The eternally bright and cheery Riverdale gang just hit the awkward phase.
We’ve seen the first four episodes of The CW’s latest comic book adaptation, Riverdale, which debuts Jan. 26, and while we're keeping things largely spoiler-free in this piece, we do want to point out that calling it an "adaptation" would be wrong. "Reimagining" is a better fit for the series. This isn't the Laughs Comics Digest version of Archie. Riverdale is so dark and moody, even Pop's Chok'lit Shoppe seems like a dangerous place to hang. Brace yourself.
(And we haven't even talked about the new Miss Grundy yet.)
Helping to set the course for this bold new direction is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, chief creative officer for Archie Comics and executive producer (along with Greg Berlanti) on Riverdale. Aguirre-Sacasa also wrote the pilot, which sets the tone for the series' first season with its Twin Peaks meets The O.C. vibe. The big hook? A murder mystery surrounding one of the kids at Riverdale High.
Ridiculously talented, versatile and with proper geek credentials, Aguirre-Sacasa seems to be just the right person to help guide this new spin on comics' eternal teenagers. He's written numerous comics and written and produced for TV shows like Big Love and Glee. He's also a veteran playwright who once wrote a play called Archie's Weird Fantasy — about Archie Andrews coming out of the closet — and did rewrites on the Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Broadway musical.
Syfy Wire had the opportunity to talk with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa about Riverdale and its interpretation of the Archie characters. We also discussed the fun of writing Betty and Veronica, the music on the series and even got an update on the Archie stage show being developed by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
Having seen the first four episodes, I can safely say Riverdale is vastly different from anything one would expect with the name "Archie" on it. Was that the point of this concept? That once people get over the initial shock of how different it is, they can just enjoy it for what it is?
It's funny. I think … first of all, in this era of Geek TV, with seven thousand TV shows out there, you do have to have something that causes a conversation or cuts through the thicket of shows. And I think what we discovered is that Archie alone got us part of the way there. But what really pushed us and captured people's imagination is the idea of taking this beloved property that people know and have association with and completely subverting it. That felt like the magic ingredient.
That's kind of the business, the high concept, elevator pitch of it. But for me, as a writer, I always gravitate towards darker stuff. The first show I was a writer on was HBO's Big Love. It was a family drama, a dark drama, it had humor but it had its darkness. And the stories were deep and rich. That sort of set the template for me. So I've always liked doing that type of work. [Breaking the Riverdale story] … it was figuring out how to make a property that was based on gag cartoons, that you knew from Saturday morning cartoons … and make it into a darker, serialized, more complex, mythologized drama that I liked. And listen, it came through trial and error. A couple people told me, "You're going to need more than Archie. You're going to need some concept that makes this relevant to today."
Is that when you got the idea of making Miss Grundy a red-hot teacher?
[laughs] That is a classic trope of teenage television shows. Teachers have been hooking up with students inappropriately since Dawson's Creek and before. But yeah, that was one way to change things, rather than have her be the old lady with white hair in a polka dot dress. To make her younger and more sexualized, it was one way to very quickly send the message that this wasn't the Archie you remember.
In the pilot, Kevin Keller spots Archie and tells Betty, 'Archie got hot!' And he is jacked. But he's full of self-doubt and insecure (for reasons too spoiler-ish to discuss here), to the point that he reminds me of Peter Parker in a way. I know he's from the competition, but do you agree with that?
Archie is hot on the show. But I would argue that's not vastly different than the comic book version. In the comics, he’s always playing football, baseball, soccer … he's a year-round athlete. It wasn't so much we based him on Peter Parker. It was really to find a kid and a story in which our main character was a boy, on the verge of becoming a man.
This is his coming-of-age story, then?
Well, it's ... this is the origin point of Archie. Over the summer, he had a big growth spurt, he worked out for the first time in his life, and he's sort of on the verge of becoming a young man. That's where we find Archie at the start of the series. That’s what Season 1 is really about: Archie becoming a man.
It's early, but Luke Perry as Fred Andrews already looks more than capable of following in the footsteps of great teen TV show dads like Sandy Cohen. How important is the relationship between Archie and his dad to the series?
Listen, the show wouldn't work without Luke. Those scenes are good because Luke's a mensch, and so is K.J. Apa, who plays Archie. They've inspired us to do more with them and invest in that relationship as one of the core relationships of the series.
Betty and Veronica are the characters who are probably the most faithful to the comics in terms of their personalities and the dynamic of their relationship. On the show, they're both damaged in very different ways. Betty, in particular, is a real mess. And Veronica uses her snark to mask her own problems. And that sort of becomes their common ground, doesn't it?
The thing I love about Betty and Veronica is they're so much more than frenemies. Even in the comics, they're really not that bitchy towards each other. What i was really excited about was telling the story of the true friendship between these girls. That doesn't mean they won't fight or disagree about stuff. But I wanted their relationship to be about their friendship, and not about Archie.
It's also about their mutual enemy, Cheryl Blossom, who seems truly horrible early on.
Yeah, well … hopefully like the other characters, you'll start to uncover the layers and she will deepen as we go on. But yeah, she’s pretty horrible [laughs].
You seem to have some really good troublemakers in place on the show.
Yeah, we do. In the grown-up world of the show, we have Alice Cooper, played by Madchen Amick, and she sort of stirs up the pot everywhere she goes. She's amazing. And in the high school, we have Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Putsch). Literally, if you want to start a story, put her in the scene and stand back!
What about the murder mystery that kicks off the show? I'm sure you've heard all the comparisons people are making to Twin Peaks, but will the mystery be solved by the end of the first season or could it go on beyond that?
I'm a big believer in stories and mysteries not overstaying their welcome. We all love the mystery, but we're going to wrap it up this season to give people satisfaction on that, and then we'll move on to another kind of mystery, a new kind of crime story.
Music is a big part of the show so far, including some familiar covers. Are you going to be incorporating some original songs into the mix? Because with your background on Glee and Broadway, you're kind of good at that stuff.
Absolutely. Archie and Josie perform throughout the season, original songs and covers. In Episode 6, which is a big variety show episode, Josie and the Pussycats do a cover and Archie does an original song. So we're all looking to do that thing.
Did you write any of the original songs on the show?
I did not. We have a really terrific music supervisor and music team that put those together for us. We basically give them the script and tell them what we want thematically, if there is a theme, and then they go crazy and do it.
As Chief Creative Officer of Archie, you have your hands all over the various Archie properties. What update can you give us on the Archie Broadway musical Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are working on?
I can tell you that … they're both obsessed with Archie and it's going to be a musical comedy. It's going to be like The Book of Mormon. How does that sound?
Riverdale premieres Thursday, January 26, on The CW.