The CW’s Riverdale transports the sunny, resoundingly normal teens of Archie Comics — including the titular Archie Andrews, girl next door Betty Cooper, sophisticated Veronica Lodge, and oddball Jughead Jones — to a far creepier and sexier reality than the one they’re traditionally accustomed to. Like any soapy teen drama, Riverdale will probably take some time to calibrate its tone and camp level, but rest assured that this clever, visually lush series is already entertaining as hell.
The pilot begins with the Blossom twins, Jason and Cheryl, taking an early-morning boat ride on the Fourth of July, clad in all-white ensembles befitting an upscale cult. Later that day, Dilton Doiley, leading a Boy Scout troop on a birding trip that apparently wandered right off the set of a Wes Anderson movie, finds a distraught Cheryl alone on the river’s edge. She says that she dropped a glove (if you’re asking yourself why she was wearing gloves in July, Riverdale might not be the show for you) and her brother fell out of the boat trying to retrieve it. His body has yet to be found.
When we meet Betty Cooper, she’s wearing only a bra, but her introduction is immediately chased with an equally gratuitous shot of a shirtless Archie Andrews, so, well played, Riverdale. The two best friends have a date (well, not a date) to catch up at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, where Betty hopes to reveal her secret crush on him. Archie, whose gloriously bushy eyebrows are so far the most substantial aspect of his personality, spent the summer pouring concrete for his dad’s construction company, during which time his mind discovered an affinity for composing lyrics and his body discovered it had abs.
Before Betty can spill the delicate, pastel-pink contents of her guts, Veronica Lodge floats into the restaurant wearing a casual hooded cape. She’s moved to Riverdale from New York City with her mother, a Harry Potter–unaffiliated Hermione, after her father was arrested for fraud and embezzlement. She and Archie share immediate chemistry.
Riverdale doubles down on its Twin Peaks-y flair by introducing us to Betty’s mother (Mädchen Amick, a.k.a. the Double R Diner’s own Shelly Johnson), who is a low-key monster. She declares that Polly, Betty’s unseen sister, let Jason Blossom “ruin” her. Then she foists a bottle of Adderall on her daughter, because this is, after all, a teen drama.
On the first day of school, Betty shows Veronica around, while the heiress to the Lodge fortune demonstrates her fondness for highbrow pop-culture zingers: “I feel like I’m wandering through the lost epilogue of Our Town!” “Ten minutes in and I’m already the Blue Jasmine of Riverdale High!” “I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but this place is strictly In Cold Blood!” Veronica quickly bonds with Betty’s openly gay pal Kevin Keller. She also contemplates pursuing Archie (“I’ve tried every flavor of boy but orange”), but graciously backs down when Kevin explains that, while Betty and Archie aren’t dating, “they are endgame.”
Meanwhile, Archie turns to Josie — of “and the Pussycats” fame — for help with his newfound love of music, but she doesn’t have time for him. “Read my glossed lips, Justin Gingerlake,” she says. “Not gonna happen.” (Side note: I had no idea that Josie and the Pussycats originated in Archie Comics! Then again, my domain knowledge is so limited that if Batman showed up on Riverdale, I would not necessarily be fazed.)
Later, Archie spots gorgeous music teacher Miss Grundy across the gym at an assembly. In a flashback to the summer, Grundy — wearing Lolita sunglasses — picks Archie up and offers him a ride, then summarily bangs him in her tiny VW Beetle. Yet another thing Riverdale has in common with Pretty Little Liars: a light dusting of statutory rape. Back in school, he tries to talk to her about his music; she coolly tells him to make an appointment. Hermione Lodge goes to see Archie’s (ahem, single) dad Fred Andrews (played by a distractingly attractive Luke Perry), and it’s revealed that, once upon a time, they used to date.
Her place in Riverdale High already established, Veronica encourages Betty to join her in trying out for the River Vixens cheerleading squad — of which mean-girl-in-mourning Cheryl is the captain — even though Betty was previously rejected for being “too season-five Betty Draper,” which is to say, fat.
In the most romantically lit music classroom in history, Miss Grundy expresses her reluctance to spend time alone with Archie. We learn that, while Archie and Miss Grundy were having a sexy lakeside picnic on July 4th, they heard what sounded like a gunshot. Clearly, this information could be relevant to the disappearance of Jason Blossom, but they never told anyone. If they did, how could they explain their being together?
Betty and Veronica’s Vixens tryout fails to please Cheryl, who demands, “Where’s the heat? Where’s the sizzle?” Veronica, naturally, proceeds to make out with Betty. They already make for a much more compelling couple than Archie and … well, anyone. When the River Vixens accept Veronica but not Betty, Veronica’s elegantly manicured rich-girl claws come out. Recognizing a spoiled-rotten entitlement in Cheryl that she all too recently came to grips with herself, Veronica insists that she and Betty “come as a matching set.”
The football coach promotes Archie to Jason Blossom’s vacant spot on varsity, to his dismay. (Sorry, have I not mentioned that Archie would rather be pursuing music? He’s really hung up on this.) At Veronica’s urging, Betty tries to invite Archie to the upcoming semiformal, but loses her nerve and asks him instead if he’d escort her and Veronica both. Back at the Lodges’ apartment, someone drops off Hermione’s “missing bag,” which is strange, because she wasn’t missing one. Inside, she finds thick wads of hundred-dollar bills, presumably an unwanted gift from her jailed husband.
At the semiformal, Archie finally convinces Miss Grundy to work with him three days a week before school. So it’s settled: He’ll study music in the morning, play football after school, then work for his dad on weekends. Did we really need to devote so much time to this nonproblem? Betty and Archie hit the dance floor and she finally tells him that she fantasizes about dating him. He responds less than maturely, saying nothing.
The would-be couple is conscripted alongside Veronica into attending Cheryl Blossom’s after-party, where a game of Seven Minutes in Heaven unfolds. The spin of a bottle pairs up Archie and Veronica. In the closet, they agree that the very last thing they should do is smooch, then smooch anyway. When they emerge, Betty’s gone.
Archie returns to the Chok’lit Shoppe looking for her, but instead finds Jughead (Cole Sprouse, who I am disappointed to report is not splitting this role Mary-Kate and Ashley–style with his twin brother Dylan). He’s working on a novel about Jason Blossom. Jughead sensibly encourages Archie to go talk to Betty, implying that open communication would have helped their own apparently damaged friendship. At Betty’s house, Archie tells her that he loves her (with an implied “but I’m not in love with you”), but that he’ll “never be good enough” for her. Them’s the breaks, Betty.
In other teen lust news, Kevin and Moose, a jock who is definitely not gay, why would you even think that, please, have driven out to a deserted spot along the river to do “everything but kiss.” (I’m happy that Kevin is clearly getting some, unlike so many of TV’s apparently sexless gay best friends.) But before the skinny-dipping can commence, they’re rudely interrupted by the sight of Jason Blossom’s nasty, bloated corpse, a bullet hole square in the middle of his forehead. Looks like we’ve got ourselves a murder mystery, folks!