Riverdale, which premiered last week on The CW after a heavy ad campaign, is hardly a new take on the teen dramedy as much as it is a welcome successor to a genre eagerly gobbled up by its target audience and adults who should know better alike. Though it reads as an almost perfect mashup of Dawson’s Creek—whose EP Greg Berlanti produced this show as well—Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars or Twin Peaks, after the first episode, I thought the creators were pushing things even further, namely, into the incest category.
Before we get to that dark road, some backstory you likely already have: The show takes the Archie comics universe and gives it a thriller edge, which means you’re watching variations of the wholesome characters and dynamics that have been hardwired into American culture for decades. That makes it particularly fun to see what’s been tweaked, and what’s remained: The central love triangle between Betty, Veronica and Archie is, of course, sort of there, but is hardly the driving force of the drama, and you still feel like Archie deserves neither of them (despite his welcome abs of steel). That doesn’t much matter, as Archie’s off falling in love with his music teacher Miss Grundy, who is no longer sporting a grey bun but is considerably younger and hotter. Moose is dating Midge (who we haven’t met, and may not), but secretly gay and hooking up with Kevin, Betty’s other best friend and a new addition to the Archie canon. Jughead is a bit of a loner weirdo, but the “Gossip Girl” of this group, providing voiceover and narration to the story as he taps the story away on his laptop. Josie and the Pussycats are a less rock, more pop trio of black girls. Veronica Lodge’s mother Hermione and Archie’s dad Fred (played fittingly by Beverly Hills, 90210's Luke Perry) appear to have a history. The list goes on, with each reveal acting as a bit of a thrill unto itself.
But the murder twist is the driving force behind the sometimes pithy, sometimes groan-inducing Generation Z jokes and ham-fisted introductions of character backstories. It involves twins Cheryl and Jason Blossom, and what we know so far is that they went out on Fourth of July morning dressed all in white, and Jason didn’t come back. We’re told he drowned—though of course we know better—and at the end of Episode 1, Jason’s body is recovered with a bullet in his head. While most of the town is buzzing over exactly how he died, the real mystery is what the hell was going on with him and Cheryl.
The evidence that their relationship contained more than just weird twin vibes is strong. We see them head to Sweetwater River for “an early morning boat ride,” in a red convertible, both dressed immaculately all in white (Cheryl in red lips and red pumps) while holding hands. “Are you scared Jason?” she says to him as a Lana Del Rey ripoff track plays in the background. He just looks at her while ever-so-slightly parting and puffing out his lips and shakes his head.
Later on, Cheryl refers to the two of them as soulmates, and at the school dance, introduces a song played by the Pussycats as the song she and her brother were conceived to. Totally normal stuff.
Madelaine Petsch, who plays Cheryl, denied that this is evidence of anything untoward in an interview with TV Line. “We have this joke on set: We call it ‘twincest,’” she said:
“She’s not in love with him in an intimate and sexual way,” Petsch clarifies. “It’s that he’s the only person who’s ever shown her unconditional love, and [he’s] the only person she’s ever unloaded unconditional love back to. So it’s a very awkward, weird place for her when she loses him to realize she’s so in love with him and so obsessed with him because no one loves her like he did. Her family doesn’t show love to her. She’s distraught and so lonely without him.”
If you say so! At the end of Episode 2, which aired Thursday night, Cheryl (who, as I haven’t mentioned this before, is Head Cheerleader and Queen Bee, not to mention a super bitch) dramatically admits she’s “guilty” of something involving Jason’s murder and is seen walking away with the school principal and the town sheriff.
What she is guilty of precisely, we don’t know yet, but it’s nice to enjoy a good teen drama before every plotline in the book is burned through, particularly one that is so easily folding in modernized and relevant updates on what being young today is like (next week’s episode looks to be about cyber bullying). And like its predecessors, what Riverdale does well is capture how deeply dumb and full of emotions teens can be. It’s calming, stabilizing even. Like going home again. To Riverdale!