A wide array of personalities, lifestyles, and stereotypical archetypes have been shattered and rebuilt into modern-day heroes. What can we learn from the brilliantly seditious portrayal of the beloved comic book characters? The “Archie-verse” has never looked so inclusive.
The world was introduced to Archie Andrews and his motley crew when Archie Comics hit newsstands in December 1941. In the 78 years since the first publication was produced, there have been many reimaginations of the red-headed protagonist. From cartoons to coloring books, novels to fictional bands, no rendition of the sweet as Sugar, Sugar comics has captivated the masses quite like Riverdale. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s series is based on beloved characters created by Bob Montana and John L. Goldwater. Riverdale is a town unlike any other, from murder to cult activity, secret trysts with teachers and fellow classmates. One’s initial impression of the teen drama may lack enthusiasm while mistaking the series for a carbon copy of melodramas of the past. It will become perfectly clear within minutes of the first episode that this series is cognizant of establishing relevance and a massive fan base in the 21st century. The characters are not only relatable; they are a melting pot of diversity with unique, modern lifestyles and each advocate for the underdog in their own distinct ways.
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Here are some of the most palpable characteristics of the Riverdale community and positive lessons to learn from the hit CW series:
1. Positive Lesson 1: Archie – Stand up for what is right, even if that means standing alone
Archie Andrews (portrayed by KJ Apa). The protagonist of Riverdale, Archie is a Casanova. This version of Archie is a stark contrast to how he first appeared in the Archie Comics. While his moral fiber remains largely intact, his physical appearance went from goody two shoes to washboard abs on full display. While he often makes radical decisions, he is very persistent and shows no reservations standing up for what he believes in. From seeing his father’s attempted murder at the end of season 1, to losing his father to a reckless driver at the beginning of season 4, Archie has a moral fiber that runs solid and doesn’t waver. From creating a vigilante group to protect Riverdale from the Black Hood to dedicating his community center to his father’s memory, Archie always finds himself with overwhelming nobility. The odds are continuously stacked against him, but he never fails to fight back. This teaches us to “Stand up for what is right, even if that means standing alone.”
2. Positive Lesson 2: Jughead – Fall seven times, stand up eight
Jughead Jones (portrayed by Cole Sprouse). Archie’s witty best bud is a chronic introvert, although very intuitive and perceptive. Never failing to shy away from a good whodunit, Jughead eventually climbs the social ladder of his judgmental surroundings when he is crowned Serpent King. Like Archie, Jughead was dealt a lousy deck of cards- an alcoholic father and a mother who chose to fly the coop. Through his artful behavior and his tenacity for uncovering the truth, it’s easy to see why Jughead and Archie are forever best friends. Jughead teaches us to “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
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3. Positive Lesson 3: Betty – Live to please yourself, not those around you
Betty Cooper (portrayed by Lili Reinhart). Perceiving actions from an emotional perspective, Betty is known to keep a diary to vent her feelings and reflect on the unbelievable happenings in Riverdale. Betty is always in pursuit of the truth, even when it means going against her mother’s expectations. Due to her persistence and utilization of resources, Betty has solved major crimes in Riverdale, such as the true identity of the Black Hood, Jason Blossom’s killer, and the true identity of the Sugarman, an English teacher who moonlights as a drug dealer. Betty is a true investigative journalist with a heart of gold and a head full of many burdens. Betty’s lesson to viewers: “Live to please yourself, not those around you.”
4. Positive Lesson 4: Veronica – A tarnished reputation can be restored like an old penny in vinegar. What was once dirty is anew
Veronica Lodge (portrayed by Camila Mendes). Little Miss Extrovert has no problem integrating into the fibers of Riverdale High as a new student. She’s intelligent, popular, and chic to boot. She’s infamous for being involved in a love triangle with Archie and Betty, but aside from this, she is a sharp-witted businesswoman who will do what it takes to be taken seriously by her father. While she was initially haunted by her father’s carnivorous business reputation, Veronica forged her own path in the Riverdale community. Her lesson to viewers is clear: “A tarnished reputation can be restored like an old penny in vinegar. What was once dirty is anew.”
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5. Positive Lesson 5: Kevin – People may look down on you for not living by society’s standards, but deep down, they wish they had the courage to do the same
Kevin Keller (portrayed by Casey Cott). Kevin Keller is arguably the most symbolically important character in this series. An extrovert with a true confidence in his friendship with Betty, Kevin opens up about being sexually attracted to other men. He is a face for Riverdale’s gay community and gives no apologies for who he is. In Season 4, Kevin has an incredibly vulnerable yet brave musical debut in full drag after his principal denies his proposal for the school musical (Hedwig and the Angry Inch.) Kevin defiantly storms the halls of Riverdale High rocking the most colorful garb and stiletto heels the halls have ever seen.
Accompanying him are his typically overtly masculine male classmates Reggie Mantle, Sweet Pea, and Kevin’s on-and-off love interest, Fangs Fogarty. The boys perform a triumphant number from the musical, showcasing full faces of makeup and glitter galore. Kevin has never apologized for being himself or for encouraging others to put their sexuality on full display and never be ashamed of what they feel. Kevin’s defiance marked a poignant moment for himself and for viewers, “People may look down on you for not living by society’s standards, but deep down, they wish they had the courage to do the same.”
