CW’s Riverdale reveals what a TV series first season should be

Surprisingly CW’s Riverdale not only teased the answer to the show’s big mystery in last night’s penultimate episode–instead of dragging viewers into a season finale cliffhanger–it delivered the goods.  The result is a tightly written, highly watchable and addictive first season that will stand alone as an example of how to get your characters and plot right from the very beginning, and a easy watch for new viewers wanting to jump on for Season Two.

Satisfaction.  Above all else, it’s what matters to the viewing audience.  Writers can throw twists and plenty of shock and awe onto the screen, but if they cannot tie up all the loose ends without a deus ex machina event or similar trickery, viewers won’t come back for the second season.  How many opening seasons of series give the audience enough interest to keep watching, yet they are full of ups and downs, episodes that don’t quite work, too many red herrings, and tangled plot threads that seemed to be stuffed into the show for filler?  Heroes, Lost, and Twin Peaks garnered immediate cult followings, yet they dragged the big secrets out until we just didn’t care anymore.

How few television series have been as tightly written as Riverdale?  CW’s other comic book adaptations weren’t this good in their freshman year–Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, CBS’s Supergirl–none created a finely stitched together bookend set of episodes that will be fun to watch again and again once they arrive at Netflix or other streaming services.  Riverdale took an idea: adapting a classic, 75-year-old, well-known set of characters from a beloved comic book, added in that comic book’s own modern updates from the recent past, and then gave it a dark twist.  Both Twin Peaks and the look and feel of Archie Comics’ own dark title Afterlife With Archie are owed plenty of credit, along with a great story writing team and a top-notch cast.

You’ll need to watch the series for yourself to discover who killed the Laura Palmer of Riverdale, Jason Blossom.  In fact you’ll think you have it all figured out until the big reveal at the end of last night’s episode, “Anatomy of a Murder.”  But you’ll probably be wrong.

More importantly for the longevity of the series, many characters were given a new life–free to return next season and take on any number of roles on the show.  No doubt some of this year’s villains will be next year’s heroes, and vice versa.  And it’s also likely some of this year’s villains will still be next year’s villains.  It’s all what makes the show so much fun to watch every Thursday evening.

It may seem a strange comparison, but TNT’s reboot of Dallas a few years ago succeeded at something Riverdale does quite well–instead of dropping several subplots that continue on and on, it often created a key problem that was addressed completely within the same episode, allowing for many more story elements to come and go throughout the season.  With Riverdale we met characters we already thought we knew, saw them plunged into strange circumstances–like Archie dating his teacher–and watched them become believable and real.  It’s impossible not to delve in and try to solve the mystery along with the show’s heroes.

It may prove noteworthy for season two of Riverdale that showrunner, writer, and executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote the screen adaptation of the remake of Stephen King’s Carrie, released in October 2013, in addition to being the creator of Afterlife With Archie.  Life in Riverdale doesn’t appear to be getting brighter very soon.  And we haven’t even seen the season one finale yet!  Look for that next Thursday night on the CW.

C.J. Bunce

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