Betty & Veronica: Queens of ‘Riverdale’

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If I had to, I’d read Archie Comics when I was a kid. I’d rather read Betty and Veronica but I’d do it if that’s all there was at the drugstore.

Look, comic books in the 70’s and 80’s didn’t have this annoying-ass culture that they have now. Everybody read comic books. It wasn’t geek chic or cosplay or anything else. It’s just what we all did. Sure, there was always “that” kid who read them obsessively and rambled off facts about them at the drop of the hat. But I wasn’t him. I was just a kid who liked comic books because it was smooth storytelling with fast results. Ever the addict. Plus, I couldn’t be a full-fledged comic book junkie because what I was attracted to was pretty specific. I didn’t like things that were dark or scary. I didn’t like comic books that had a billion parts and took years to finish a story. And I loved comics with female leads.

As my Wonder Woman obsession is well chronicled on these here pages and my comic book heart belonged to her, first and foremost, there was always room for others. She-Hulk, Batgirl, Supergirl and Betty & Veronica. I was always drawn to female lead characters and heroes. I’d play them in games and dress up like them but there was never the sense that I was in the wrong body or that I shouldn’t be a boy. I just wanted to be a boy who loved Wonder Woman. Dammit. So I’d read Archie Comics if I had to but the whole time I was waiting for Josie and the Pussycats or Sabrina the Teenage Witch or Betty and Veronica to show up. With the new reboot of Archie’s world Riverdale currently airing on the CW, I find myself doing the same thing. But in this case, it’s certainly worth the wait. enhanced-12232-1491342073-1.jpg

Much has been written about Riverdale and it’s obvious (and welcome) nods to Twin Peaks. The show unapologetically takes Lynch’s dark, campy small town and tweaks it for millennial viewers. But the most 2017 thing about the show are Betty and Veronica themselves. After a rocky start, involving Archie naturally, the pair implode the decades long frenemy troupe over a pair of milkshakes: Betty and Veronica decide to never let another boy come between them.

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And just like that, B&V 2.0 is born, bitches. Gone is the life blood of every Betty and Veronica comic ever since 1950. The very thing that made Betty and Veronica tiresome and problematic has now vanished. Instead of bickering over a boy, this new version of our favorite girls is fierce, complex and empowered. The girls, decked out in seriously gorgeous Emmy-worthy costumes from Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup, have a new mission: being there for each other.

Self-involved rich girl Veronica Lodge has changed since I hung out with her in the 1980’s. First of all, girlfriend is no longer rich as her daddy, a Bernie Madoff type, is currently in prison on embezzlement charges. Secondly, she’s now Latina because why the fuck not? Lastly, and most importantly, she’s a girl who’s seen who she was and wants to change. In a great scene in episode 9, Veronica reveals that she was a bully back at her posh school in New York and how she really hurt a classmate of hers’. It taps us into a deeper character than we ever got a glimpse of on the comic book pages.  Yet Veronica, the fierce bitch who always get what she wants, the girl I wanted to be as a kid, is still here too. Just more emotionally in tune and smarter. Think Blair Waldorf after a 12 Step program. In a star making performance, Camilla Mendes creates a reformed bad girl for the ages and who doesn’t love that?

Sweet girl-next-door Betty Cooper, on the other hand, is more twisted than we could have ever imagined and I am here for it. At 10 episodes in, we’ve gotten a glimpse of Dark Betty and let’s just say she’s not just your student council president or favorite babysitter. The show is dancing with a mental illness storyline with dear sweet Betty. As of yet, we don’t know exactly what Betty has but we know her mama Alice (the perfectly campy, unhinged Mädchen E. Amick) isn’t all there either so it promises to get juicy soon. A steadfast friend and believer in the truth, Betty Cooper is still a golden girl but now she’s super interesting because she’s also sort of fucked up.

It’s not just Riverdale’s besties who have gotten a makeover for the better. Josie and the Pussycats are back. After a guilty pleasure 2001 big screen abomination, it’s safe to say their legacy is restored. This version of the Pussycats is an all black girl group (because again why the hell not?) who dishes out the fierce diva-ness required for every good teen show. Plus, the musical numbers are fun and filled with old school Archie references.

Elsewhere in Riverdale, it’s a mixed bag. Archie is still a dude-bro douche but at least this time he’s got great abs and the producers wisely have him shirtless in as many scenes as possible. He’s still clueless about women and kind of a disaster of a friend too. He’s hard to root for but as I noted in the top of the post I never really did. Also, the less we say about Luke Perry as his dad, the better. The new edgy homeless angsty Jughead is a great twist and he makes for a decent narrator even though the casting of his father (the one facial expression Skeet Ulrich) is equally unfortunate. By the way, I officallay feel 5,000 years old when people like Skeet Ulrich and Luke Perry who I used to watch play teenagers are now playing parents to teenagers. But at least Molly Ringwald is playing Archie’s mom!

Some of the storytelling gets cheesy and veers into old CW cliches but having established itself in a surreal camp realm at the jump makes me be a bit more forgiving as a viewer. Riverdale, with the openly gay Kevin character and a non-chalant kiss between Betty and Veronica, is queer in a no big deal sort of way that feels modern. After slogging through 2 episodes with bland, adult-heavy storylines, the series redeems itself in the latest two epsiodes. Mainly, becuase they’re filled with meaty, interesting things for Betty and Veronica to do. I’m going to stick Riverdale for the rest for the season because when it reallt goes there to full dark, weird and female positive place, it’s pretty darn wonderful. Besides, I’m positive my 10-year-old self would do the same.

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