Archie Comics meets “Twin Peaks” in “Riverdale,” a surprisingly good adaptation that takes the familiar exploits of the cartoon gang, sexes them up — including a central murder mystery — and brings them into the 21st century.
Conceived under the aegis of Greg Berlanti, the shepherd of CW’s DC Comics shows, including “The Flash” and “Supergirl,” the series takes the bones of the Archie story and seeks to contemporize it, from Betty’s gay friend who observes “Archie got hot!” to very un-Archie-like twists, like a tryst between a student and teacher.
At its core, “Riverdale” throws in all kinds of little notes for those well-versed in comics lore, and still hinges on a sort-of triangle involving Archie (KJ Apa), who does indeed have better abs than he did in two dimensions; the aforementioned Betty (Lili Reinhart), who grew up with and pines for him; and Veronica (Camila Mendes), the stylish new arrival from New York, who befriends Betty but nevertheless catches Archie’s eye, as well as that of others.
Riverdale, however, has been transformed into “a town of shadows and secrets,” what with that dead body in the river and the various shady goings-on. That includes a rich element involving the gang’s parents, who have been slyly cast, including “Beverly Hills 90210” alum Luke Perry as Archie’s dad, and “Peaks'” Madchen Amick as Betty’s mom.
How well this will all wear is anybody’s guess, especially as new revelations pile up. But through the four episodes previewed the basic premise and tone holds together reasonably well, while dropping in touches like Josie and the Pussycats (an all-girl band at Riverdale High) that provide frequent Archie touchstones, even as the material drifts away from those origins.
Some purists will likely wince at the liberties that are being taken — “You’re ruining my childhood!” having become a popular lament — but let’s face it, in this context a throwback to “Sugar, Sugar” days probably wouldn’t cut it. Just explaining why one of the guys is called Jughead isn’t easy.
If nothing else, “Riverdale” deserves points for ingenuity as it takes Archie and company off the page and gives them an unexpectedly juicy flesh-and-blood spin.
“Riverdale” premieres January 26 at 9 p.m. on the CW.