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‘Riverdale’ “Chapter One: The River’s Edge” is a trashy, beautiful twist on the Archie mythos

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The many dog-eared digests of Archie Comics stashed with my other childhood belongings hold a series of simple truths, consistent in each and every volume. Archie is a lovable dumbass who wins over the people of Riverdale with his winning smile and completely clueless, utterly wholesome soul. Jughead is eternally tortured, the philosophic, burger-holic who should probably be given credit for being the original emo boy. Betty and Veronica are a dichotomy of female archetypes, playing off the tropes baked into their characters as high school females, two women torn between their friendship, their infatuations, and their frustrations with Archie Andrews, America’s goofball.

These conventions spread to the town of Riverdale, and the other people in it: Pop’s Place is where everyone has milkshakes and hamburgers, no matter what decade the comic might be written in, Veronica’s dad is a dick, Reggie is the classic bully, and Principal Weatherbee just doesn’t understand kids, man. These universal truths have been upheld in Archie Comics for decades, even in the recent (and remarkably fantastic) reboot of the mainline Archie universe in 2015. It’s the kind of comic Minister Wilford or Robert Ford could get behind – everything has its place, operating on a perfectly-dictated schedule, no matter how often the writers throw small tweaks and changes into the works.

Sure, there might be a break or left turn in the story here and there, but readers know what to expect, and they know it will be delivered with such energy and heart that it would be impossible not to enjoy, no matter how familiar or clichéd. Archie, in many ways, is the epitome of serialization in American culture; he’ll always be a redhead (the object of both brunettes and blondes, of course), and he’ll always live in a town that loves its American pie and its football.

There’s still an argument to be made that Riverdale didn’t need to be yet another murder mystery show; as a framing device, it’s probably the weakest element of the pilot.

The CW’s Riverdale takes that Archie, the guy who the world has known and loved for fifty-plus years, and spends 46 minutes saying “fuck tradition.” Like any great show on The CW, it’s the kind that makes no sense on paper (Riverdale turns into Twin Peaks, then into The Killing and Daria at the same time?), and yet somehow turns into network magic in the capable hands of the network’s creative minds. Jughead is writing in word documents, like a moody Gossip Girl? Archie is a tortured music singer, who banged his music teacher while getting ripped working for his dad over the summer? Veronica Lodge isn’t filthy-ass rich? For every moment Riverdale presents itself as a recognizable entity in the Archie Andrews Multiverse, there are three or four moments where Riverdale throws the most angsty teen drama twists into the mix, slowly transforming the classic high school setting and characters into something a lot more modern and fresh in ways I didn’t even realize I wanted Archie to be.

What makes Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script work so beautifully is how confident it is in reshaping the Archie mythos. Clearly, he understands that nearly every person who is watching this show is doing so for one of two reasons: to watch pretty people be dramatic, and/or because they’re curious long-time Archie fans. As the chief creative officer of Archie Comics, there are few people more attune to the history of Archie than Roberto Aguirre-Sacas, and Riverdale‘s pilot is dripping with loving references to the long-running series, honoring its legacy while simultaneously reflecting on its conventions, remixing it for a modern audience, and presenting it in a way that can satisfy both longtime fans and newcomers alike. That is a tricky fucking act to pull off, yet “Chapter One: The River’s Edge” finds a way to nail nearly every note. Sure, some of the pop culture references and music cues feel like they’re about a year behind what they should be (when Veronica says “you’re not trending #1”, Riverdale nearly tips too far into its own parody), but how “Chapter One” completely reframes and commentates on its own, well-worn mythology is refreshing in a lot of ways other modernizations haven’t come close to capturing. Riverdale isn’t quite as clever culturally as one might hope it is out of the gate, but its self-awareness about its own familiar culture is a genuine surprise and delight.

 

Riverdale could be 2017’s first genuine guilty pleasure, and arguably the best “reimagining” in recent memory since Hannibal.

Chapter One: The River's Edge

There’s still an argument to be made that Riverdale didn’t need to be yet another murder mystery show; as a framing device, it’s probably the weakest element of the pilot, though it helps develop a mysterious personality that the rest of the first episode picks up and plays with in wonderful, engaging ways (like Polly Cooper’s backstory, or the “multiple” secrets Archie has with the sexy librarian-style music teacher, Miss Grundy). Riverdale is at its hypnotic, giggle-inducing finest when it is doing its best Rob Thomas impression (the writer, not the goofy rock star), throwing shade with pop culture references and riffing on its conventions. The show nails it when it’s showing us stuff like Moose sneaking off for gay trysts with Kevin Keller, or with a series of jump cuts that reveals that Miss Grundy is not 75 years old in this world, and Archie definitely had steamy sex with her in the backseat after work one day this summer.