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6. Positive Lesson 6: Reggie – You have the ability to face your “demons” even if it takes a village. You are worthy of dignity and deserve a life free of abuse.
Reggie Mantle (portrayed by Charles Melton). Initially introduced as the picturesque jock, Reggie was the poster child for toxic masculinity. In season four, Reggie fans are treated to a significant glimpse into his life. We learn what was suspected all along through tell-tale signs and wayward comments riddled within season’s past- Reggie is the victim of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his very own father. With the encouragement (and the belittling of his father on the football field) of his best frenemy Archie, Reggie finally has the guts to stand up to his abusive father. Reggie’s existence symbolizes an important notion: You have the ability to face your “demons” even if it takes a village. You are worthy of dignity and deserve a life free of abuse.
7. Positive Lesson 7: Cheryl – Be unapologetically you, no matter what that may look like.
Cheryl Blossom (portrayed by Madelaine Petsch). The red-hot bombshell gained infamy as the head cheerleader, nay Vixen, of Riverdale High’s cheer squad. While she is known for her witty tongue lashings and penchant for luxury, Cheryl reinvented herself with an exodus from the dark closet her truth hid in. Forced into hiding her true feelings at the hand of her overbearing mother, Cheryl defied the restrictions of her well-known family by revealing her love for Josie McCoy. After realizing her feelings were one-sided, Cheryl became involved in a relationship with Toni Topaz, the She-Serpent herself.
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Cheryl blossomed into a beautifully confident loud and proud lesbian who proudly presents her love for the entire town to see. Much to the dismay of many judgmental members of the Riverdale community, Cheryl’s display of affection for her girlfriend is showcased throughout the halls of the woeful high school. The significance of bringing Cheryl Blossom’s unapologetic lesbian relationship to the surface of her sequestered environment delivers an important message to viewers: Be unapologetically you, no matter what that may look like.
8. Positive Lesson 8: Mad Dog – Stand firm and press on because prosperity is within reach. Even the Underdog can bark loud enough to establish dominance.
Munroe “Mad Dog” Moore (portrayed by Eli Goree). Previously jailed with a grim outlook on the future, Veronica and Archie bolstered a successful effort to get Munroe pardoned from his previous conviction. Although he had a rough stint in jail in his past, Munroe became a Bulldog with the help of Archie. Thriving on the football field and finding his footing in school, he turned his entire life around through his tireless effort in school and while participating in organized sports such as football and boxing at The Fred Andrews Community Center. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we learn an important virtue from Munroe’s character: Stand firm and press on because prosperity is within reach. Even the Underdog can bark loud enough to establish dominance.
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9. Positive Lesson 9: Joaquin – Even when your shoulders bear immeasurable weight, it is never too late to choose a path of uprightness.
Joaquin DeSantos (portrayed by Rob Raco). One of the most underappreciated characters in “The Town with Pep,” Joaquin is a closeted member of the Serpents gang. Joaquin never appears to be as ruthless and savage as his fellow gang members, as evident when he followed Kevin Keller to the food stand at the last film showing at the Twilight Drive-in. The unsteady scene shifts from worry to surprise when Joaquin quickly locks lips with Riverdale’s proudest gay. Originally initiating a tryst with Kevin as an order from his gang leader, Joaquin develops genuine feelings for Kevin and shows remorse for his deceitful antics.
Although Joaquin’s character was not an original character from the Archie comics, he slithered flawlessly into the world of Riverdale and impacted the audience with his powerful presence and somehow relaxed anxiety. While it is assumed through his character’s actions, his sexuality is never outright stated. Whether this was the intention in the writer’s room, it lends to Joaquin’s mysteriousness and unsettling presence. Due to his affiliation with the Southside Serpents, Joaquin gets wrapped up into Jason Blossom’s inexplicable murder. It seems his presence is merely existing as FP Jones’ pawn, but from Joaquin, audiences discern that even when your shoulders bear immeasurable weight, it is never too late to choose a path of uprightness.
10. Positive Lesson 10: A Group of friends – No one is perfect, but we can always be there for each other.
There are many elements involved with creating a character’s identity on the screen. A mix of substantial character development through crafty writers, the sensible maneuvering of the production crew, and most obvious, the ingenious execution of the actors through the characters they portray. While a solid dialogue helps set the story based on setting, scenery, and other visual details, it’s the interactions between characters and the energy of the talented actors that propels the story along and helps create conflict which engages the audience. The traits established by Archie and the gang and the dialogue they exchange stick with the viewers far better than a narrative description. Speaking of narrative, the scene of each Riverdale episode is set by the ominous voice of Jughead Jones which adds an alternative third-party perspective to set each scene, reading like a cryptic diary entry. The combination of talent, campy storylines, and a remarkably talented cast have propelled the season finale on May 6, 2020 to a season-high of approximately 683,000 viewers, marking its biggest audience in eight months.
It’s no surprise that Riverdale has been renewed for a fifth season. Will you be watching when Riverdale Season 5 premieres in January 2021? The first four seasons of Riverdale are available for streaming free on the CW website and on Netflix.
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