domenica 12 novembre 2017

Commento ergo sum: Riverdale - season 1

Once again, I'm hopping on the cool-kids bandwagon way to late for someone to care. 
It would be frustrating for me, except: A) I'm writing these reviews for my own amusement, and the fact that I'm switching between English and Italian without any rhyme or reason should be a good indicator of that; B) I need some degree of inspiration to impose myself an entire season of a show... especially when it's the nth teen-drama following ridiculously attractive non-teenager in the a fictional American small town. 
That being said, I was kinda drawn in by the fact that this series is an adaptation of what else? a comic book.... Granted, a comic book I've never heard of before, but still. Also, it comes in thirteen, ready-to-use episodes, instead of the canon twenty-something. The only hitch is that THE INTERNET has struck again: I sadly started Season One only after being spoiled about basically everything.

Plot-wise, Riverdale hits all the bullet points in the necessary-CW-teen-drama-stereotypes checklist: we have attractive fake-teenagers, dark secrets in a small town, tons of abs.... And of course, we could have not done without -damn it- the very unnecessary voice-over narration. I know it probably bugs me more than anyone else because I have an open feud with this horrific gimmick, but: CW, do you really think we need you to spell all those banalities out to comment the episode events? We, audience, are smarter than that. Even if we are watching you constantly. (This sentence is food for thought, actually. Serena, go in a corner and think hard about your life).

I'm "writing a book" and I'll repeat you that «a murder occurred on the 4th of July» at the beginning of EVERY episode.
Like you would forget otherwise -_-

From now on SPOILERS, people.

The first episode opens with the voice-over explaining the events of the previous summer in Riverdale: Jason Blossom, heir to the Blossom Maple Syrup Empire (apparently, it's a thing) and twin brother of one of the main characters, Cheryl, has disappeared and probably drowned during a boat trip with his sister on the 4th of July. After an entire summer without any lead or body found, the whole town is just  now starting to recover and to get some closure with the upcoming empty-casket funeral of Jason.
The characters that we follow are instead a group of high school students that, for one reason or another, find themselves linked and then in the middle of the murder investigation. Because, as television's history teaches us, adults are generally useless in fictional murder investigations.

Very solid police work

Archie Andrews is the redhead titular character of the comics, football player and aspiring musician, whose best friend is the literal girl-next-door Betty Cooper, all-around sweet girl... or so it seems. Of course, the beginning of the school year sees the arrival of Veronica Lodge new, mysterious but confident and outspoken girl in town, who is obviously going to change the duo dynamic. Other characters are: Jughead, outcast, voice-over guilty party and -dammit- my favorite, Cheryl, twins sister of  the disappeared Jason, mean girl, maybe psychotic but very entertaining and Kevin, tenured gay BFF and son of the sheriff. Also: the Pussycats, emerging girl band that every now and then shows up to haunt you with impossibly catchy renditions of pop songs.

Since the very beginning of the episode, we are clearly introduced to the hang-in-balance relationship of the two classic neighbors-best-friends-since-childhood Betty and Archie (she likes him but isn't brave enough to tell him, he probably knows but he's merrily avoiding the subject) and the arrival of the intriguing Veronica. In that regard, I wanted to mention how the actual "entrance scene" is well-played and has this sort of "iconic" style. Super-clichè-y but also very effective. It sets a tone, which works.... in a way.

It is one of those scenes that seems to be staged for the trailer, just like (way more patently) the girl-on-girl kiss between Betty and Veronica that doesn't have a shred of sense for the Pilot's storyline or the fact that everyone is wandering half naked or getting changed in front of windows without curtains (males and females alike, for gender equality...)