Riverdale is the trashy gem we don’t deserve. It understands that the mean cheerleader and the gay best friend are absolute cliches of the genre, and leans into them with a wink, a smile, and a surprising amount of thought. It’s like some weird, twisted mix of One Tree Hill (the early, high school years, at least) and that aforementioned tween version of The Killing I never knew I wanted. It may not be the Veronica Mars/Twin Peaks/Gossip Girl CW execs have posited it as, but the potential the series has is actually something far more ambitious – and potentially, rewarding – to watch. All the neon-tinged promotional photos and “spooky” trailers had me a little worried; if “Chapter One” is a template for what we’ll see moving forward, Riverdale could be 2017’s first genuine guilty pleasure, and arguably the best “reimagining” in recent memory since Hannibal. I’m not ready to heap that kind of praise on it just yet – but as with the Hannibal pilot, I’m more than a little intrigued to see where this all goes.

RiverDaleCW

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Cheryl Blossom is always a bitch, and she makes a perfect antagonist for this particular style of Archie adaptation.
  • I love how dynamic and complex Veronica and Betty’s relationship is already, after just one episode; there are definitely some very light shades of OTH Brooke/Peyton here, which makes me gleeful.
  • What high school show has a football subplot, but never says what position its main character plays? Little notes like this are what makes Riverdale sing.
  • Reggie is more a dumbass than an antagonist here, which may make him a perfect foil for what appears to be a slightly more mature, less clumsy Archie character.
  • How this show turns Archie’s emotional insecurities into full-blown existential “high school identity” conflicts is wonderful.
  • Jughead and Archie ARE NOT best friends here, which may be a little unnecessary, but definitely adds intrigue in a way that feels familiar to the “What happened to Betty and Archie?” story that drove the first arc of the recent comic reboot.
  • Not enough Josie and the Pussycats – just dropping that now. And why are they doing a cover to start the series? (also, can we not have them care so much about “branding”? K thanks)
  • Know how this story is modern and edgy? All the happy couples of Riverdale ARE DIVORCED, motherfucker. And Archie has a strained relationship with his father, perhaps the oddest twist of them all.
  • I like Super Smart Veronica.
  • Is Jughead writing his novel in the present, or reading it back from the past? His voice-overs range from ominous to straight omniscient, and it’s hard to figure out what context he’s actually applying to the visual narrative.
  • The conversation Archie has with his father about honesty shows an undercurrent of maturity that leaks into every facet of the pilot. If there’s something singularly striking about Riverdale, it’s how it takes the simplistic world of the comics and introduces so many gray elements to give it a new sense of texture. Here’s to hoping it can continue to capture that lightning in a bottle through its first season.

 

 

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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Before the Internet

Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “A God Walks into Abar”

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Watchmen Podcast A God Walks into Abar

“A God Walks into Abar” is the deeply heartfelt episode we’ve been waiting for!

The wonderfully pun-titled penultimate episode—directed by Nicole Kassell, written by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen— is a powerful love story that spans many years, and told in a disjointed fashion to explain just how the most powerful man in the world wound up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, married to Angel Abar and with his memory wiped out. It’s an amazing hour of television—able to carefully turn a seemingly indecipherable character, into something beautifully textured, human, and meaningful— and we have plenty to say about it.

Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this eight episode,  Simon Howell , Randy Dankievitch and guest Sean Collettin take a deep dive into “A God Walks Into Abar” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.

And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

Before the Internet Watchmen Podcast Special
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Watchmen Season One Episode 8 Review: “A God Walks into Abar”

Dr. Manhattan steps into frame in a breathtaking episode.

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Watchmen A God Walks Into Abar

The elevator pitch for Watchmen‘s eighth episode is relatively simple: what if Dr. Manhattan is to Watchmen, what Desmond was to LOST? A person unstuck in time, whose ability to move back and forth across the key moments of their lives, opening their minds to a wealth of experiences, perspectives – and of course, deep regrets for the moments and things that cannot be changed. LOST‘s 77th episode, “The Constant,” uses time as a thematic anchor for a love story, the absolute apex of science-fiction romance – a man who is only able to hold onto his identity by remembering the woman he loves.

“A God Walks into Abar,” and the love story that plays out within it, is among the most heartfelt entries of Lindelof’s career, able to carefully turn a seemingly indecipherable character, into something beautifully textured, human, and meaningful.

