Just a mention of Archie Comics brings forth fond memories of flipping through pages filled with clean-cut teens sipping sodas and living out a life of sweet high jinks in the idyllic small town of Riverdale.
Well, give your head a shake. With The CW's new mystery thriller Riverdale, which starts Thursday (March 30) on OSN First HD, Archie, Betty, Jughead, Veronica and the gang are now keeping it brutally real.
One of their own has been murdered, driving them into a dark jigsaw puzzle that's very nearly an homage to the neo-noir visions of David Lynch of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks fame. Riverdale in 2017 teems with secretive, lusty, brittle and devious teens.
New Zealander K J Apa, a prime-time soap star [Shortland Street] in his native land, comes to Riverdale as a brawny, six-packed Archie Andrews who could thump Moose Mason without breaking a sweat.
His posse includes: a brooding Forsythe "Jughead" Jones III [former Disney child star Cole Sprouse; The Suite Life of Zack and Cody] reminiscent of Twilight Zone host Rod Serling; a sophisticated Veronica (newcomer Camila Mendes) whose millionaire family lost all their money in an embezzlement scandal; and an eager-to-please Betty [Lili Reinhart, The Good Neighbour] who has serious mental health issues.
“I wanted to make sure this girl wasn’t just the simple, sweet blonde girl next door,” says Reinhart when accepting the role.
“There was so much more going on with her, we were building layers.
“What I love is that we’re taking something that was so happy-go-lucky and great and chipper to something more about shining a light on the darkness of these characters, making them three-dimensional people.
“Betty struggles with anxiety and goes through self-harm. She’s a real person.”
No stranger to high-school drama after a youth spent on screen in the ‘90s as Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills, 90210, Luke Perry is back as Archie’s father, Frederick “Fred” Andrews, who’s grooming Archie to take over his construction firm. Naturally, Archie wants none of it.
The teen and mystery genres blend well, says Perry, 50, recalling his first day on the Riverdale diner set of Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe: “It had a kind of freaky, scary, textured Peach Pit vibe”, he says, referring to the retro diner so popular on 90210.
“Archie is your standard kind of high-school kid going through puberty,” says Apa. “After the summer he’s come back and is attracting girls he probably wasn’t attracting before.
“He also discovers his passion for music over the summer. He’s adamant that music is his thing. But his old man wants him to start playing football, and that creates conflict.”
As for the death of high-school team quarterback Jason Blossom: “I honestly have no idea [how it will play out],” says Apa.
“It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen.
“Archie definitely has some secrets, and we learn a bit more about those as the [14-episode] series goes on.”
More series may be in the offing as Archie’s handlers have aspirations to grow their titles into a cinematic and television universe on par with those of Marvel and DC Comics.
• Riverdale debuts Thursday (March 30) on OSN First HD at 10pm.