The Original 'Riverdale' Was Horrible

We watched NBC’s first attempt at a live-action Archie, which was hilariously bad but maybe a few plot points can be salvaged.
October 17, 2017, 4:59pm
Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again, Riverdale, courtesy of Netflix.

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

This story contains minor Riverdale spoilers, up to and including the first episode of season two.

With the new season of Riverdale off to a great, perfectly trashy start, it's time to speculate about how this year of teen drama and murder mystery will unfold. It's probably a fool's errand to try to predict where it'll go, but you can't win if you don't play.

Rather than look to the show itself, or even the comic-book source material, I decided to go all the way back to an earlier live-action adaptation of the stories. In 1990, NBC produced a TV movie about a 15-year high school reunion, reuniting Archie and the gang in Riverdale. Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again (also known as Archie: Return to Riverdale) was phenomenally bad, taking a much more straightforward approach to adapting the comics than the dark and broody Twin Peaks-meets-90210 approach of the CW's Riverdale.

Still, it's worth taking a look at To Riverdale and Back Again for anything worth salvaging. It may not be a complete write-off.

Watching To Riverdale and Back Again quickly becomes an exercise in keeping track of every nonsensical detail. First and foremost, the relationships between characters just don't add up. No one seems to have moved away from the tiny, intimate town of Riverdale, except for Veronica, who's been living in Paris. This wouldn't be an issue, except that you can't go three steps without running into everyone you know in town, and yet everyone behaves as though they haven't seen one another since graduation.

Then there are the little things. Like why does a high school reunion in small-town America have valet parking? Why would Betty and Veronica still hold a flame for criminally bland Archie after 15 years? Why is Archie engaged to a woman he doesn't care about and whose success clearly fills him with misogynistic jealousy? (And then the underlying question: Why add a third, entirely unknown woman into the already well-worn fight for Archie's affections?)

Maybe less important, why did the people behind this think they could pass off a bunch of 30-something actors as 16-year-olds in awkward and unnecessary flashbacks. It's frankly creepy to see adults in letterman jackets and cheerleader uniforms hanging out in the bleachers.

But by far, my favorite scene is the misfired attempt to keep things feeling fresh and contemporary by having Jughead try to be a cool dad to his angsty son. His strategy? Singing an embarrassingly bad hip-hop version of "Sugar, Sugar," a pop number originally performed in 1969 by (wink wink) the Archies. Somehow it totally works at winning the kid over—he joins in with his old man, knowing the lyrics and cheesy moves already for no apparent reason.

Overall, To Riverdale and Back Again feels like a half-assed attempt to update Archie as a Hallmark movie, but unlike Riverdale, it doesn't take the concept anywhere new. The characters are older, but they all still act like teenagers and have the same problems and interpersonal dynamics as when they graduated.

If you do feel compelled to watch the movie, a few digitized versions of the VHS release are available, in their entirety, on YouTube.

While the movie's main plot line about saving Pop from being evicted from his soda shop is pretty dull, one minor subplot did stand out for me, concerning Archie's relationship to Veronica's father, Mr. Lodge.

Sensing that her daughter will be as infatuated with Archie as ever, Lodge instructs his chauffeur/manservant to fix the situation. What he means, we soon find out, is that he wants the man to kill Archie. It's a weirdly dark swerve from the light, milquetoast tone of the film, forcing Archie to narrowly escape death twice—first when his brake line is cut, and finally when he has to ditch a bomb concealed in a gift box.

While both scenes are played for laughs, it's a narrative development that one would more likely expect from the darker Riverdale. That is to say that the concept would fit the show, if not the execution. And with the introduction of Hiram Lodge in last week's season premiere after a season-long build-up, it wouldn't be a bad direction for the show.

With the murder of Jason Blossom solved at the end of season one, Riverdale's murder-mystery raison d'être has somewhat dried out. That's undoubtedly why the current season has opened with the new mystery of who shot Fred Andrews, and Veronica's parents are, so far, the only serious suspects worth pointing at.

Hermione and Hiram Lodge (Marisol Nichols and Mark Consuelos). Courtesy of Netflix

Admittedly, the Lodges probably aren't behind the hit on Archie's dad, if for no other reason than that would be too easy. We're one episode in, and they're the only people with a clear motive to get him out of their way. But the possibility that they're behind it is sure to drive up tensions between the two families.

We can also safely assume that Hiram Lodge won't be too thrilled to find out that his daughter is dating Archie.

Cutting brake lines and gift wrapping bombs might be a little conspicuous in the gritty world of Riverdale, but a threat to Archie's safety could be a great direction for the show. And forcing Archie and Veronica to hide their relationship is sure to keep the melodrama cranked way up the way we all like it.

The writers of Riverdale would be wise to avoid drawing from To Riverdale and Back Again for inspiration on almost every level, but the potential murderousness of Mr. Lodge has already crept in, and it could be fun to develop. A few attempts on Archie's life may add just the right amount of paranoia and suspense—without a high school reunion or impromptu rap number getting in the way.

Well, scratch that last part. Josie and the Pussycats should get all the spotlight they want, and if they choose to rap, I'm here for it.

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