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‘Riverdale’ review: ‘Archies Comics’ adaptation well done, but formulaic

The CW's "Riverdale" re-imagines the venerable Archie comic books in a much darker manner. (Credit: The CW Television Network)

THE SERIES “Riverdale”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on CW/11

GRADE B

WHAT IT’S ABOUT The town of Riverdale is in a tizzy over the recent disappearance of a popular teen, and foul play is suspected. Other big changes over the summer: Archie (KJ Apa) has decided he wants to go into music; Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) still has a huge crush on him; new girl Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) arrives from New York and checks out Archie, too. (Archie’s dad, Fred — played by Luke Perry — just wants to keep him in check.)

Meanwhile, Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray) and her Pussycats are the hot band in town, and would-be writer Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) is observing the whole scene with detached bemusement. This show, of course, is adapted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Greg Berlanti from the classic “Archie Comics” series.

MY SAY The town of the title is Riverdale-meets-Mystic Falls-meets-Sunnydale-meets Smallville-meets-Stars Hollow-meets-a dozen other small-town TV worlds that will immediately come to your mind as well. Riverdale is not literally situated above Hellmouth (Sunnydale/“Buffy”) nor a place where sanguineous appetites are sated, so to speak (Mystic Falls/“The Vampire Diaries”).

But all the other apparently eternal small-town TV verities apply: The wholesome “girl next door,” the “boy next door,” the quaint main street, the quirky citizenry, the high school, the hormones, the parents and . . . murder.

Yeah, wholesome eternal verities get old real fast. Murder — or some other variation on the oldest of plot devices — usually takes care of that.

Even the original Riverdale of the “Archie” comic universe found ways to escape the suffocating decency. Over a 75-year history, Riverdale endured a zombie outbreak, welcomed a teenage witch (you know her as Sabrina), while the gang acquired super powers (in 1965), and also traveled a couple of alternate timelines.

“Riverdale” finds its escape hatch before the opening credits, in a moody sequence where Riverdale-meets-Twin Peaks.

“Our story is about a town, a small town, and the people who live in the town,” says the point-of-view character, Jughead, at the outset. But get a little closer, he advises, “and you start seeing the shadows underneath.”

Along with those sinister shadows, and hulking snow-capped mountains in the backdrop (this is filmed in Vancouver, Canada), Mädchen Amick is your clue that a “Peaks’’ homage is under way here. She played Shelly Johnson, the waitress at the Double-R Diner, and here is Alice, the Mommy Dearest to poor, henpecked Betty.

How much homage? A little is fine — even slyly subversive. A lot, and this adaptation of one of the world’s most popular comics would turn into a parody of both “Archie” and “Peaks.”

Berlanti and Aguirre-Sacasa wisely choose a little, mindful that over all those years, and all those permutations, “Archie” was essentially just a Betty/Archie/Veronica love triangle:

Betty has romantic feelings for Archie . . .

Archie has the hots for Veronica . . .

Archie also has romantic feelings for Betty.

Even when zombies overran Riverdale, the formula was ironclad.

With an appealing cast and a story that threads those “shadows,” this CW newcomer does do a good job of both updating and honoring. It adds dimensions to Betty/Veronica too, or as “Jugsy” says, “They’re good and evil, light and dark, two sides of a Janus coin.”

As far as viewers will be concerned — and like all CW series, this is for a 12-to-24-year-old crowd — they won’t even know they’ve checked into a 75-year-old franchise.

That’s the immediate problem. “Riverdale” feels up-to-date but not especially distinctive either. More than the comic series, this is really drawn from another tradition — that teen soap one, which stretches from “Dawson’s Creek” to “Pretty Little Liars.”

You wonder why CW — or “Riverdale” — bothered to adapt “Archie” in the first place.

BOTTOM LINE Well done, but formulaic. Nevertheless, a long run seems assured.

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