Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Riverdale Season 7 Premiere, on CW

Jughead Jones suddenly found himself back in high school. The good news is he did not wake up naked on the last day of finals, for which he hadn’t studied for. Instead, he is in an alternate 1950s Happy Days-style universe—and he is the only one of his friends who remembers the first six seasons of Riverdale. Jones and the Archie comics gang go back to high school, where fans always remember them, in the seventh season of Riverdale, which premieres tomorrow night on the CW.

At the end of last season, Jones’ psychic girlfriend Tabitha Tate and their friends tried to save the Earth from Comet Bailey, but they failed. At the last second, Tate managed to send them back into the alternate past, so they can regroup and hopefully develop a plan B. However, only Jones initially remembers their past/future, whereas the rest of the group is busy living in the alternate 1950s.

According to Jughead’s narration, 1955 was a terrible time to be a teenager, but he has no idea how wrong he is. Before the Progressive Era, there were no “teens,” just people who were old enough to work all day in factories and those who were not (as the doc
Teenage explains). Even for teens, there was little work available during the Great Depression, while eighteen-year-olds faced the prospect of military service during the Korean War, and the two World Wars. It was also in the 1950s that the segregationist policies initiated by Woodrow Wilson were finally effectively challenged, notably with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed decision and Eisenhower sending troops to integrate Little Rock schools in 1957. Seriously, 1955 is pretty choice-year to land in, given the grimmer possibilities.

Yes, the nation was still far from perfect, as the season premiere, “Don’t Worry Darling,” makes abundantly clear with its focus on the Emmitt Till murder. The Tate who doesn’t remember Jughead spends most of the episode trying in vain to cover the lynching in the Riverdale school paper, with Betty Cooper’s help. It is decent student drama to supplement Jughead’s efforts to figure out their situation, while he still remembers. For those coming in cold, Cole Sprouse’s nebbish charm as Jones and Camilla Mendes’ femme fatale turn as Veronica Lodge definitely standout amid the established ensemble.

However, there is not a lot fantastical or menacing business going on in the second episode, “Skip, Hop, and Thump!,” which focuses on several characters’ repressed sexuality. The percentage of Riverdale students identifying (secretly) as lgbtq is statistically unlikely, but Riverdale has always existed in a world of its own. At least, at the very end, it introduces a promising storyline that will presumably become a major focus throughout the final season.

As we learn more fully in “Sex Education,” it seems that Jones’ comic artist friend will be suspected of killing her awful parents in a way very much like that depicted in one of the horror comic books they just started freelancing for. This is definitely a geek-friendly arc that directly pays homage to EC Comics and their battle with the Progressive, Puritanical Comics Code.

Not surprisingly, the first three episodes of season seven only focus on the worst of America at the time. They could easily also include mentions of the heroics of the American military during the Berlin Airlift and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. In just a year’s time, the Soviet military will put down the Hungarian Revolution and the puppet government in Poland crushed Poznan Protests, so injustice was clearly not exclusive to America. (In this alternate 1955, the 1959 Vincent Price film
The Tingler has already released, so the writers clearly feel confident taking a few liberties with the factual timeline.) Regardless, going forward, there needs to be some representation of Korean War vets, who wouldn’t be much older than Riverdale high school students.

The horror comics storyline has a lot of potential, but the sexual identity politics are more of a duty to sit through rather than inspired character development. By definition, the repressed sexuality does not set any characters apart, because it applies to so many. The “re-start” provides a bit of an entry point for new viewers, but the aforementioned cliches are not very engaging. Not worth starting now, season seven of
Riverdale airs tomorrow night (3/29) on the CW.