‘Riverdale’ Review: Archie Gets a Dark, Moody Update… and Surprise, It Works!

There are about a million ways that The CW’s Riverdale — a slick new reboot of the classic Archie comics — could’ve gone horribly wrong. (See: NBC’s Emerald City.) And yet the new year is full of surprises, because Riverdale (premiering Thursday, Jan. 26 at 9/8c) actually turns out to be an artfully crafted, instantly engaging teen soap with loads of potential.

It’s an unexpected revival, to be sure, because the original comic-book hi-jinks of 1950s teens Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead are about as dated as sock hops and chocolate malts. But the Archie comics have been given a 21st-century revamp in recent years, proving that the franchise draws on strong archetypes that still resonate: The All-American boy. The girl next door. The rich girl. The nerd. And Riverdale cleverly uses those archetypes as a jumping-off point to tell a freshly compelling — and darker than expected — story.

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The young cast of newcomers is convincing throughout, especially Reinhart as Betty, the Adderall-popping overachiever who’s tired of being the “nice girl” all the time. And the adult cast is filled with familiar faces, led by 90210 alum Luke Perry — who knows a thing or two about being a TV teen idol — as Archie’s grizzled dad Fred, and Twin Peaks‘ Mädchen Amick as Betty’s domineering mom Alice. The decision to make Jughead (Cole Sprouse) a sarcastic recluse who’s estranged from his pal Archie doesn’t quite work, at least not early on. But his role as world-weary narrator has room to grow as the show’s mysteries deepen.

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