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Small town darkness, muddled genres creeps into an unexpecting ‘Riverdale’

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Jughead Jones (above) is the heart and snark of the show.

Jughead Jones (above) is the heart and snark of the show.

Jughead Jones (above) is the heart and snark of the show.

Dustin Gebel

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Genre gives storytellers an opportunity to play with the conventions and rules that the audience is already familiar with. Every one features hallmarks that any fan knows by heart, and a well crafted series or film learns to be fluid in its genre leanings. Awareness of the limitations and unspoken agreement allows writers and directors to subvert expectations and create a multitude of new stories within the parameters of a previously established world.

“Riverdale” is a prime example of this genre fluidity, shifting from the experimental, over the top feeling of series like “Twin Peaks” while still focusing on the specific brand of romantic drama that The CW is known for. It’s not hard to imagine that the pitch meeting for “Riverdale” featured a comparison to the previously mentioned David Lynch series crossed with something like “Dawson’s Creek.”

“Riverdale” follows the classic Archie Comics character, Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), the lovable but dense headed hero of the series, who after being told by multiples in the pilot, has gotten abs. Following Archie is the archetypal Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), the girl next door, the overachieving student and one third of the main love triangle in the series. The third side in that triangle is New York socialite, and new kid in town, Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes). Veronica is again played to type in the beginning of the season, but quickly breaks the character mold by the end of the pilot episode.

Rounding out the principal cast is the breakout star of the first season, Forsythe Jones III, know to most as Jughead (Cole Sprouse). Jughead serves as the narrator of the show, and his broken friendship with Archie propels the beginning of the season. Instead of the lazy, burger-eating character from the original comics, Jughead is presented as the dark and broody teen novelist, trying to uncover the dark secrets of Riverdale. Jughead’s narrations are cringeworthy, and emblematic of the terribly pretentious ways teenagers act and write in their youth.

The propelling mystery of the first season of “Riverdale” is the murder of Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines), the son of the richest family in Riverdale, and twin brother to walking over-the-top queen bee Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch). He’s found at the edge of the river, and this murder begins to reveal the cracks in the perfect picture of the American small town. The web of deceit is revealed to run deep in the families of all the main characters, and the parents of Riverdale are to be part of the town’s poison.

The series wears its influences on its sleeve, with neon lit dinners at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, pulpy narration and every episode title is named after an iconic movie that has thematic ties to the show. Jughead and Betty work for the school paper, using it as an excuse to dig up the dirt of everything going on in town, and leading them to get involved in film noir situations.

Teen drama also runs rampant in the series,  with each principal character jumping relationship to relationship multiple times in the first season alone. The Archie, Betty and Veronica triangle is broken for an interlude when Jughead and Betty begin to date. The show plays this relationship for their drama, and uses it to highlight more of the dark underbelly of the people living within Riverdale.

“Riverdale” is a series that satisfies all of the desires for campy, teen drama and “Brick” styled noir influences. The show is at its best and worst when it digs into the relationship between the genres it is pulling from, and playing with the audience expectations of the Archie gallery. Plus, Jughead’s terrible narrations will always remind people of their pretentious years of life.

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Small town darkness, muddled genres creeps into an unexpecting ‘Riverdale’