There comes a point in every person's life when he or she starts to care more about or identify more closely with the adults rather than the teens featured in their favorite coming-of-age television dramas. For me, that point arrived while watching The CW's Riverdale, and I'm still trying to figure out what that means.
Have I aged out of the teenage dramatics I gobbled up as an impressionable youth and wayward young adult? Is this a result of the series hiring familiar actors from said youth — actors like Beverly Hills, 90210's Luke Perry, Scream's Skeet Ulrich, Twin Peaks' Madchen Amick and the iconic teen queen of the '80s herself, Molly Ringwald — to play the parents of the show's teens? Is it neither? Is it both? Or could it be that this is something specific to the failings of Riverdale -- a series that, despite its best efforts, has yet to come together in its first season?
Honestly, it's probably a little of everything.
Having been raised by the teens of Beverly Hills, Sunnydale and Capeside, with trips to Neptune, Mystic Falls, Beacon Hills and every place in between, I often feel like I've seen it all but can also no longer relate to the most common issues facing teens. I'm past the age where the drama of cheerleading tryouts can snag my interest, but call me when Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) is trying to set up a 401(k), you know? And yet I know that I will always come back for more, because despite there being very little new ground left to uncover in the arena of teen drama, with each new show comes a new opportunity to put a different spin on the familiar milestones of young adulthood.
Riverdale started strong when it debuted earlier this year; familiar teen angst involving high school crushes and teenage dreams was filtered through moody lighting, a beautiful retro aesthetic and a classic whodunnit scenario in the wake of Jason Blossom's murder. Unfortunately, The CW's adaptation of the popular Archie comics hasn't delivered on its promise, which raises the question: why am I still here when I don't care about who killed Jason, and have zero desire to see what becomes of Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Jughead's (Cole Sprouse) blossoming relationship?
Well, there's my deep desire that Archie will soon be revealed to be a psychopath and Jason's murderer, thus finally giving his character something more to do than talk about his dream of pursuing his dreadful music. But since that's not likely, that's where the parents — characters who long ago stopped existing solely to be sounding boards for their children — come in.
Now, not every attempt to create a compelling arc for the adults has been successful thus far, but nevertheless, I'm always interested to see where each story takes me — because it's no doubt far away from the dance club that apparently sprung up in town overnight when Veronica (Camila Mendes) needed to blow off steam. And while they're not yet on the same level as, say, Lorelai Gilmore, Keith Mars or Sandy Cohen, characters like Madchen Amick's steely Alice Cooper have revealed themselves to be head and shoulders above some of their forefathers, thanks to a mountain of secrets kept hidden behind a perfect facade of domestic and professional success.
As the first season has progressed and the series has chipped away at Alice's icy exterior, her real self has begun to show through the cracks in her armor, and she's far more compelling than anything that's ever come from Cheryl's (Madelaine Petsch) own mean girl schtick or Veronica's daddy issues. The recent reveal that Alice is from the South Side and may have connections to the South Side Serpents — the gang run by Jughead's father F.P. Jones, played by '90s star Skeet Ulrich — was a brilliant storytelling decision and also one that feels obvious in hindsight, given the character's slippery demeanor and sharp tongue. If she wasn't already Riverdale's version of Julie Cooper, she is now. (Perhaps, in an alternate universe, they're related?)
But while Amick's Alice is easily the most intriguing of the adult characters, there's a hint that Marisol Nichols' Hermione Lodge is really just waiting to be set free. There's also no denying that Ulrich and Luke Perry — both known for their iconic roles in teen-oriented projects like Scream and 90210 -- lend a certain something to the series as they anchor father/son relationships that have come to be a major source of heart and emotion for the series. The fallout from F.P.'s wrongful arrest in "To Riverdale and Back Again" — we'll see him in jail this week as the teens attempt to prove he was framed for Jason's murder — is likely going to prove to be a series high point.
For viewers like myself, who knew both men from their earlier roles, there's a predilection to care more about their characters rather than the sons they're attempting to raise in a town where nostalgia reigns supreme. It also makes for a really fun drinking game, like when F.P. assures Jughead he's not a murderer or when he attends a house party full of teens. Is my own nostalgia for Ulrich or for the man formerly known as Dylan McKay the sole reason for caring more about storylines involving their characters than, say, just Archie? Or Jughead? Or Betty? Almost certainly. But that shouldn't necessarily take away from what they bring to the series either.
Perry hasn't been given a great deal more to do beyond offer parental wisdom and support to Archie, but his casting gives the impression that Fred Andrews has seen a thing or two and that he's infinitely more wise than one might expect from a man whose storylines usually just revolve around running his own construction business. On the other side of the comfort spectrum is Ulrich, who slips easily into the skin of F.P., a man with a sketchy past and a drinking problem, and who has proven to be dangerous and definitely untrustworthy. For Jughead's sake, I hope he's serious about trying to change, but for my sake, I hope F.P. never stops showing up at parties full of teenagers and just hanging out in the background until a fight breaks out.
Neither actor is doing particularly radical work here but, like Amick, their presence within the narrative adds depth and means there's more for Riverdale to work with than just Betty's baffling dark alter ego — who, given the chance, would probably destroy the town's plumbing with a year's worth of maple syrup — Cheryl's attempt to remain on top as her world is crashing around her, or Archie's dopey music dreams. (I truly cannot stress enough just how stupid Archie's music storyline is.) With a second season already ordered, here's hoping the show can find a way to balance the adults and the nostalgia factor with more compelling stories for the young adult characters I know I should actually care about.
Or maybe we just scrap the entire thing and focus on Alice. That woman gets sh-- done.
Riverdale airs Thursdays at 9/8c on The CW.
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