10 October 2017

RIVERDALE Fails to Thrill

After catching up with RIVDERDALE on Netflix, I’m not so sure I want to continue on watching it week to week for season two. While the show seemed once to be billed as DAWSON'S CREEK meets TWIN PEAKS, it never approached anything supernatural or weirdly odd –the things that David Lynch’s legendary series actually did. It offered only warm retreads, in the end.

While the underbelly of small town life is a trope we’ve seen for decades in TV soaps, not many shows have been able to pull it off and make it look natural, organic in nature. Fiction writers like Stephen King have a knack for creating towns that are often hardscrabble, filled with plain spoken people, but it’s all smoke and mirrors, designed to cover the dysfunction and malice that lives just below the surface of those towns.

RIVERDALE lives and breathes at the corner of convenience and coincidence, which I admit is something all soaps need, but  –and I guess I’m naive to believe it was going to be anything else – this is just another teen soap featuring actors who all look way beyond their teen years. No one, and I mean no one, on this show could pass as teenager. Even star KJ Apa at 19 (when he filmed the first season) did not look like he belonged in high school. Maybe his tricked out body made him look older, or something else, but I felt no connection to his version of Archie. 

Everything is just wrapped up with one impossible scenario after another, and after a while, it seemed even the central murder mystery arc was going to take second fiddle to the schemes and plans of the 1%. 

Performances range from your typical scene chewing found in this genre to plain TV acting okay; I mean some actors can handle the cheesy dialogue with great panache, while others (including more than a few or the regulars and recurring one) only deliver their discourse like a blunt instruments. 

However, in a surprising turn, veteran Disney child actor Cole Sprouse is remarkably good here, making the comic book version of  Jughead a rather complex character than the weird kid trope he’s been assigned (and the doofus version in the funny pages). There were many times as I watched these thirteen episodes that I wished the show revolved around Jughead (and Skeet Ulrich played his Dad, so that was neat) than Archie and his luckless Dad. Fortuitously, Sprouse also has some great chemistry the New Zealand born actor Apa, and this bromance (both on screen and off) with him (I find him forgettable a lot of the time, and I don’t know why) elevated the torpid drama presented on my monitor screen.

The other thing that bothered me was the whole Who Shot Jason Bloom arc, scion of Bloom Maple fortune. While the plot line played out over the first few episodes, it eventually takes a back burner to love triangles, mean girls, and betrayals before circling back. And while they kids do some investigating of their own (and Jughead has his own Wall of Clues) there really is no full blown Scooby gang going on here. And like all whodunits of the last few decades, no one actually puts the puzzle pieces together to figure out who killed Bloom. In the end, the killer is always caught by making a careless mistake, or a slip of the tongue, or in this case, a flash drive found in the lining of Jason’s letterman jacket that contains a video of his brutal murder –and the person who did it. Convenient, right?

Blah. Not sure if I would call that lazy writing, a TV series that knows its audience is a few tacos short of a combination platter, or they’ve never just read an Agatha Christie novel. 

Maybe it’s all three.

Ultimately, it is not as odd and dark as I remember it being advertised. It’s a teen-soap that relies too much on what has come before and while it features a supporting cast of veteran 80’s & 90’s actors (hi Molly Ringwald), it’s only really purpose is designed to appeal to the older audience members who have no idea who these young actors are. 

For me, the only worthy character is Jughead, and that all has to do with Sprouse’s layered acting.

As season two approaches, there is one thing I am curious about: Betty's dark rage. Will the show break into the TWIN PEAKS universe with whatever is driving young Betty to hold in whatever darkness is wanting to breakout? This seed, which was well planted through out season one, might keep me watching, along with Cole Sprouse's Jughead Jones.

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