Riverdale Season 1 Review (Spoiler-free)

  • Series Title: Riverdale
  • Season: Season 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 3
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, Madelaine Petsch, Ashleigh Murray, Marisol Nichols, Luke Perry
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

The CW’s Riverdale is much, much better than I expected, and, in a sense even better than it has any right to be. The show is like Twin Peaks meets the Archie comic books characters meets a typical CW teen/twenty-something soap opera, with a little bit of the original Scooby Doo Mysteries from Saturday mornings, and just a dash of film noir. The series spends it’s first few episodes introducing the characters and their world, but quickly becomes focused on one question and plot point: Who killed Jason Blossom?

When watching a long-form mystery – there are two tests: how does it work on first viewing? And does it still work upon re-watching? Riverdale passes both tests. When watching this show last year week to week, each episode brought new secrets, new revelations, new information, as slowly week-by-week the kids from Riverdale: Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead not only formed their own relationships – but uncovered the mystery and found out the murderer in episode 11 and 12. Upon re-watching the series, knowing who the murderer was – the series was still very watchable, even more so. Knowing “whodunit” did not, as it often does, especially in long-form mysteries, make this show boring, or make the viewer (well this viewer) want to bang their head against a table or yell at the characters in frustration. So it’s a good mystery. There a few scenes, here and there, in the entire first ten episodes, that have a stronger meaning once you know the murderer’s identity, but the entire series also holds up incredibly well. Riverdale has the same staying power for it’s first season as a neo-noir like L.A. Confidential, or a classic one like Double Indemnity.

Each episode of the series has opening and closing narration by Jughead, who is writing a manuscript about Jason’s death (in episode 1, everyone in town thinks he accidentally drowned – this changes when two gay teenagers go to the river for a tryst and instead find Jason’s body). This adds to the film-noir feel, and acts as a reflection on the events of the series, much like the narration in many classic films noir, especially those directed by Billy Wilder.

The series also has, as a CW show, that excellently done, teenagers learning how to grow up and dealing with conflicts with parents. However, in Riverdale, pretty much every parent is nuts – and hiding a lot of secrets. And what I picked-up on a second watch was that these parents are still holding on to feelings from high school: old crushes, resentments, rivalry, anger, jealousy. In a sense, these bonkers parents never grew-up, and Archie and his friends are considerably more mature than their parents. Which isn’t to say these kids are perfect. The series opens with Archie having a Summer fling with his music teacher – something he tries to continue into the school year, but it of course falls apart – and unprofessional teacher leaves after episode 4. Later in the series, Betty convinces Archie to have a birthday party for Jughead because he doesn’t care about his birthday and never even had a party. Cheryl, back to feuding with the others, crashes the party and turns it into a kegger. When you compare the behavior of the “kids” with the parents – a central question emerges: Will these young characters repeat the mistakes of their parents? Will they be ruled by the same prejudices, the same hatreds, the same jealousies, and the same assumptions? Or will our characters be better? And in season one, for the most part they seem to be better.

The cinematography in this series is incredible. The series starts in Summer, the Fourth of July, with everything lit in a warm, golden glow. It proceeds through Fall – with mist and haze, then in to Winter. Perhaps accidentally, perhaps not, but the changing of seasons perfectly reflects the series’ slide into darkness as more and more secrets come to light. The use of red to indicate the influence of the rich Blossom family is striking throughout the series. The snow adds to the feeling of scenes, as does the mist and rain. This is one of the few television series I’ve ever seen in my life that looks like it actually takes place in the Upper Midwest (even in a fictional town), rather than on Hollywood backlots. And the cinematography is movie-worthy. This show CW can hold up to show just what they are capable of, because it shines.

Finally, the DVD box set includes deleted scenes for most episodes. Some of these deleted scenes are simply extra bits, probably cut for time. But there are a series of scenes between Veronica and her mother, Hermione, that changes their relationship – and not for the better. And there’s a scene between Jughead and his father, JP, that is just fantastic. That scene also sheds light on a seemingly bad decision Jughead makes in the final episode (he’s between a rock and a hard place – so his decision also makes sense for the character, if not being the best thing he could do). Between the scenes with Hermoine and the scene with Jughead – it seems to be setting-up season 2, something I am eager to see.

The question of who killed Jason is revealed in episode 12. But where in most series, the following episode (and last of the season) would merely be a chance for the characters to catch their breath, the screenwriters to wrap-up loose ends, and the series to be reset for the next season – Riverdale takes a darker path. Episode 13 sees fallout of the revelation of the murderer that feels real, but scary. It also sees major changes for the characters, especially for Jughead. There are events in the last episode of the season that will no doubt lead directly to Season 2, and I’m not just talking about the shocking twist at the end of the episode.

