Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pilot Talk 2017: Riverdale



Thursdays at 9:00 PM on The CW

You're either going to find Riverdale, CW's modern day adaptation of the Archie universe very annoying or very charming.  It's definitely a show that is courting cool points at every turn, starting from the foundation of presenting a sexier version of Archie Comics.  (The amusing running theme of the pilot is that apparently everyone got hot over the summer: Archie got a six pack, Betty lost weight, etc.)   But it doubles down by making the characters chatter in clever teenspeak, spouting a fusillade of pop culture references.  Betty is a huge fan of Toni Morrison, Archie gets called "teen Outlander" at one point, Veronica says "Are you familiar with the works of Truman Capote?," and the pilot features multiple references to Mad Men plotlines -- it's enough allusions to make Amy Sherman-Palladino's head spin.  Riverdale even goes for a cool nostalgia vibe with its casting, granting roles to the likes of 90s TV stars like Luke Perry and Madchen Amick to play the adult characters.

I'll admit that at first I found this pilot very annoying for all the reasons laid out above, but by the end I was very charmed by it.  For much of its run, the pilot focuses on being a normal high school drama, which is the mode I preferred.  With The CW's current dedication to being DC's story delivery machine, the One Tree Hill leanings of Riverdale feels positively retro.  The show is a little soapy -- particularly hints at the affair that Archie had with teacher Ms. Grundy over the summer -- but it's backed by strong, likable characters.  Archie himself is a little boring so far, but every other character really pops, most importantly Betty and Veronica.  And storylines like Betty's unrequited love for Archie are told with real emotion.

However, the aspect that I don't love is the murder mystery part of the show.  The first episode starts with the Riverdale community devastated over the death of Jason Blossom, whom we later find out was shot in the head.  In general, the "Twin Peaks meets ____________" is a hoary concept that I'm sick of.  We've seen it all before: the town full of secrets, the innocence lost, the red herrings.  It's going to be hard to find a new spin on these ideas.  Still, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is behind the Afterlife with Archie comic, which imagines these characters in a zombie apocalypse -- so if there's anyone who can make this show weird and unique, it's him.  But all Riverdale needs to do is keep having fun with these characters and I'll be sold.

Grade: B+

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Degrassi: Next Class tackles the Syrian refugee crisis and surprise boners in its terrific 3rd season



The expectations just keep getting higher and higher for Degrassi: Next Class, Netflix's soft reboot of the long running Canadian teen drama.  Its first season took me by surprise at the beginning of last year, establishing itself as a better and snappier version of the show I spent so much of my teen years watching.  Then in the summer, its second season came along and proved that the first was no fluke, delivering the same high quality and fun quotient.  The cumulative power of those two seasons landed the show on my Top 20 of 2016 list last week, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Rectify, Orange is the New Black, and The Americans.  Degrassi: Next Class is clearly in the big leagues now.  Would it hold up to the pressure or make me look like a fool for ever regarding it so highly?  Well the show's third season, which dropped in its entirety this past Friday, is another set of delightful and thoughtful episodes of pure Canadian drama.