Warning: Spoilers abound in the following piece!
When the Riverdale TV show was first announced, I was excited about my favorite comic book coming to life. A mystery story is woven around the core teenage romance saga with all the same quirky characters. But, I couldn’t have been more wrong in my expectations; Riverdale turned my childhood romantic comic book series into a dark world filled with scandal, violence, and sex. While the mystery element in the tv show certainly keeps you on the edge of your seat, the show unnecessarily sexualized the comic characters. In my opinion, the day this tv show came out was the day that the innocent romance of high school dramas was layed to rest.
Ankita Sahai, a senior here at SAS has been reading the Archie Comics for more than 8 years. She was just as thrilled as I when the show was announced to be in the making. However, the product was a far cry from: “I thought that I would get to see something lighthearted and funny—something different from the rest of the teenage television shows that are currently airing. What we got is not what I expected”.
The depiction of the characters in the tv show is what really bothered the two of us. And some of the characters more so than others.
In the original comic series, the main character, Archie Andrews, is described as this “Carrot top”, freckled, optimistic teenage boy from a loving family who is caught up in a love triangle. While indecisive and ordinary, he’s a lovable character who is clumsy and kind. To its credit, the TV show did present Archie Andrews as an indecisive, kind character who always wants what he can’t have. However, his home life is depicted as that of a broken home instead of a set of happy parents who were childhood sweethearts. Why throw in so many adult complications for the sake of drama? Fine. I can live with it, however, what really got my blood boiling was the amount of teenage immaturity they decided to add to his character.
While not the smartest boy in class, the Archie Andrews in the comic series is hardly the one who would get into a relationship with his teacher.
Ankita shared similar thoughts on the character of Archie. “I am very upset by the way Archie’s character in the tv show as he is a carelessly thought out character that most who watch the show don’t like at all”.
Sweet, old Geraldine Grundy’s character was tarnished by the portrayal of her character on the tv show. Described in the comics as a grey-haired, kind teacher who helps students out if they need help, the TV show has done away with Miss Grundy who is supposed to have died six years earlier. Jennifer Gibson, a young music teacher, takes the identity of a young and sexualized Geraldine Grundy. Unfortunately not much can be said about her character as she is made to be more of a prop than a meaningful addition to the narrative in this first season, quickly exiting after a few short episodes. If there is any character whose portrayal I am the most upset about, it is hers.
“Miss Grundy makes me equally as upset as I was with Archie’s character… she is meant to be a kind old teacher who gets along with her students”, Ankita added. “In the TV show, the writers have created some sort of disgusting and unseemly version [of Grundy] that I absolutely abhor”.
And finally, we come to Betty Cooper.
It’s interesting how they could take one of the kindest, and nicest characters from the comic series and turn her into a character who puts on a kind face but forces people to give her what she needs, who has a dark side and many other issues. The one thing the TV show got right about Betty was her initial attraction to Archie. But this attraction was done away after the first few episodes while the Betty in the comics never gives up on her quest for Archie’s affections. She holds out hope that one day Archie would choose her over Veronica. The TV show decided to switch things up and give Betty a romantic relationship with Jughead who is described in the comics as a girl hater. In the comics, Jughead does respect Betty for her kind and helpful personality, but they never cross the boundary of friendship.
With Betty, Ankita was not as upset as with the other characters. “Betty is slightly better,” she noted, “but is also somewhat foolish and annoying on the TV show.” In her final analysis: “It saddens me to see the characters as they are on television or to simply hear about them from my peers. I will admit that the show works well as a regular teenage television show but I deeply wish that they had not associated them with everything I love about the Archie comic. The show is an injustice to the Archie comic and everything I love about them.”
Of course, this opinion comes from someone who has read the comic. What about someone who hasn’t read the comic? When I asked 11th grader Vanshika Gupta, who has never read the Archie comic but watches the show, she had a different opinion: “Well, I find the show really interesting. I haven’t ever read the Archie Comics but a lot of people tell me it’s not really similar. The show is a lot deeper and there’s so much that goes on.” When it comes to the sexualization of the characters, she added that “while they’re only 15 or 16 and quite young, it’s quite realistic because it’s in the US and these things do happen amongst teenagers”.
While Vanshika strikes a point with the depth of the show, the creators are using the characters of Archie comic as somewhat of a gimmick. In the end, I feel a bit violated in my right to expect a more parallel representation of the classic; ultimately they are taking advantage of the popularity of the comic series I grew up with to offer a very different (and depressingly dark) narrative. The Archie comic characters, with their original quirky and cliché characteristics, would have made a great backdrop for, perhaps, a live sitcom. In fairness, Riverdale is a strong and engaging production aimed at teenage lovers of the drama/mystery genre, but I can’t help but shake my head in annoyance every time I see some of my favorite funny characters made into jaded, vindictive, and sexualized teenagers. Riverdale’s characters are not meant to be realistic; they are comic personalities and should have been treated as such.
Critics such as the Indiewire have said that this is not the time for nostalgic innocence but to stare straight into the dark realistic nasty world of the 21st century. While I live in that world every day, a part of me longs for the hope-filled romantic teenage life of the 1940s that the original Archie universe succesfully immortalized.