While the comic book medium was at one point home to thousands of series covering hundreds of genres for dozens of publishers, from about the 1960s onwards it has been dominated by superhero stories published by either Marvel, DC or a handful of rotating independent companies. The one major consistent exception has been Archie Comics, which has maintained a loyal readership and generations of fans for its multiple series chronicling the comic exploits of eternally-young High School students – most notably Archie Andrews and his competing love interests Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper – in the classically all-American small town of Riverdale since 1941.
Now, the iconic Archie teens are coming to television. The CW has ordered a pilot for a live-action series titled Riverdale, which promises a “subversive” take on the classic characters.
According to a press release on Archie Comics’ official site, Riverdale promises to have Archie and his friends confront “the darkness and weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale’s wholesome facade;” which makes the series sound vaguely along the lines of a teen-centric cousin to series like Desperate Housewives, where a seemingly picture-perfect suburban neighborhood was contrasted with the strange and often ugly secrets of the decent-seeming people living there to ironic and poignant effect. In the comics, though Archie and the other characters have evolved in tandem with the changing social and cultural mores of each successive decade, that the milieu of Riverdale itself remains consistently arrested in the style of a 1940s New England suburb has become both a running gag and part of the comic’s ephemeral charm among devotees.
Riverdale is set to feature new 21st century incarnations of the series’ many classic characters, including teenage everyman Archie Andrews himself, working-class tomboy Betty, wealthy heiress Veronica, Archie’s loyal best friend Jughead, scheming snob Reggie and more, with Archie-adjacent characters like the female rock group Josie & The Pussycats also scheduled to play a part in the story. It’s also likely that newer, more diverse fixtures who joined the cast over the years will feature as well, likely including Chuck Clayton, an African-American friend of Archie’s who joined the cast in the 1970s. Kevin Keller, the comics’ first openly gay character, has already been confirmed to have a “major” presence on the show. One likely question mark for longtime Archie fans will be whether or not the series makes use of Cheryl Blossom, a once-controversial red-haired “promiscuous” female student whose presence threw a wrench into the Archie/Betty/Veronica dynamic.
The CW feels like a natural fit for Riverdale, since Archie Comics has often been cited as the wellspring from whence the entire modern genre of teenage relationship comedy, which the network is historically associated with, emerged. Exactly what is meant to be “subversive” about the series remains to be seen, though it may be worth noting that in the earliest versions of the comics Veronica’s father was a wealthy Massachusetts Senator whose ambitions and dealings occasionally affected the plots of individual stories. An earlier breakdown of the series posited that the creators intended to change Archie and Jughead’s relationship to bitter “former friends” and cast a Latina actress as a reimagined Veronica who returns to the small town from New York following a family scandal.
While the “Archie Gang” have generally kept up with the times, the visible remnants of their 40s origins and family-friendly mandate of the franchise has typically made them a go-to reference for square teenage characters, so theoretically just having them engage in any level of “mature” TV-teen behavior could be considered a form of subversion. On the other hand, the comics have also occasionally taken the characters in genuinely unexpected directions: Out-of-continuity issues have seen Archie and friends cross paths with The Predator, Marvel’s The Punisher and even contend with the zombie apocalypse in Afterlife With Archie. On the more normal side, other alternate-continuity stories have speculated futures where Archie finally marries either Betty or Veronica, while a controversial recent special imagined the character’s eventual death – killed by an assassin’s bullet while protecting Kevin Keller, now a U.S. Senator.
We’ll keep you updated on Riverdale as development continues.