Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again (1990) — Comic book unfunnies

“Make me a woman, Archie. Make… me… wild.”

Skip’s rating: Jughead tells Archie he wishes they’d never graduated high school. It’s a sentiment I share, as then this movie could not exist.

Skip’s review: There are feelings of comfort from our childhoods that we cherish — long nights with friends under pillow forts, the warm hug of a familiar blanket and a steaming cup of soup to soothe sickness, or sitting down with a big ol’ bowl of cereal to watch Saturday morning cartoons. These are the feelings that fuel the gift of nostalgia.

For me, Archie is the comics version of that warm blanket. It’s something familiar that we can revisit to forget, for just a moment, that we grew up — which is something that Archie and the gang never had to do.

Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again takes that warm blanket and smothers you with it before beating your skull in with a sledgehammer. This is arguably more exciting than the film itself and a welcome reprieve from the 100 minutes of torture that director Dick Lowry unleashed on an unsuspecting television audience.

If you’d asked me this morning what the worst thing to happen to the Archie comics franchise was, I’d have gone on a long rant about the hit CW show Riverdale. I’d have told you that I felt personally offended by the way that show had betrayed the characters of such a beloved series. In the back of my mind though, I’d know that Riverdale was the shot in the arm that the franchise needed to appeal to a new, younger, more drama-driven generation. A generation who isn’t ashamed of liking comic books, but does prefer them without the hokey cheesiness that early comics had.

There is no saving grace for Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again. It does not make historically uncool characters like Jughead into smoldering bad-boy bikers. Instead, it removes the things we loved about these characters and amplifies their worst traits. It does not make us yearn for our youth. Instead, it makes us fear for our futures. It doesn’t even present us with a gripping story while stripping away the charm of the original comics. Instead, the stakes are mostly non-existent and we couldn’t care less about the outcome.

It pains me to even attempt to outline what happens in this film, but for the sake of journalistic integrity, I will do my best.

This film revolves around characters with the same names as Archie comics characters but without any distinguishing characteristics from their comic counterparts. We follow the exploits of the eponymous Archie, who is now a hotshot lawyer. Archie is making big moves — most importantly an engagement to another hotshot lawyer and plans to leave Riverdale to join a reputable law firm in the big city. Our bumbling Archie is seemingly not so oafish as he once was, as he is set to make partner at his new job, which is big news for the small-town lawyer.

Archie has one more thing to do before leaving Riverdale for good: attend his high school reunion. In the run-up to the big event, we see a cast of familiar faces (or rather, unfamiliar in most cases). Betty is now a dainty schoolteacher, having lost all of her sporty, tomboy, helpful-around-the-house traits in the years since leaving Riverdale.

Jughead is a therapist, though the film makes it very clear that he is the one in need of therapy. Jughead is useless. Inept. Ineffectual. He’s divorced. His kid can barely stand him. He’s basically a balding bag of bones in a suit. As with Betty, there is very little of Jughead’s endearing qualities left over after years of self-abuse and loathing.

Then there is Veronica. Good ol’ Veronica. The film does a good job of making sure she’s still a spoiled brat, and even now her entire world is controlled by “daddy.” Though in this real-world setting, Mr. Lodge hasn’t become an uber-rich baron of industry without becoming an evil villain along the way, and Mr. Lodge quickly becomes the antagonist of our story.

See, sleepy small-town Riverdale does have its fair share of conflict. Reggie Mantle, the ne’er-do-well of our original series, has only grown more loathsome in adulthood. He’s being forced, at the hands of Mr. Lodge, to push Pop out of his soda shop, the classic childhood hangout for The Archies.

Along the way, we meet a slew of characters from the comics, including school staff such as Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy, and old friends like Dilton, Moose, and Midge. We even meet some new faces, mostly the partners of our old gang, and their children.

I’d love to tell you how this story ends but I just can’t. Not because I can’t stomach regurgitating the plot points, but because I couldn’t stomach watching them in the first place and I turned the movie off about halfway in. I don’t anticipate that it got any better as it went on.

The one thing you need to know before deciding to see this film (assuming you’re reading this without having seen the film because I’m fairly certain I’m one of like 10 people not directly involved with production who has seen it) is that it was intended as a pilot for an Archie TV show. It was turned down by every major TV network, and now it is relegated to the back corner of a flea market booth in the shady part of town where it will never be seen by anyone. Thank God for small miracles.

One comment

  1. If you don’t think Riverdale is cheesy then clearly you haven’t seen the episode where two biker chicks engage in a martial arts battle, duel-wielding sais, as part of a drug-dealing kidnapper’s plot to make Jughead LARP a D&D session while Josie (of the Pussycats) sang an Amy Winehouse song in Veronica’s underground speakeasy located in the basement of Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe.

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