“A God Walks into Abar,” co-written by Damon Lindelof (who wrote “The Constant” with Carlton Cuse) and Jeff Jansen (a writer who once wrote LOST recaps for Entertainment Weekly), is pretty much a direct successor to “The Constant”; but though it is explicitly familiar in its structure, characters, and thematic explorations, is still a wildly successful, abundantly rewarding entry all to itself. Where “The Constant” served as an important fulcrum for the emotional journey of a mysterious character, “A God Walks into Abar” uses Dr. Manhattan’s gravity to pull in every loose thread of the series, while also telling a touching, tragic love story: it is a rather impressive feat, firmly establishing Watchmen‘s first (and only?) season in the pantheon of modern adaptations (and a gentle reminder of why Watchmen is so much fucking better than The Boys, I might add).

Watchmen A God Walks Into A Bar

Perhaps the most impressive thing “A God Walks into Abar” accomplishes is understanding Dr. Manhattan as a character, and how to effectively convey the paradox of his continued existence, in ways even the comic struggled to contend with. He is a man constantly living and reliving his past, present, and future, all at the same time, consistently able to needle the thread of his existence, in a way that allowed it to make sense. Or so he thought: the comic ends with him agreeing to the greatest conspiracy in human history, disconnecting from humanity and looking to the stars to satisfy the existential bounds of his mind (the meme of his disinterest in humanity is now iconic, after all).

Watchmen re-frames that idea ever so slightly, in a fascinating way: Dr. Manhattan did forget about his humanity… that is, until he fell in love with Angela, moments before he was sucked into a Kavalry-manned teleporter, which occurs exactly 10 years after he meets her. ” A God Walks Into Abar” opens with Dr. Manhattan putting on a mask (during the holiday celebrating his rampage to end the Vietnam War) and meeting Angela at a bar (Angela Abar… A-bar… Lindelof strikes again). It then proceeds to bounce around time, to capture life as Dr. Manhattan experiences it; an ever-evolving set of vignettes, an expanding world of knowledge, one he is not able to create and shape himself.

Watchmen A God Walks Into A Bar

The moment ” A God Walks into Abar” builds to is referenced in the first few minutes; after his strange introduction piques Angela’s curiosity, Dr. Manhattan notes that he is in love with her. We see that moment occur 50+ minutes later, as Angela turns into a one-woman assault squad, hell-bent on taking out every last Kavalry member outside their home. Infuriating as it may be to understand, he can see the beginning and the end of their short, beautiful life together at the same time, because he’s living it all at the same: Watchmen captures that idea poignantly in its unorthodox approach, smartly tethering each strange sequence together with a singular image, or color, to bring us from one moment to the next.

As we move through time, “A God Walks into Abar” casually begins to fill in the big holes of narrative created in last week’s slightly frustrating entry; we finally learn how Ozymandias ended up on Europa, and the history of the people and places we’ve seen on that world for eight episodes. We also learn how Will became involved in the process, which is, ironically, the moment it all falls apart for them: the moment Angela asks Dr. Manhattan to inquire about Judd’s identity (while Dr. Manhattan talks to him in 2009), she inevitably kicks the first domino down the path of Judd’s death, and the Kavalry’s impending attempt to turn themselves into racist deities.

Watchmen A God Walks Into A Bar

How “A God Walks into Abar” frames this is its true genius: Dr. Manhattan’s existence is the conundrum of the chicken and the egg. There was a moment in time where Jon existed, and Dr. Manhattan didn’t; but there also isn’t, since Dr. Manhattan’s creation allowed him to experience all of time in a cumulative fashion, rather than linear. Finally, the many, many images of eggs and yolks finally come together: as nature’s great paradox, a man literally capable of creating entire worlds and paths of evolution, finding his way back to the only immeasurable quantity in the universe, love.

“A God Walks into Abar” makes an important distinction between love and worship: love is able to be critical, to understand and accept flaws, to show empathy. Worship, or what Dr. Manhattan experiences when creating his own world (and people) on Europa, is disillusioning: there’s no older religious trope than the unsatisfied god who turned to humanity to find purpose, and that’s “A God Walks into Abar” to an absolute T. And it works: the love story that plays out is among the most heartfelt entries of Lindelof’s career, able to carefully turn a seemingly indecipherable character, into something beautifully textured, human, and meaningful.