From what I'm told, in the comic the main character dynamic is, as a matter of fact, the love-triangle Betty-Archie-Veronica and that is also what I was very afraid to be stuck with for the entire season, judging from the aforementioned scene.
Luckily, the issue is put to rest in a very reasonable way in the first few episodes, with a partial resolution that leaves open to future rehashing (Archie very much friend-zones Betty. Full stop.), but is also believably (considering the context) dealt with, without over the top situations or hasty patch-up work.
My point is: I know that this theme is probably going to resurface in later seasons and I'm sort-of OK with it (more accurately, resigned), but I'm also happy that for now it is not the only, obsessive focus of the show. I've seen way too much of Gossip Girl, or even How I met your mother, to have patience for the umpteenth, unimaginative, eternally dragged love-triangle. Or maybe it is just because I actually enjoy the infamous Jughead-Betty ship and I'm not ready to see it sink.

I so hope NOT, it's not even funny

Speaking of resurfacing: guess who's found floating in the river with a bullet wound in the forehead? Jason, exactly. A peculiar way to drown, if you ask me. This kicks off what is now officially a murder investigation.

As always in these investigative pretenses for drama, at every episode new details come out to explain some truths while introducing ten more secrets and no character is in the clear.
For example, we discover that the initial “disappearance” was staged by Jason and Cheryl to allow him to escape, that several people had motives to hit the Blossoms by hitting Jason, including Veronica’s father (that we never see because he’s in jail for a white collar crime, but somehow he is mentioned at least 5 times per episode and creates more trouble than all the other adults in flesh and blood), Jughead's gang-affiliated drunken father and Betty's controlling parents. And, of course, most of the revelations are uncovered by Betty and Jughead (and also Kevin) that, with the excuse of writing in the school journal, go around Scooby Doo-ing left and right. I think they properly referenced the Scooby Doo cartoon or the Mystery Machine at some point... They for sure mention Nancy Drew about five thousands times, though.

But I’m not here to tell point-by-point the story of the murder investigation because, first of all, it would be incredibly boring for everyone and, more importantly, it is not actually the part that is worth commenting in too much detail, it is better to savour it episode after episode. Suffice to say, we have secret pregnancies (Yes. Plural.), weird old ladies with glass eyes, creepy nuns-kept halfway houses, daddy issues, dramatic slow-mos, thugs fights, inappropriately shirtless teens doing construction works, musical numbers, murder walls complete with red string and pins, weird syrup fetishes, snakes in boxes and dance offs.

Creepy everything, always.

Riverdale actually tells an interestingly-constructed, revelation-by-revelation kind of mystery, that doesn’t really leave me a lot of wiggle room to be mean. 
I have to acknowledge that this Riverdale is nearer to my true 'Guilty pleasure mark' than I’m comfortable to admit. What I mean is that I actually enjoy watching the episodes and I allow myself to be taken by the story, without necessarily turning on the vicious part of my brain that takes notes to demolish and make fun. It is ridiculous in all the right ways, without being all over the places and over the top, like some glorious seasons of Once Upon a Time or Shadowhunters, so I usually find myself nitpicking but with a more benign attitude, rather than being ruthless and cynical like I’m used to. 
That still doesn’t prevent me from noticing the absolutely unjustified lack of shirts of the main protagonist (seriously, you get up in the middle of the night for a run and decide to actively go without shirt? Or they’ve just been all torched by the CW executives to spare you the trouble?), the classic inability to state simply constructed, clear content, non-ambiguous statements to save one’s life (both figuratively and literally speaking), the blatant product placement (in their defense, they don't even try to disguise it) or to enjoy the get-together of all the 80’s icons, like Molly Ringwald and Luke Perry. 

Just having your average middle-of-the-night jog. Nothing to see here.

The comic-established Betty/Veronica dichotomy is, for the first season, substituted by the Veronica/Every-other-female-in-the-school competition, since the good-boy Archie enjoys rendezvous with several ladies before settling (during the last three episodes) with Veronica. One of them, is the music teacher Miss Grundy, with whom he entertains an illicit affair…which opens the always entreating debate: is it appropriate to show these subjects on a teen show? On the one hand, it is obviously not a legal relationship in any way, shape or form and it is clearly not something that should be suggested or positively advertised…. But then again, it is not really shown under a positive light (yes Pretty Little Liars, I’m looking at you. And I’m judging you.) and it is really, really hard to remember that KJ Apa (who, truth to be told, is only 20) is not a teen and that the situation should be cringe-worthy. 
Also, I kinda love how they did go all the way Mrs Robinson on this one. Miss Grundy's behavior -difficult past or not- is portrayed as controversial, with some moments that hint toward a somewhat genuine affection and others that are instead straight up manipulative and interested. Also:

