TV Review: ‘Riverdale’ Hooks With Addictive, Frothy Drama

Few TV phenomenons were as big as the soap opera. TV soaps had it all – big drama, big twists and even bigger hair. However, around the turn of the century, soaps gave way to the gritty drama, with anti-heroes abound. Yet, CW continues the proud tradition on soaps, only now marketed for teens. Many of their shows, such as “Pretty Little Lies,” fail to inspire much acclaim beyond their glossy venire. However, “Riverdale,” based on the classic Archie and Veronica comics, bucks that stereotypical notion. Season one, which premiered last year, fills out the frame with colorful characters, frothy mystery and an infectious setting. Season two, which premiered last night, maintains much of that fun. While the characters are still engaging, the central mystery fails to capture the lightning in a bottle intrigue that kicked off season one.

The premiere picks up right at the season one cliffhanger. Archie (KJ Apa) and his Father (Luke Perry) are confronted by a hooded man at the local diner and a bullet is fired. Archie’s Dad is hit and rushed to the hospital. Archie, meanwhile, struggles to reconcile with his inability to catch the assailant that gunned down his Father. His girlfriend, Veronica (Camila Mendes), wants to be there for Archie, but has her own family drama to contend with.  The socialite daughter of a disgraced businessman, Veronica finds her jailbird Father (Mark Consuelos) released and back in her life. Elsewhere on the relationship spectrum, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and Betty (Lili Reinhart) struggle to see how their “wrong side of the tracks” relationship will function. Matters only get more complicated as Jughead accepts his position with the Snakes, Riverdale’s local gang.

What separates “Riverdale” from the rest of the teen soapy offerings is its fun, retro setting. With its drive ins, diners and local woods, “Riverdale” captures the essence of small town Americana. In many ways, it calls to mind a teen “Twin Peaks,” but a teen who has definitely heard of “Twin Peaks” before. This setting comes most into play with Betty and Jughead’s relationship. Betty’s crazy family, best represented by her uptight, quip-master Mother (Madchen Amick), highlights the perspective of a well to do family in a town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Amick is a lightning rod of energy and drama whenever on screen.

As in the first season, Camila Mendes as Veronica emerges as the standout. Mendes delights in flexing her diva muscles in defiance of her fabulously complicit mother, Hermione (Marisol Nichols). Whether its standing up to rivals at school or openly sipping mimosas filled with Cristal, Mendes steals every scene. Still, her Veronica comes with a fascinating moral compass. Her privilege is her weapon. However, in moving to “Riverdale,” she’s confronted on how her actions have hurt those around her in her past life in New York. Her arc in coming down to Earth and helping her friends feels earned at every turn.

Unfortunately, at the center of the show, KJ Apa only intermittently carries his storylines. Archie gets plenty to do, but he reeks of characters that we have seen before. A good hearted jock with a longing to play music rather than football, the character feels most like a old-fashioned retread. Apa brings little new to the role, even as Archie finds himself battling with feelings of revenge as his Dad struggles to hang on.

The initial season sparked immediate interest as it opened with a local football star dead in Riverdale’s lake. The mystery built throughout the season to reveal corruption, an underground drug ring and a maple syrup front. It’s not apparent how this season’s central mystery will unfold. However, “who shot Archie’s Dad?” feels less compelling and more melodramatic. The end of the episode teases more bloodshed to come, with little clues in sight. However, the serial killer angle feels more “Scream” and less mysterious. It remains to be seen how this will fit in with the tone and the lore of the show. However, the show remains compelling enough that one can’t wait to see what developments come next.

“Riverdale” airs Wednesdays on CW at 8/7c.

GRADE: (★★★)

What did you think of the “Riverdale” season two premiere? Share your thoughts and any predictions in the comments below.