I highly, highly recommend watching Riverdale. It wasn’t just hype that made this show one of the most talked about series introduced last year. If some of the teen-aged hijinks at the start of the season bother you, stick with it. I initially wondered why Archie was introduced in such an essentially negative way – but having re-watched the entire thing, I realized it was actually a method to introduce a character that on paper could be considered perfect: captain of the football team, musician, popular, ladies man, but also friends with the “unpopular” kids at school – gods, Archie Andrews could have been the most boring “Marty Sue” character on TV. So, starting with showing him having a fault? That makes the character more interesting. It also serves plot purposes, and shows his honesty beyond his issues with women (Archie manages to have a relationship with every girl at his school anyway). Oh and Betchel Test? This show smashes it wide open. Does it count as “talking about a man” if the guy in question is dead and the women are trying to solve his murder? Riverdale is a must-watch, and I give it 5 out of 5 stars. Again, highly, highly recommended.

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Non-Fiction Book Review – The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

  • Title: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who
  • Author: Marc Schuster
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/11/2015

I so wanted to like this book. I started reading it awhile ago, then put it down. I finally picked it up again, started from the beginning again, and re-read it. It was a real struggle – and any book that’s a struggle to read is unsuccessful. By struggle, I don’t mean that the language or concepts were difficult – nor do I mean it was boring. It was, well, I guess, the best word is – annoying. Like being stuck talking to a know-it-all arrogant buffoon at a party is annoying.

This book was more of an attempt by the authors to show off their knowledge of different academic disciplines, than an analysis of Doctor Who. The authors really didn’t seem to understand Doctor Who at all, they insulted the show’s fans, and they didn’t cover various academic disciplines well either. The insistence on describing Doctor Who as a kitchy, camp, silly show – doesn’t really sound like a fan pov. And it describes only one season really of the program, that of Gareth Williams (exec producer of Tom Baker’s second-to-last season), a showrunner who was so bad he was replaced after only one season, when, in general, most Doctor Who producers lasted three years or longer. Williams was the producer responsible for stories such as: “Underworld”, “Creature from the Pit”, “Nightmare of Eden”. When I tell you that the authors of this book found “Underworld” to be the peak of the show – if you’re a fan, you’ll understand why I have issues with this book.

One of the main problems with the text is that the author’s never once, in their arrogance, jingoism, and cultural imperialism, ever consider that Doctor Who is a British show. Yes, they mention that – but they never consider it. When analyzing “Carnival of Monsters” and “Kinda” the word “Colonialism” pretty much never comes up. Yet both stories are obviously criticizing British Colonialism. Doctor Who has never hesitated to present stories that get one to think about one’s own cultural bias’. For example, the character of the Brigadier, initially was presented as a negative character – not evil, but someone who’d follow orders without thinking – no matter the consequences, and the embodiment of British colonial attitudes towards others. That the Brigadier also became one of the most popular characters was due to the actor’s brilliant performance, and that the character learned from the Doctor and eventually stopped shooting first and asking questions later. Compare the Doctor’s relationship with the Brigadier in “Doctor Who and the Silurians” verses “Remembrance of the Daleks” for example.

“Kinda” is a story where the Galactic Empire has landed on the planet Deva Loka – and the colonials immediately assume the natives are “primitive” – only to discover, to their shock and surprise, that the natives of the planet are much more sophisticated than the colonials from Earth. But then, that story is densely packed with a lot to analyze – and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy does get into some of it – but ignoring the obvious references to the destructive nature of colonialism, does the story a huge disservice.

Throughout this book, the fans of Doctor Who are portrayed as geeky, unattractive, obsessive fanboys – who will never be successful (or get laid, to be blunt). That a book that sounds like a celebration of the show addresses the fans with “get a life” so to speak, is, well, insulting. In fact, many of the fans of Doctor Who ending up writing for the Doctor Who lines of original novels or comics, and then working in the television or comic book industries professionally. Among the fans of the show who are now professionals: Russell T. Davies (who brought the show back in 2005), Paul Cornell (who has published original modern fantasy novels, written for the new series, and wrote several original Doctor Who novels), Tony Lee (professional comic book author), Peter Anghelides (professional author), Mark Gatiss (actor, television writer, and television producer), etc. That’s just off the top of my head – there are many more.

It is also of note that the academic analysis also isn’t that great – the psychology chapter, for example, focuses almost solely on Freud, the largely debunked Victorian – with no mention of Adler, Jung, or Maslow. And Doctor Who, is filled with Jungian archetypes, some episodes more than others.