Episode 1x04. Someone has a pattern.... 
Episode 1x01

I mean. C’mon. From the heart-shaped glasses to the obvious milkshake straw fondling, this is picture alone is a whole promotional heaven by itself.
The controversial storyline is partially solved in a pretty linear way, with Miss Grundy that is about to be discovered and leaves town, but only after having decided to part ways with Archie (by his choice)... because, after all, he's the main character and he has to do the right thing at some point. 

And while we're tackling the fake-ages issue, allow me to exhume one of my forgotten gimmicks, aka 

You know, just to obnoxiously put things in prospective. 

And we are now arrived at the characters’ close examination and personal (n.d.b.) judgment, based on what I saw in the first season.
Archie Andrews is the main character and also the most boring. He is a good guy, with big dreams and a bigger heart, who always tries to make the right thing... except when he takes all the worst decisions based on impatience or hormones. There’s not really much to go into, because both his virtues and his defects are actually pretty bland. So, next. 
Veronica Lodge is actually more interesting than I was ready to give her credit for. She’s a reformed mean girl that only occasionally slips into her old habits and usually for good causes, like defending her new friends. Or to snog hard the main character in the Pilot, because: plot-point. She has the good mix of witty quipping and fierce attitude that makes her more than the usual bidimensional love interest or mean girl. She almost reminds me of a Blare Waldorf done well, without the characteristic unbearable attitude, the colossal egoism and the outstanding lack of moral fiber.
Speaking of mean girls, Cheryl Blossom tends instead to follow all the key features of the Mean Girl Cookbook, from the over the top dress code to the speaking mannerism. But she’s so delightfully psychotic that I’m happy to give her a pass. You never know if she’s about to verbally abuse someone for no reason or to desperately cry, and even when she displays vulnerability, you’re never really sure if it is for emotional manipulation or if it is genuine. Which is extremely entertaining, so I’m all for it. 

And now we come to my two favorite characters. And I’m of course talking about Coach Clayton and Moose.
Just kidding. I’m talking about Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones III, both of which I like for very different reasons that, believe it or not, transcend the mere shipping purposes. 
Let’s start with Jughead, boy with an inexplicable name (no, I’m not even going to google it, I feel quite content already) that, somehow, hits me in the perfect outcast-character-sweet-spot. He walks perfectly the line of don’t-give-a-damn attitude, without fully falling into the stereotype of the bad-boy with unnecessary and usually misdirected arrogant attitude. Full disclosure, he gives me great satisfactions: I don’t always see coming the witty retorts or the attitude-fueled reactions that are often skipped for something more crafty (all things considered, of course) but equally satisfactory and character-coherent. Or, again, I’m probably victim of the baleful CW ploy and in love with Cole Sprouse's delivery. So basically I fully realize to be caught by the rebel without a cause/puppy-eyed survivor fever, but I'm A-OK with it.

And then there’s Betty. A part from the fact that her family has a butt-load of weirdness, secrets and issues all by itself, Betty is actually the most interesting character form a “clairvoyant” point of view. She should be the Miss Perfect, clean and tidy, teeth-cavity-inducing-sweet girl, that always does the right thing and says the sensible thing, and she does that…. But she’s also clearly hiding a very dark side (displayed in few subtle and a lot more not-so-subtle ways) and on the brink of going full bananas. In my eyes, Betty’s character has so much potential for future reverting, batshit crazy storylines… And I actually give credit to Lili Reinhart for this one, because she’s able to turn from googly eyes to dead-serious-homicide-eyes in a split second, without being cartoony. But, then again, this is called good acting, and I should probably stop mistaking 'actors doing their job' with 'prodigies', only because I’m used to talking-dogs and abs-healthy-carriers.

