Archie is Cool Now and It’s Weirding Me Out

By  · Published on January 28th, 2017

Why Riverdale is a show 37 years in the making for me.

Eventually, everything nerdy becomes cool. Computers, superheroes, Star Wars, and now Archie. I never thought I’d see the day when my childhood obsession would become hip, but everything is crazy these days. If a reality show star can be President of the United States, then Riverdale can be a quality television series.

Although it’s taken 75 years for Archie Andrews and his friends to finally get a decent screen adaptation – I’m going by just the pilot aired this week, at least – for me, it’s been more like 35 to 40. I was a late bloomer with a lot of things, and I was still reading more Archie Comics titles into my early teens than the Marvel and DC stuff my peers were into.

While the more respected comic loving kids got Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 (I guess I got it, too, though not as a fan of the character going in), the following year brought me Archie: To Riverdale and Back, a hokey TV movie that imagined the characters in their 30s and attending their 20th high school reunion. It wasn’t for someone my age, if it was for anyone.

Not seen here: the surprise twist hot version of Ethel.

The previous TV effort didn’t do it for me either. The New Archies may have been meant to appeal to middle school fans, but one of the things I liked about Archie and the gang was that they were older. It was a fantasy for the future, taking me out of my junior high loneliness to a world where everyone fit in. And a cheesy all-American kid could have two girlfriends, and a boy could eat as many burgers as he wanted without getting fat.

I didn’t have any friends with whom I shared my love of Archie comics (I didn’t really have any good friends at the time, in fact), so I felt like they were just for me, and I was their biggest fan. And I wanted them to be a part of my life forever. I wanted to be the next Dan DeCarlo when I grew up. I once got my family to drive to Mamaroneck, New York (we lived in Connecticut), just to see the outside of the Archie Comics headquarters.

But I did lose interest in time, and I haven’t so much as picked up a comic in more than 20 years. Watching the CW’s Riverdale this week, I realize that , first of all, I’m probably way too old for a soapy live-action teen drama now. And I realize that I’ve missed a lot of changes over the decades. Archie got abs? He and Jughead aren’t friends? Everyone’s parents are divorced? Miss Grundy is young and hot and a statutory rapist?

Yours truly in, I guess, 1991.

Still, there’s enough in place for me to get nostalgic as a former diehard, from the too-brief appearance of one of my favorite characters, Dilton Doiley, to the series’ amusingly clever approach to honoring the comic characters’ impossible way of being so well-rounded, how Archie could be star athlete and musician, how Betty gets to be the brainy girl next door and a cheerleader, and how Betty and Veronica can be such unlikely BFFs. In a way, Riverdale makes more sense then its source, by owning the nonsense.

It’s strangely fitting for the show to be blatantly influenced by Twin Peaks, a series that aired during my peak year as an Archie fan. In 1990, I was buying long boxes of back issues going back decades while also trying and failing to get into David Lynch’s program because my one kinda friend at school was into it and we didn’t really have much else in common – sadly you couldn’t go back and start at the beginning of shows easily then, and I didn’t get it.

That was also the year I fell in love with the movie Heathers, one of my favorites of all time, despite my father’s disapproval of the language and violent subject matter. The dark teen comedy is another clear inspiration on Riverdale, which brings things full circle since the names of the characters Veronica Sawyer and Betty Finn are taken from the comics’ two leading ladies (mashed with two Mark Twain protagonists).

The other Betty and Veronica.

If the world of Archie was my social fantasy of high school, the world of Heathers was my social nightmare, and it’s remarkable that the two come together now in the way they do, especially since the reality of high school for me was something so insipidly in-between. And also so much younger-seeming than I imagined it would be.

But that was more because of another thing in my life in 1990: Beverly Hills 90210. I watched it, sure, as did everyone in my age group. Definitely all the girls, whom I sought acceptance from by drawing portraits of Jason Priestley or Luke Perry, their choice, because art was my one means of attention then. Now Perry plays Archie’s dad on Riverdale, and that makes me feel old.

Is it all a coincidence or just subjective filtering for Riverdale to seem so tied to the time when I was reading the comics? Well, the late ’80s were a bit of a boon for Archie, so much that they began publishing a whole lot of extra titles, many of them off-brand genre fare involving the gang in strange sci-fi plots, plus one with superhero versions of the Riverdale High teachers.

Oh yes!

Perhaps there’s an acknowledgement that some of that era’s fans are of a perfect nostalgia-prone age to join more recent Archie readers in enjoying this series, that me and others of my generation (whom I definitely didn’t witness in existence at the time) are part of the target audience. And we can accept this modern bubblegum-noir version of the brand because we went through stuff as bizarre as “Jughead’s Time Police.”

Either way, I’m curiously on board and trying to catch my bearings one episode in. I need more Jughead (and Hot Dog), and not just as a narrator, as well as more Dilton, of course. I love Kevin Keller, a character introduced long after I’d been reading, the dichotomy and bond of Betty and Veronica, and even this Archie who barely smiles, which is not my Archie but can be.

There are some things I don’t understand, like how Betty has a male best friend but also a gay male best friend. That seems like too much of basically the same thing. And the Grundy stuff makes me upset. Otherwise, I guess it’s perfect timing that I’m of recent 20th high school reunion age and excited to be into Riverdale and back again. Maybe Archie will finally have a show last more than one season.

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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.