The chapter on linguistics fails to mention the debate of linguistic relativity (the idea that without having a word for something one cannot have an idea for something; though it does become a chicken-an-egg argument: Which comes first? The word, or the idea?); neither are Dell Hymes, Frank Boas, Edward Sapir, or even Noam Chomsky.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed with this book, and I do not recommend it.

Book Review – The Map of Time

  • Title: The Map of Time
  • Author: Félix de Palma; Translated by: Nick Caistor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/26/2012

This was the best novel I read in 2011 (I read the e-book edition). I enjoyed it because it almost parodies the classic British novels that I love so much. But it also reads like a Victorian early SF novel (think Wells or Verne) and, indeed, HG Wells is one of the characters in the book. The novel has three distinct parts, and it really heats up at the end when you realize exactly what is going on (I’d love to read a sequel or another book in the series but with new characters). My e-copy was bundled with a copyright-free copy of The Time Machine by HG Wells (which I didn’t really need because I’ve read it before and own copies in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats).

The novel involves a time travel con game, HG Wells, real time travelers, and Jack-the-Ripper. I know that sounds like a lot — but it pulls it off. I cannot recommend this enough – five stars!

Update: There are two sequels planned for this novel. I have the first one, The Map of the Stars.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Twitter Who vol. 3: The Third Doctor

  • Title: Twitter Who vol. 3: The Third Doctor
  • Author: Hannah J. Rothman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/18/2016

Hannah J. Rothman’s Twitter Who series is a joy to read. I read volume 3 last weekend, but unfortunately this week was so busy this is the first time I’ve had to sit down and review it.

Hannah’s project is to watch all of Classic Who and “live-Tweet” her reactions. The “live-Tweets” are then collected for each story, similar to a log of live-Tweeting session. In volume three, although the stories are presented in order, it’s evident from the dates for each collection of Tweets that the stories were not watched in order. However, that isn’t a negative. This book is even more fun and amusing, well-crafted and insightful than the previous two volumes. I enjoyed it very much.

I also found myself in complete agreement over Hannah’s opinions of Pertwee’s companions – all of whom she liked for different reasons, including one of my personal favorite companions: Jo Grant. I’ve always liked Jo, and for years Doctor Who fandom as a whole has been dismissive of her character – writing her off as a ditz and a screamer. However, Jo is quite capable, and she’s fiercely loyal to the Doctor. Jo grows during her time as a companion – something I always appreciate in any television character, where there’s time for a character to grow. But then, the first story I saw with Jo was “Frontier in Space” and she basically kicks butt in that, resisting the Master’s hypotism, rescuing the Doctor, even caring for an injured Doctor (which carries over to the next story, “Planet of the Daleks” where she leaves the safety of the TARDIS on an alien, hostile planet to find help for the Doctor). Anyway, Jo has inner strength. It was nice to read another Whovian who appreciates Ms. Grant. And the author, Hannah Rothman, also doesn’t fall in the trap of insulting or putting down Pertwee’s other companions. She rightly points out just how liberated and special Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw is – and that it was the production team at fault for not knowing what to do with a character as clever as the Doctor. And then there’s Sarah Jane, whom everyone loves.

The Pertwee Era, for all it’s “UNIT Boys” and James Bond-like emphasis on action, vehicle chases, gadgets, and even fancy dress costumes – had great female companions.

Twitter Who is a fast read, but it is well worth it. I recommend it and look forward to future volumes in the series.

Non-Fiction Book Review – Twitter Who vol. 2: The Second Doctor

  • Title: Twitter Who vol. 2: The Second Doctor
  • Author: Hannah J. Rothman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/06/2014

Rothman’s second volume follows the same format as the first, each Patrick Troughton Doctor Who story, including reconstructions of the missing ones is reviewed in Twitter posts, with several posts per story gathered together into a single blog post. So, again, it’s like reading a transcript of a live tweeting event. In this volume, the discussions of the individual stories are longer. However, it’s still a very fun, enjoyable, light, funny, and a quick read. I enjoyed it very much and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Twitter Who, Vol. 2 – The Second Doctor is highly recommended, especially to fans of the world’s longest-running Science Fiction television series, Doctor Who. The format is also unique to the deluge of non-fiction books about Doctor Who especially since the 50th anniversary last year.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Pyralis Effect

  • Title: The Pyralis Effect
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Author: George Mann
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Romana II, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Lalla Ward, Jess Robinson
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/23/2017

**Spoiler Alert** I usually really enjoy listening to Big Finish’s audio plays and the Companion Chronicles is one of my favorite lines, especially as the stories are told from the companion’s point-of-view, and they are often like Missing Adventures that would be impossible to do otherwise. However, The Pyralis Effect is very flat. Lalla Ward pretty much just reads the story, which seems to often have her cowering in a corner, ready to scream at a monster.

