Barb From Stranger Things is Now the Barb of Archie Comics (and Maybe Marvel?)

By  · Published on August 31st, 2016

Sometimes typecasting can be a big disappointment.

For fans of the character Barb on Stranger Things, justice may come directly in the second season of the Netflix series, which was finally announced this morning as officially happening. An injustice to the character, however, may be simultaneously brewing with this week’s news that the actress who plays Barb, Shannon Purser, has joined the cast of the CW’s Archie Comics TV show Riverdale. She’s playing Ethel Muggs, the uncool supporting character to the better-looking, more popular central gang of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Reggie. Basically, she’s the “Barb” of that comic book franchise, and so that’s some lazy typecasting.

It also dilutes the value of the original Barb, who has become a phenomenon with people who love the series. And sure, there are actors born to play nothing but token nerds and geeks (Eddie Deezen, for instance), but if we really love the Stranger Things character, we should want better for Purser. Justice for Purser! She ought to be cast in, say, Marvel’s The New Warriors, which was also coincidentally announced this week with promise that Squirrel Girl is one of the superheroes on the titular team. Purser has expressed interest in and shown familiarity with the character in the past, as a longtime fan. She told The Reveler earlier this month:

“I think Squirrel Girl is just adorable but at the same time is totally boss and completely awesome. I think people need a character like that,” Purser said. “It’s easy in the superhero realm to feel like a lot of the female superheroes we see are grown women who are super responsible and know what their purpose is and that kind of thing. Squirrel Girl is a little bit younger and like a real person, trying to figure out her life and then also having to save the world. I love that.”

Today, she also retweeted the New Warriors news. Is that a clue? More wish-making put out there in the universe? If she’s able to do both Riverdale and join the MCU, that’d be great. Ethel is sure to still be a minor part on the CW series, though reportedly she will have some narrative arcs involving a boyfriend for the character and a special relationship with Betty and Veronica. But if she would be a contender for Squirrel Girl, a part that would expand on her talent and visibility much more deservedly and advantageously, and can’t do it because of Riverdale, that would be a shame , almost worse than what happened to Barb on Stranger Things.

Perhaps I’m too hung up on what Ethel was when I read “Archie” comics decades ago. She was then known as “Big Ethel,” a gangly, buck-toothed loser who chased Jughead around with her unrequited crush. And the last time she was portrayed in live-action form in 1991’s Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again, a TV movie that showed depicted the characters as reunited grown ups, Ethel was played by Cindy Ambuehl, a conventionally hot model type revealed at the end to have been a late bloomer after Jughead spent the program avoiding her. Of course he’s totally into her once he sees her now.

Check out her portrayal in an old cartoon here:

Ethel has apparently been treated more respectfully by the publishers of the comics in the last 20 years, so that’s good. I think initially she had a sort of She’s All That makeover, which is awful, but then I hear she dated the dweeby Dilton Doiley, so that’s kind of cute, I guess. But it seems she’s been evolving into more of a lovable outsider than a freakish outcast. Considering she is to get some romance and fit in more on the TV series, it’s like Barb herself is getting a makeover where she’s still a nerdy type but gets to be more of a human being than a stick-in-the mud stereotype.

Millions Went Upside Down for Stranger Things

In any event, let’s not forget that Stranger Things was the 19-year-old actress’s first screen role ever (she’d done school and church plays and took part in The Atlanta Workshop Players but before the show was employed at a movie theater). If her second gig is something too similar to her debut, that’s probably okay because she has plenty of time to show the world what else she’s got. Hopefully it won’t be long before casting agents see her potential for more than another dorky also-ran. Maybe she will never be seen as even a Betty Cooper type, but she better not always be a Betty Finn.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.