Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica. For 78 years, these names were identified by their two-dimensional likenesses in various Archie Comics titles. They were mostly lighthearted high school tales of the quartet of best friends, although some of the comics reboots have taken darker approaches.
Now the characters of Archie Comics will come to life in new CW series Riverdale. Archie Comics Chief Creative Officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa developed the series as a modern teen drama with Arrowverse executive producer Greg Berlanti, who suggested he make it a murder mystery. And so Riverdale begins with the mysterious death of Jason Blossom.
KJ Apa plays Archie, Cole Sprouse plays Jughead, Lili Reinhart plays Betty, and newcomer Camila Mendes plays Veronica. The gang, along with Aguirre-Sacasa, spoke with Rotten Tomatoes after their Television Critics Association panel earlier this month.
Here are 11 reasons to get excited about Riverdale.
Archie is a singer-songwriter. The girl-group trio Josie and the Pussycats (Ashleigh Murray plays Josie) are characters in the show. The Pussycats cover classics like “Sugar Sugar,” “Kids in America,” “All Through the Night” and a Donna Summer song yet to be revealed. They’ve turned Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night” into a three-part vocal, and Archie will do “Kids in America” as a duet, though Aguirre-Sacasa wouldn’t say with whom. Archie writes original songs, too.
“In episode six, we have a big variety show,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “Archie does an original, and the Pussycats do a cover. In episode 10, Archie does a cover. Someone will always be doing an original. When we can figure out how to do a fun cover, we’ll do it.”
Apa said he brought his guitar to the audition and performed Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Singing in public, he said, is “stepping out of my comfort zone.” Apa prefers Vaughan, Steely Dan, and his favorite, Van Halen. “Archie’s music is kind of depressing,” Apa joked.
That variety show episode does at least make Archie happy, Apa said: “You can really see the love of his music coming out in the performance. At the end, you see him really happy. It’s really heartwarming.”
Apa’s hair is naturally dark brown. Once he got the role, Apa knew he’d have to go red. He outlined the grueling 10-hour process of camera testing each shade of red.
“It was a pretty gnarly experience,” Apa said. “My head hurt. I was angry, I hadn’t eaten, but we got the formula and used it again when we started up. It takes about three hours to do every two weeks and they do my eyebrows as well.”
And since everyone’s wondering what K.J. stands for, Apa told us it’s Keneti James, a New Zealand name.
Cole Sprouse said he actually was asked to audition for the role of Archie first. Playing Jughead was his choice.
“There was a scene in the script that Archie was across from Jughead,” Sprouse said. “As I read, I was like, ‘Whoa, Jughead’s really cool.’ Then I found out he was the narrator, which also really intrigued me. My audition was two pages of introductory monologue basically and that was challenging for an intimidating audition. It worked out. I guess Rod Serling was the tone they were looking for. I try to channel Morgan Freeman.”
It may be surprising to hear Veronica refer to author Truman Capote and the films of Woody Allen on a CW show. Mendes explained how Veronica got so cultured.
“Probably from her parents and just from the fact that she went to a really elite high school,” Mendes said. “She’s probably a bit of a cinefile. I just think her education.”
In episode 5, Veronica goes to the Riverdale Drive-in to see Rebel Without a Cause. Aguirre-Sacasa revealed that he has to fight for those references.
“Believe me, every time we put one of those in it, I always get the note, ‘Are kids really going to know this?’” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “Whether they know it or not, they’re easily and imminently Google-able.”
The Riverdale character who may have changed the least from the comics is Betty. She’s still a modern girl dealing with heartbreak and reacting to the murder in town, but retains more of her comic book counterpart’s bubbly nature.
“It’s the same basic characters in the sense that Betty’s the girl next door, sweet, everyone loves her,” Reinhart said.
When Berlanti said Riverdale needed a dead body, Aguirre-Sacasa chose the classic comic book character Jason Blossom.
“We didn’t want it to be one of the core characters because we obviously wanted to get to know the core characters,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “For a while we talked about it being a teacher. Somehow I landed on Jason Blossom. It felt like he could be this very beautiful golden boy, and it would be almost a little bit like that movie The Virgin Suicides. He would immediately be tied to Cheryl Blossom. If Jason dated Betty’s sister, that would immediately tie Betty into the mystery. It gave us a lot of connective tissue.”
In episode three, one of the jocks, rebuffed by Veronica, spreads sexual rumors about her. She and Betty unite to take down the slut shamers.
“I think the episode wanted to address that you don’t have to sit there and take it as a victim,” Reinhart said. “You don’t have to convince anybody else that something did or didn’t happen. It’s a matter of Betty and Veronica working as a team to get justice a little bit. I think justice was served.”
Mendes said the episode gave her pause: “We were so nervous that it might be too much too soon. When we saw it, we were like, ‘This is actually a really powerful episode. It’s empowering women.’”
Episode seven, which was directed by Andrea Anders, takes the gang to a Riverdale nightclub called The Roving Eye.
“It’s definitely small town and haggy,” Aguirre-Sacasa joked.
Anders told Rotten Tomatoes about directing the episode.
“My favorite piece of equipment [is] the Mini Technocrane,” Anders said. “It followed them dancing and feeling happy. Veronica is happy at night. She has an emotional monologue. I was able to use that piece of equipment to go in very close to her at a table.
“My episode is really a lot between Jughead and his dad played by Skeet Ulrich,” she said. “He’s like a biker and they live in this trailer park.”
Riverdale also has a strip club, but Aguirre-Sacasa said there are no plans to visit it.
Jughead is traditionally the lovable best friend who serves as comic relief. Now Sprouse says those jokes reveal layers of baggage.
“It’s the guy who is willing to disassemble a situation with a joke as an attempt to not have to talk about how he really feels,” Sprouse said. “He’s kind of the Holden Caulfield of his town now. He holds onto these facets of a once great, carefree version of himself, while simultaneously trying to juggle this new tormented reality he’s having to live through.”
The late Jason Blossom left behind a sister, Cheryl, who is the queen mean girl. Veronica is not impressed and even shows some compassion towards her.
“Cheryl sees Veronica a threat,” Mendes said. “Veronica sees Cheryl as like ‘I used to be you. I know what it’s like to be you. This is what I wish someone would have told me when I was acting like that.’ [Episode] five is a big Cheryl-and-Veronica episode where Veronica starts to really understand Cheryl and sympathize with her. It’s not just like ‘We’re bitchy rivals.’ They can actually kind of get along. I think there are moments of friendship and coming together but it doesn’t last. She knows she can’t trust her.”
Aguirre-Sacasa has already thought of spinning off Josie and the Pussycats in what he would call “Empire in a high school.”
Should Riverdale prove successful, Aguirre-Sacasa is considering rebooting Sabrina, the Teen Witch as more of a horror show based on the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” comics. Set in the ’60s with a tone akin to Rosemary’s Baby, Sabrina’s family would have ties to a satanic cult.
“It’s very much an occult story about female sexuality and female power,” Aguirre-Sacasa said.
Characters Katy Keene and Detective Sam Hill are also on the table.
Riverdale premieres January 26 at 9 p.m. on The CW