The plot has the TARDIS land on a huge spaceship. The Doctor and Romana II immediately go out exploring. The ship seems deserted. They find a control room with a growth chamber – and get separated as the Doctor wanders off. Romana of course gets herself lost, but hears a whimpering from a locked room. She opens the door and releases CAIN – an insane AI with a malfunctioning fungal brain. This catches the attention of the few people aboard the colony ship. Romana finds out that the ship is the Myriad, a colony ship, that left it’s home planet after a series of environmental disasters destroyed it. The planet’s people are held in a DNA bank, and the ship contains cloning equipment – once they find a new home, or return to their original one when it’s habitable, the colonists will be grown and start life anew. But for now, the ship has a very small crew and they seek The Doctor, a legendary and even mythic figure who helped their planet once before.

Romana and the Doctor are soon on the bridge, as the captain has sent three crew members to a nearby moon to investigate a strange obelisk they think might actually belong to the Doctor.

As Romana watches, she suddenly realizes that she recognizes the obelisk. It’s the gate to a dimensionally transcedental gateway – a prison, created by the Time Lords, to hold the Pyralis – fierce, conquering, beings of light, parasites that once threatened the entire galaxy, before being defeated by the Time Lords in a war. Romana rushes to stop Suri, the captain, but she is too late. The gate is opened, the entire moon implodes, a rift is born in space, and the Pyralis released. On the ship, one by one the crew is killed. At first, suspicion falls on the Doctor and Romana. When the second murder occurs while the two are locked up – suspicion falls on CAIN, the AI, whom Romana had accidentally released. Eventually, Romana figures out who the real murderer is – but not before nearly the entire crew is dead.

To finally defeat the Pyralis, the rift must be closed again. One of Suri’s few remaining crew sacrifices himself to close the rift (he was dying anyway). He’s successful. Before leaving, the Doctor gives Captain Suri the co-ordinates of a new planet where she can take the Myriad, and start her civilization anew. But he denies being The Doctor of their stories, and tells Suri she should forget about myth.

This story is pretty flat. Lalla Ward reads the story, rather than performing it. The story itself could have been an atmospheric English Manor House Mystery in Space (similar to the aired story, “Robots of Death”) but it misses the mark. The interesting concept of the Doctor dealing with the fallout of his actions to save a civilization – centuries later, and how that civilization now sees him is completely wasted, as the Doctor simply denies that he was the Doctor who saved Suri’s people before – calling such stories, “myth and poppycock”. Even though this is Romana’s story, she’s often portrayed not as strong and clever but screaming in corners, and simply pushed along by the plot.

Overall, the story is OK, but only a 3 out of 5, and a bit disappointing. There are much better stories in this range of Big Finish audios.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Pyralis Effect on CD or Download.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!

Non-Fiction Book Review – Twitter Who vol. 1: The First Doctor

  • Title: Twitter Who vol. 1: The First Doctor
  • Author: Hannah J. Rothman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/02/2014

Another “Why didn’t I think of that?” Doctor Who book, but in this case I absolutely loved it. This is not a “summarize every story in only 140 characters” book. Rather, each story is reacted to in a series of 140-character posts that together form a single blog post. So, in effect, it’s like reading a transcript of a live-tweeting event. The book is fun, witty, and full of squeee – but that’s a good thing. Occasionally, I had trouble deciphering some of the slang and abbreviations – but I still really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.

The author, Hannah J. Rothman, was both after the original series left our screens in 1989, liked New Who, and then started watching Classic Who and loved it. As a Classic Who fan – I just think that’s so cool! And it flies in the face of conventional “wisdom” that New Who fans can’t watch the original series, or that they won’t enjoy it. Hah! Hannah’s reviews are enthusiastic, bright, funny, and darn it but I now really want to re-watch all of my William Hartnell (the First Doctor) DVDs.

I had just a couple of quick comments: a dictionary in the back of slang and Twitter terms would have helped. It took me a while to get used to the author’s use of “One” to refer to The First Doctor – but considering this book was originally a Twitter account feed it makes sense – 3 characters verses 16 is quite a savings. And, yes, I did note the dates of the original blog posts, so I realise that the DVDs with animated reconstructions probably weren’t available in 2010, but it bothered me some that rather than reviewing the DVDs for episodes such as “The Reign of Terror” and “The Tenth Planet” which were released with the missing episode(s) reconstructed completely with animation and the original soundtrack, the author relied on telesnap reconstructions instead. On the other hand, though I’ve read several different summaries and reviews of missing stories – it was fun to read such a fresh, amusing, and at times deep, reaction to stories that I haven’t seen because they don’t exist and aren’t on DVD. I mean, the comments in Twitter Who just really give an idea of what the episodes were like, even the ones that aren’t available on DVD.