Subtle, writers. Real subtle.

Some of my favorite moments in the series are of course the results of some seriously oddly written scenes, like Betty’s song at Jughead’s birthday party (still asking myself: What the actual f***?!), Cheryl's suicide attempt and rescue at the frozen river, the very weird dream sequence of episode 7 (that I know is a reference to the classic comic book aesthetics and it is purposefully made to stick out, but still) or basically every time Cheryl is near a microphone or another human being, for that matter.

In spite of the best traditions, the murder mystery is solved in the second to last episode, which leaves plenty of time to set up new drama for the upcoming season. And I truly can't wait (but I probably will).

So, to summarize the summary: it's a huge, effective Guilty Pleasure. And I mean it in the most positive and sincere way possible. It hits me in the exact right spot to annihilate my critic neurons and to create a moderate addiction, so I can both enjoy the episodes and be clear-headedly delighted by all the weirdness and fan-service moments, without being completely taken out of the flow.
As far as recommendations go, I say: if you thought that Pretty Little Liars or Gossip Girl were too much but you still have 'a thing' for teen dramas, give Riverdale a shot (while the "tameness" lasts... I'm cautiously waiting for it to spiral out of control) and see if it satisfies your sweet tooth, too.

We laugh like tragedy is not about to strike in 3... 2... 1...

See you next time,

6 commenti:

  1. Che bello rileggerti :D
    Ho saltato a piè pari questa serie - come guilty pleasure mi sto tenendo Gotham, che è diventato un fumettone assurdo con il protagonista che sembra stare in un altro telefilm - ma mi hai fatto venire una voglia matta di recuperarlo :D
    Cmq quando hai parlato di amica d'infanzia innamorata ma poi arriva la figa misteriosa dalla città, ho avuto un momento Dawson's Creek fortissimo XD

    1. Grazie! È bello essere tornata ^^
      Per quanto io cerchi di atteggiarmi a superiore, in un modo o nell'altro la CW mi becca sempre XD
      Ma sai che non ho mai ripreso Gotham dopo le prime 5 puntate? Quando era ancora in modalità Cattivo-della-settimana... Che dici, me lo consigli?
      Per quanto riguarda Riverdale, sono sicura che, se dovessi decidere di guardarla, avresti flash post traumatici da stressi di altre 9 serie televisive almeno XD Io mi sono salvata da quelli di Dawson's Creek perché (e probabilmente sono l'unica in Italia) non l'ho mai visto... XD

    2. La CW ci avrà sempre XD
      Gotham... non saprei. La prima stagione prova a darsi un tono ed è tipo un noir, poi inizia a perdere serietà. Adesso spesso varia tra il trash e l'assurdo, con Gordon che invece continua ad essere scritto come se fosse un telefilm serio.
      Però il cast non è male, hanno azzeccato alla grande il ragazzino che fa Bruce e trovato l'unico giovane attore che ha fatto pensare al 90% del pubblico "Ok, non vogliano l'origin story del Joker, ma se è lui ci va bene" XD
      Però è ancora in modalità Cattivo-della-settimana, con un po' di gente che non può morire/essere rinchiusa per sempre perchè dovrà essere un villain di Batman.
      Ma c'è gente di questo tipo:

    3. "varia tra il trash e l'assurdo" -Katerina , sarebbe esattamente il tipo di blurb che mi spingerebbe a iniziarlo XD
      Se così stanno le cose, penso che proverò a dargli un'altra occasione, sperando che si ritagli un posto nel mio cuore come OUaT ;D

    4. Ci arriva per gradi, nel senso che si parte da una guerra di mafia nella prima stagione per finire con un immortale che manda un cacciatore che si porta dietro un tizio addestrato a comportarsi da cane a cercare un pugnale magico.

    5. Mh... Interessante. Di fatto devo provare e vedere se io e Gotham "connettiamo" o meno, non c'è molto altro da fare. Magari siamo anime gemelle e ancora non lo so XD