Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 1 of Riverdale Season 2. Not seen Riverdale? Catch up with spoiler-free review of the first three episodes.
Riverdale is back! Was poor Fred Andrews (Sideshow Luke Perry) shot in a robbery gone wrong, or was it Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) paying a sicario to snuff out workingman Fred, over that beef regarding real estate? Is paramour Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols) also a chief suspect? It’s bad news and bad business all around, in Episode 1 of Season 2.
With Fred fighting for his life at Riverdale General Hospital, Archie (KJ Apa) is feeling enraged and decides to withhold crucial evidence from the po-po and Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins). He does so out of guilt, but also because it means he, Veronica, Jughead and Betty can lead their own investigation and bring the masked baddie to justice.
With Fred in a deep sleep, experiencing fever-dreams, involving everything from re-living the incident in the diner to his son getting hitched to Veronica, Archie is having Red Shoes Diaries softcore sex with the raven-haired socialite in the bathroom shower at Casa Andrews. We all know Riverdale is compulsively trashy stuff, that’s what makes it repeatedly watchable every single week, but all that was missing from this utterly daft scene was an introduction by David Duchovny walking his dog and switching voiceover duties with Jughead (Cole Spouse). How any girl can find such a drippy, dull fella like Archie Andrews the ultimate catch is one of the show’s biggest problems. Riverdale orbits around the gravitational pull of a monumentally uninteresting central figure. He’s a 2001: A Space Odyssey monolith of boring. The hope is that with the ‘Who Shot Fred Andrews?’ storyline, the writers will attempt to inject Archiekins with a bit of personality and give Apa something to do other than pen rubbish songs on his guitar, date every girl in high school and look pensive… because Archie’s boy-next-door-meets-emo shtick sure isn’t working.
Anyway, to the good stuff. Camilla Mendes (Veronica), Lili Reinhart (Betty) and Cole Spouse (Jughead) continue to be captivating on-screen presences to root for, with Mendes being the highlight. Veronica’s complete distrust in her mother and father is captured towards the end of Episode 1. Poor Ronnie is living a nightmare – a very bling-bling one, granted – but it’s abundantly clear the high-school Blue Jasmine (as she once referred to herself) doesn’t trust her folks one iota. She knows they’re bad people, but is torn between family loyalty and having, you know, a moral compass. Veronica is a Lodge, her ex-con dad reminded her, in a scene lit like The Godfather or a make-believe reality show we’ll call Desperate Cartel Housewives. Part of the show’s goofy charm is that it lays things on thick. It doesn’t do half-measures, Riverdale.
Which brings us to what continue to be Riverdale’s superb production values and striking aesthetic palette. Cinematographers Stephen Jackson and David Lanzenberg often bathe entire scenes in rich neon lighting. One of the most gorgeous sequences in A Kiss Before Dying features a short dialogue exchange outside Riverdale General Hospital between Jughead (Spouse) and Betty (Reinhardt). The electric aqua blue hue is like something from a Mario Bava or Dario Argento movie. Jughead and Betty are swamped in it.
What’s very apparent about Riverdale is how indebted it is to horror cinema. Fans will know Sabrina the Teenage Witch exists in the same universe – over in the next town, in fact – but, as word of a spin-off solo series circulates, will Aguirre-Sacasa dare cross the streams? If Season 1 had the air of a gothic mystery, Season 2 of Riverdale features a masked villain and in the opener’s final scene goes full-on slasher movie. The playful use of the Rosemary’s Baby theme furthers the point series creator Aguirre-Sacasa is deliberately referencing or finding much inspiration in the horror genre. The former staff writer at Marvel Comics also penned the script to the brilliant remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film looks very much like the visual template from which Aguirre-Sacasa has drawn upon for Riverdale’s own look. Twin Peaks: The Return aside, Riverdale is the most beautiful-looking show around right now. If only they could kick the writing up a notch and find a consistent tone. Riverdale’s sense of identity is a major issue and borders on schizophrenic. Trashy, melodramatic, silly, earnest, ironic, funny – it’s all those good things, but still doesn’t quite gel. What could have been dismissed as teething problems might well never be fixed. That’s the big worry for Riverdale, but S2 E1 is a compelling opener.
Riverdale is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Thursday, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.
Photos: The CW Network