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By contributor Drew McLachlan
This article contains spoilers.
“Archie got hot—he has abs, now!” is a real line in the pilot episode of Riverdale. It may as well be the tagline of the series.
This observation, made by Kevin Keller (a 2010 addition to the comics), introduces the viewer to Archie Andrews: former All-American Everyboy, now Nouveau-American, Aspiring Sex Symbol.
Archie’s abs, like Chekhov’s gun, linger in the foreground throughout most of the key moments of the series.
When Archie first pursues an affair with Miss Grundy, he’s shirtless. When Archie texts Betty to console her, he’s shirtless. Archie sneaks out at night to jog across town and continue his secret romantic affair—shirtless.
It’s doubtful that anyone is watching a live-action adaptation of Archie Comics in order to ogle its title character—yet the CW seems intent on making the run-of-the-mill, good guy Archie of yesteryear, into a veritable Adonis.
Riverdale’s portrayal of the comic’s All-American Everytown is full of bizarre choices. Were you expecting a melodramatic teen soap? A series arch built on noir-style murder mystery? A heist to bring an end to slut shaming? Closeted gay footballers tripping over dead bodies? Were you expecting Miss Grundy to be Archie’s main love interest?
Even Miss Grundy—significantly aged down—can’t avoid going to bed with the CW’s Archie (he has abs, now!). At 16, he’s already managed to become Riverdale’s Mister Darcy. He’s the school’s star quarterback. He’s an aspiring singer-songwriter. He’s set to inherit a successful business. He campaigned for Riverdale’s first black, female mayor. He has abs, now.
Any potential rivals to the affection of Riverdale High’s female students and faculty are written out—they’re either gay (Kevin and Moose), chauvinistic (Reggie and Chuck), or still emo in 2017 (Jughead).
In the third episode, when Veronica ventures out of the Archiesphere for a moment to go on a date with Chuck, she’s immediately made to regret her decision. By morning, Chuck has convinced the entire school that he not only slept with Veronica, but also spread syrup across her face afterwards, going as far as doctoring photos and spreading them across social media. His reported sexual conquest (including the “sticky maple”), we later learn, was for the purposes of a contest he and the other football players were taking part in.
The amount of effort the men of Riverdale will put into putting women off—and sending them back to Archie—is astounding.
The unattainably successful, young, creative, sensitive, wealthy, wise-beyond-his-years archetype wasn’t invented by the writers of Riverdale. It’s a staple in teen soaps, though it’s not a mould that one would think of placing the Archie-as-we-know-him in.
In Hollywood, adaptations, particularly adaptations of comic books, are the safest projects to pursue. Not only do they come with decades of characters and storylines, but also with name recognition and a pre-built fanbase.
Riverdale is the CW taking a page from Hollywood, as it has already done with Smallville and its other DC Comics adaptations. With Netflix (which distributed Riverdale outside of North America) and cable networks taking viewers away from broadcast television, the CW has found its safe project in Riverdale. It needs safe projects. It needs sex symbols.
The CW has a clear formula for these shows. By choosing such unfitting source material—Archie Comics—the ingredients of that formula are even clearer. It has what Archie Comics doesn’t. It has sex. It has intrigue. It has diversity. It has slut shaming. It has sex symbols. It has abs, now!