Though I was an avid Archie reader as a child, I steered my 3 daughters away from the stories every time we went to the comic book store. I didn’t want my kids’ vivid imaginations colonized by the sexist, superficial, and endlessly repetitive dualism of dark-haired bad girl Veronica versus blonde, super-kind Betty, both competing over Archie, world class total goof. Even as a 10 year old, I never got what Betty and Veronica saw in that guy. He was such a bore. But when I watched the marketing for new Netflix series ‘Riverdale,’ the moody Gothic tone hooked me, from the juxtaposition of the show’s title written in classic Varsity letter font, letters glowing blue, floating over ominous, looming pine trees, the tips lit by moonlight.
Then there was the picture of Betty sitting in a booth (obviously Pop’s diner) and instead of smiling, she’s looking at the camera like she has no trust at all for whomever is watching her. Next to Betty (next to Betty) is Veronica, arms crossed, her direct stare tells the camera: this show you’re about to see is my story. Across from them, Archie casually leans back, confirming Veronica’s message: he’s comfortable in his supporting role. His hair is no longer nerd orange but devil red.
Then I read ‘Riverdale’ described as ‘Twin Peaks’ meets ‘Gossip Girl’ and my family had a show to see. Last night, the 5 of us watched the finale of season one and ‘Riverdale’ lived up to my expectations which were not super-high but hopeful and intrigued. Throughout the series, Archie remains a factor in Betty and Veronica’s friendship, but the two girls deal with the complicated issue with honesty and respect and I was happy my kids (ages 8, 10, and 13) saw this depiction of navigating relationships through challenges. In the final episode, when Veronica talked through the Archie issue, she said to Betty something like: “At the risk of failing the Bechdel test, we have to talk about this.” If you read Reel Girl, you probably know, Veronica is referring to writer Alison Bechdel’s criteria for feminist fiction: the work must have (1) at least two women (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man. ‘Riverdale’ passes with flying colors, and there are constant ironic, meta allusions to feminism and feminist media, mostly by Veronica.
‘Riverdale’ is far from perfect, it’s no feminist utopia. All the girls and their mothers share a body type. But the boys and their fathers are just as cut with Luke Perry of ‘90210’ fame playing Archie’s dad (dad!) and Skeet Ulrich rounding out the hunk factor as Jughead’s father. For me, the constant references to Archie’s 6 pack abs helped to justify why Betty and Veronica are so entranced while no reason was given or shown for their devotion in the comics of my childhood. Modern Archie is also a musician. Not only is the cast mostly thin, it’s mostly white. Josie and the Pussycats are African-American as are Josie’s parents. Robin Givens play Josie’s mom. Riverdale’s principal is African-American, but clearly, in ‘Riverdale’ white characters are front and center.
The best thing about the show is the friendship between Betty and Veronica. They support and admire each other, their characters are complex and dynamic. Also, Betty is actually BFFs with Archie as well, which, though it’s a complicated relationship, male-female friendship is not something my kids get to see much of in the media. Not only is the narrative is entertaining, it’s beautifully shot. My husband watches it with us too. Need one more reason to check it out? Molly Ringwald plays Archie’s mom.
Reel Girl rates ‘Riverdale’ ********HH*********