Watchmen A God Walks Into A Bar

If there’s any noticeable flaw to “A God Walks into Abar,” it is strangely the episode’s construction as a romantic entry; it kind of sidesteps integrating Dr. Manhattan’s chosen identity to live as a black man in modern America. There are hints of it at various parts – the scenes of his childhood, in particular – but “A God Walks into Abar” strangely doesn’t contend, at least in this episode, with Angela’s decision to show Dr. Manhattan the original Cal’s body. Why did she just show him three white bodies first? What drew Dr. Manhattan to OG Cal’s appearance? For a series so deftly integrating explorations of race and identity into the Watchmen mythos, the lack of reflection in this episode feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

But that is a small complaint in what will be remembered as a signature episode of the series; and for good reason, because it is a phenomenal, breathtaking hour of television. “A God Walks into Abar” is also another bold reinterpretation of Watchmen itself, replacing the cold sensibilities of the comic’s anarchistic roots with a warm beating heart; as cheesy as that sounds, it is everything to making the high wire act of Watchmen the series work on a fundamental level. After all, love is the one universal element ensuring humanity’s continued existence; as Dr. Manhattan finally understands, even if the pursuit is an impossible one for us as a species, it at least makes the inevitable collapse of our world something worth fighting against.

Other thoughts/observations:

“By definition, doesn’t every relationship end in tragedy?” Fuck. Me. Up. Watchmen.

The Philips/Crookshanks origin story ends up being a rather touching detail: they are modeled after two lovers young Jon saw during his brief stay in England (the mansion the event happened in ends up being Ozymandias’ home).

Very interesting note that Ozymandias’ Plan A to defeat Dr. Manhattan was not to kill him, but to condemn him to being a mortal with amnesia.

Dr. Manhattan mentions his theory for being able to transfer his powers; would not be surprised to see that come up in next week’s episode.

Related to the previous note: Dr. Manhattan tells Angela he wanted her to see him outside by the pool. Does that mean we’ll see Will walk on water next week?

Lots of props given to Regina King throughout the series for her stunning performance – if Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is not nominated for a shitload of awards for his work in this episode, however, we riot.

A post-credits sequence finally reveals the use of Phillip’s infamous horseshoe – though it remains to be seen where this story is all heading, as Europa’s small world of clones desperately tries to keep another god from leaving them.

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‘Bojack Horseman’s Xmas Special Is the Height of Schmaltzy Satire

If you were lucky enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with awful specials, then Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special is just for you.

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Bojack Horseman

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at Bojack Horseman‘s “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”.


When it comes to sitcoms, the grand tradition of the holiday special is a long time staple of the genre. The schmaltzy corniness of the 80s and 90s made these specials all the more egregious, and it is this tradition that Bojack Horseman echoes back to with its brilliant Christmas special.

Ostensibly just a full episode of Horsin’ Around (the show that made Bojack famous), Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special only uses the present day as a framing device before diving into the stupid fun of a very special episode of Horsin’ Around.

The central plot of the episode focuses on Bojack’s youngest adopted child, Sabrina, wishing for her parents to come back to life after Bojack assures her that Santa can give her anything she wants for Christmas. Of course, in typical sitcom fashion, rather than simply explaining to Sabrina that Santa can’t bring people back from the dead, Bojack instead opts to try and trick her into being naughty so Santa will have an excuse not to grant her wish.

Bojack Horseman

The absolute apex of this silliness comes when Bojack tries to get Sabrina to give in and eat some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. “I’ve heard of lookie-lookie don’t eat the cookie but this is ridiculous!” The use of lines like these in sitcoms is a classic cut to simpler and stupider times, where shows could really get away with lines as ham-fistedly ridiculous as these and actually call them jokes.

Ultimately this is the greatest strength of the Bojack Horseman Christmas special: calling back to the tropes of 80s and 90s sitcoms before satirizing and roasting them into oblivion.

All of the classics are here. From the annoying neighbor character, who is legitimately named Goober, to the absurd onslaught of character catchphrases that permeate the episode. The best of the latter comes from Ethan, the nerdy middle child, who espouses the line “Yowza-yowza-bo-bowsa!” to a few sparse claps and a cough from the unamused studio audience. That every character needed a catchphrase in these types of sitcoms is a given but to have one so bad that even the studio audience can’t be bothered to care is a beautiful bit of satire.

Bojack Horseman

Speaking of the studio audience, Bojack Horseman doesn’t stop using them for fodder there. Thanks to one very stupid audience member, some of the best moments of the episode come from reactions to classic sitcom tropes. For instance, when Bojack flirts with his secretary, while most of the audience opts for the classic whoops and cheers of yore, the idiot just yells “Kiss her!”. He also points out catchphrases (“She said the line!”) and lets out a confused “What!?!?” at the message of the episode.

If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with even worse Christmas specials every single year, then Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special is just for you. Hearkening back to the nostalgia of the time before ripping it to shreds with endless glee, Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special isn’t just one of the funniest episodes of the show, it’s also one of its best.

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