friend Frankie said "I just binge watched Riverdale and it's so good." I told him I would watch it and my dear friend Luce loves it as well. I trust both of their judgements and I started watching it. They were right. I loved it. It was an escape from the winter drearies and just perfect. I loved it. The past few weeks have made me feel like I'm under pressure. The news is awful. I am going through an epic imposter syndrome moment. I am presenting my own research for the first time and I'm thinking I was a pity invite. I have to fight it but the struggle is real. I needed a break. So I'm rewatching Riverdale and taking notes. I hope you join me in this and I would love to hear your opinions on things. We all need an escape and this is a great thing.
Starting out with this review I'd like to say, this show was a little on the nose about losing innocence. It truly is a good analogy of this time in history. The whole thing about "it wasn't supposed to be happening." As someone who grew up in the suburbs during the new Gilded age of the late nineties and early 2000's only to see the greater metro area that I grew up become the epicenter of the opioid crisis, that phrase hits home. We thought drug problems were something that was far removed from where we grew up, not so much. So taking tropes of these teenagers and putting them in a dark present actually works on a lot of levels. Most people I know feel like their teenage selves would do a spit take if they saw how messed up the world is right now. Although, as a teen watching this show I would have probably yelled "that girl has thighs like me!" about Camila Mendes. As campy as this show is, the teenagers are pretty real.
The story starts out with the disappearance of Jason Blossom. You just hear Jughead talk about how Cheryl and Jason Blossom went canoeing on the Sweetwater River and Jason disappeared. His body has not been found and Cheryl was found weeping on the side of the river. The shots are glorious and creepy. They tell a story and you can tell there were a ton of references to Twin Peaks and Top of the Lake (want to have nightmares because a story is so bleak and the acting is so good watch that). You see the Sweetwater River rushing like a whitewater rafting trip. You see Cheryl sitting on a rock in a white lace dress but her lipstick is still perfect. I'll suspend my disbelief. Welcome to Riverdale.
The players: Archie Andrews- surprisingly ripped teenager who is debating between his football career and music. Idolized by Betty Cooper. He is also having an affair with his music teacher. Veronica Lodge- Rich girl who lost everything and now lives in the small town where her mother grew up. Her family is a group of social pariahs. Veronica is rebuilding her life. Betty Cooper- the literal girl next door who is super smart and sensitive. Her family is banana sandwiches crazy and her sister is in a home. Cheryl Blossom- rich kid and resident mean girl. Her biting remarks are fabulous. Kevin Keller- Son of the sheriff and close friend of Betty Cooper. Jughead Jones- he bookends the pilot and all you know is he is a writer who sits and broods. He could have been a trope. Cole Sprouse elevates this character in the few scenes he is in. At this point in the show he is a riddle wrapped up in a mystery. Who is this gloomy Gus and where does he fit in in "The Town with Pep!"?
Things I noticed were a little different. Betty mentions meeting Toni Morrison, not someone most teens are aware of and how awestruck she was. You can already tell the show is a little different. You see Veronica walk into Pop's Chock Lit Shoppe in a stunning cape coat (want) and a Birken bag. She drops a Truman Capote reference and instantly endears herself to the teens. Again, that's a nice note. As a weird bookish teen, I would have related to Ms. Birken. I was struck by what a good actress Lili Reinhart (Betty) was from the get go. She took a trope and ran with it and while Camila Mendes (Veronica Lodge) is lovely-LR took the script and added to it. That's the craft of acting. She's phenomenal. She only gets better as the series progresses.
I hated the Ms. Grundy subplot. No thinking teacher would risk all that with a 15 year old boy, not even with AJ Kapa (Archie's) abs. There are so many creepy levels to this story and none of them are good. Also, Archie's music is terrible. Someone had to say it. One of my notes was Ms. Grundy went to Juilliard and was slumming it at Riverdale. Again, so many questions.
Cheryl is someone who is just fun to watch. Madalaine Pauch is fabulous and her burns are awesome. I love Kevin Keller and I love how people just accept him. He's wonderful and likeable and one of my fave characters. They mentioned Betty's weight issues and they could have done it in a better way. I mean Season 5 Betty Draper was a bit of a burn on her. I am chalking it up to a rookie mistake but it alarmed me in a show that was pretty body positive. Since one of my favorite things to do is watch TV and deconstruct beautiful outfits, I love finding Veronica's pearls. She wore pearls to the River Vixen try outs! Cheryl saying "Faux lesbian kissing hasn't been hot since 1994" was such a wonderful burn. I love how Veronica said "your reckoning is me." When Betty asks her about what she is doing and Veronica said "I'm using this as an opportunity to be a better version of myself." How beautiful and true. I love how Betty and Veronica just lift each other up. You never see that on TV and women who go to bat for other women- it's rare in the media. Especially since in the comics they were constantly fighting over Archie. This whole show is about subverting expectations.
The dance scene had amazing dresses. Betty's dress is a perfect 50's throwback. I love the layers of pink and her hair. I love Veronica's sleek black lace dress. Those two have completely different aesthetics but aren't in direct conflict with each other. They compliment each other and balance each other out. Kind of like Patricia Field perfected in Sex and the City with all of the women and thinking about their clothes. The after party and seven minutes in heaven scene were interesting. I never went to parties where they had that. For some reason maybe we realized it would be a bad idea? When I was in college we had a game like that and it ended much like this one did, with someone leaving the party crying. Kissing the boy your friend likes is a very teen issue. I did that once and I felt awful. I still to this day have no idea why I did it. It wasn't cool and I'm sorry. She spent the whole night talking about how cute he was and how she'd had a crush on him forever. Then, he kissed me and I kissed him back. It had nothing to do with the other girl and it was so innocent and then it just crossed a line. They do a good job of showing that on the show. I'm a total Betty who tries to be a Veronica. When Betty says she loves Archie-it was just too much. It was real but hard to watch. Of course you would love the safe sweet boy next door but it's not to be. I love how Archie is like "I'll never be good enough for you." That is a very innocent boy thing to say. It's the only endearing thing Archie does in this entire episode. I was also amazed at how honest the kids were with their parents. My parents were uncannily smart and raised two girls who can not lie. That being said, I know that if I told my mom I made out with my friend's major crush-she would not have been so sweet. It's also interesting that Luke Perry (DYLAN!) is Archie's single dad. The kids were honest and the whole plot wasn't about lying. The adults are the ones who lie. The kids lay their motives out Jughead narrates the end. When I first saw this and heard about the show...I didn't get the Cole Sprouse thing. I do now. He's amazing.
They find Jason's body. He has a gunshot wound to the head. Me watching TV and yelling at it: HE WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE BADLY DECOMPOSED!
I was intrigued and the show kept on getting better and better.