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Monday, August 21, 2017

'Riverdale' S1 BD: 'Heathers' Meets 'Saved by the Bell'


The Warner Archive August 15, 2017 Blu-ray release of S1 of the CW teendram "Riverdale" provides those familiar with the series and newcomers to this Sexy Archieverse to respectively refresh their memories or to catch up before the October 11 2017 S2 premiere on the CW.  Choosing Blu-ray over DVD for this series that Variety (and Unreal TV) perfectly describes as "visually stunning" is a no-brainer.

Another of the many great things about this release is that it provides great relief to fans of unreal TV who have been anxious to see "Riverdale" ever since an October 2014 press release announcing adding this series to the Fox lineup. It is undisputed that this edgy and angsty/quirky take on a classic wholesome comic book franchise is better suited to the home of "Gossip Girl," "Gilmore Girls," "The Vampire Diaries," "The 100," etc.

Early accolades for the 13 S1 episodes, which lead into the 22 S2 episodes, include the 2017 Saturn Award for Best Action/Thriller Television Series and a Breakthrough Performance Award for Archie Andrews portrayor/buff dude/New Zealand boy K.J. Apa.

Because the "making-of" story of "Riverdale" is so interesting, it will be the primary focus of this S1 review. Consequently, the discussion of the intriguing storylines will be condensed.

In typical teensoap fashion, much of the action centers around the July 4 disappearance of rich teen twin Jason Bloom while boating with twin sister/Queen B/head cheerleader Cheryl. The related secrets of our central gang as more is revealed regarding that event drive much of the action in this show that derives its themes (and episode titles) from edgy indie films that include "The River's Edge," "The Last Picture Show," and "The Sweet Hereafter."

One can only hope for "My Own Private Riverdale" centering around "lost boy" Jughead having to become a street-corner rent boy to keep at least a little brass in pocket.

The shameful beginning-of-the-school-year return of local girl who marries rich Hermoine Lodge and her teen daughter Veronica is the other primary catalyst for the S1 drama.

The essentially two-part S1 finale maintains a thrilling fast pace to keep the promise in the entertaining (BD extra) 2016 Comic-Con panel of wrapping up the mystery of Jason and his fellow Argonaut. This panel further confirms that the Hollywood bad boy days of Perry are a thing of the distant past.

On a related note, the even more amusing reel of blunders shows that Apa has a wonderful and loving gag reflex when it comes to his cast mates.

The classic lore of "Archie" is that the titular comic book everyteen and his friends at Riverdale High arguably are the grandparents of Zack Morris and his Bayside High classmates of the classic Saturday morning tweencom "Saved By the Bell." Clean-cut bot-next-door/aspiring musician Archie (Zack) hangs around with freaky nerdy best friend Jughead (Screech) and competes in love and other teen pursuits with "villain" Reggie (Slater). The main girls in the group are pretty rich girl Veronica (Kelly) and tomboyish gal pal Betty (Jessie).

The first aside regarding "Riverdale" is that spending summers in Meredith, New Hampshire at a very young age provided a chance to meet oh-so-sweet Bob Montana, who is the creator of "Archie."

The second aside is that tracking down "Josie and the Pussycats" creator Dan DeCarlo in 2001 led to a brief (but terrific) friendship that also led to DeCarlo drawing your not-so-humble reviewer what is believed to be the last of 10,000s of DeCarlo drawings. Having a few conversations with the real-life Josie (a.k.a. Mrs. DeCarlo) was equally thrilling.

The extensive updating of the Archieverse for "Riverdale" follows a long period of making the comic more relevant to the late 20th century and early 21st century. These notable changes include dark edgy storylines and adding openly gay teen Kevin Keller (a dreamy Casey Cott in "Riverdale") to the gang.

Speaking of Kevin, one can only hope that the lack of hate his peers show this boy whose sexuality only slightly affects his personality and level of openness regarding actual and desired sexual experiences accurately reflects high school life in 2017. There is absolutely no gay bashing and even the straightest of the straight boys have no problem publicly hanging out with Kevin, who attends a big dance with his steady boyfriend without raising nary an eyebrow.

A combination of character and actor provide Kevin some of the best S1 moments. His reaction on joining viewers in getting the first look at a shirtless Apa reflect the views of virtually every female audience member and at least 10-percent of the men who are watching. Another good moment comes when Reggie comments about the "good gay kid" in school and a smiling Kevin responds that he is that guy.

"Riverdale" also is notable for engaging in the same alternative casting that enhances many live-stage Shakespeare productions. Although the main teens have similar appearances as their comic-book counterparts, most of the supporting characters get major makeovers.

Elderly spinster school teacher Miss Grundy now is a sexy younger educator with a strong taste for younger men; giving her her own dark past further modernizes the series.

Middle-aged portly white principal Mr. Weatherbee also sheds several years; he additionally is now a buff black man who is much more alert and assertive than his comic counterpart.

Recasting the mostly white girl group/high school students "Josie and the Pussycats" as fierce black girls is way cool and provides good humor regarding their interaction with adorkable white boy Archie. However, one would hope for a reversal "Othello" in having the traditionally white girls Josie and Melody played by black actresses and have a white actress play the traditionally black Valerie.

An even odder choice considering the reimagining of characters is having Cole "Cody" Sprouse dye his well-known blonde hair black to keep with the tradition of Jughead being a brunette. Only the surprise mid-season introduction of the father of Jughead explains the reason for keeping with tradition in this case.

"Riverdale" additionally brings the parents more fully into the act than the comic books. Notable casting regarding this is having "Beverly Hills 90210" bad boy Luke Perry play loving but firmish single dad/construction company owner Fred Andrews. We further get '80s sitcom actress/former Mrs. Mike Tyson Robin Givens as the mayor of the titular small city/mother of rocker Josie McCcoy. '80s teen sweetheart Molly Ringwald shows up in a PERFECT role for her mid-season.

In addition to the aforementioned Comic-Con Panel and gag reel, the good folks at Archive provide a bunch o' unaired scenes and some "behind-the-scenes" features.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Riverdale" is strongly encouraged to email me. You alternatively can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.