The CW television network has lots of shows that appeal to teenagers — and its new show, Riverdale, tells the story of some teenagers who've been around for more than 75 years.
Yes, Riverdale is the latest incarnation of the all-American Archie comics. It premieres tonight, and it has none of the aw-shucks innocence of the original. This town is full of forbidden love, secrets, and murder.
Producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa tells NPR's Ari Shapiro that he grew up reading Archie. "When I was really young, before comic book shops opened up as specialty shops, I would go to the 7-11, and off the spinning rack I would buy comic books," he says. "Superhero, horror comic books and Archie comic books."
On his childhood obsession with the Archie characters
At the time, it was because I really wanted to be friends with these kids, and kind of the older I got ... it became very in vogue for comic book superheroes, especially, to be really dark and brooding. There was something again about the Archie characters that was inherently innocent, inherently optimistic and comforting. So I think that's why kind of they always had a warm spot in my heart.
On bringing these characters into a dark place
The guiding principle for us is that we maintain the absolute core of the characters from the comics, from the 75-year canon of Archie comics.
We take those archetypes ... and we put them in much more morally complex, adult, even criminal situations, and we see what they do.
The characters, when they were conceived, were so strong, they're such archetypes that ... you can throw a lot of stuff at them and the archetypes hold. There's something very flinty about the characters, something very steel-like, and that's what allows us to imagine these different scenarios.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The CW TV network has a lot of shows that appeal to teenagers. The new show "Riverdale" tells the story of some teenagers who have been around for more than 75 years.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RIVERDALE")
KEVIN KELLER: (As Casey Cott) Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) What?
KELLER: (As Casey Cott) Archie got hot. He's got abs now - six more reasons for you to take that Ginger bull by the horns tonight.
SHAPIRO: Archie is the famous redhead Archie Andrews. His best friends are Betty and Veronica. Yes, "Riverdale" is the latest incarnation of the all-American "Archie Comics." As you can tell from that clip, the show the premiered tonight has none of the aw-shucks innocence of the original. This town is full of forbidden love, secrets and murder.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RIVERDALE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Riverdale police dragged Sweetwater River for Jason's body, but never found it.
SHAPIRO: Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa is the chief creative officer for "Archie Comics" and a producer on the show. Welcome to the program.
ROBERTO AGUIRRE-SACASA: Nice to be here. Thank you.
SHAPIRO: I understand you grew up reading the "Archie Comics." Why were they so important to you as a kid?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: You know, when I was really young, before comic book shops opened up as specialty shops, I would go to the 7-Eleven and off the spinning rack, I would buy comic books - superhero, horror comic books. And I kind of a look back on that time a lot and try to analyze why I became so obsessed with these characters. And at the time, it was because I really wanted to be friends with these kids.
I went to kind of an all-boys prep school in Maryland, but my desire had been to go to a public school like Riverdale High and to be friends with people like Archie and Jughead and Betty and Veronica. And, you know, I kind of expressed this to my parents, and they were like, well, if you go to a public school in D.C., it's probably not going to be like Riverdale High.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Maybe it'll be more like the Riverdale of the CW, which is much more racially diverse than the Riverdale of the original "Archie Comics."
AGUIRRE-SACASA: Exactly, exactly. And kind of the older I got, you know, it was sort of - it became very in vogue for comic book superheroes, especially, to be really dark and brooding. There was something, again, about the "Archie" characters that was inherently optimistic, inherently innocent and comforting. So I think that's why kind of they always had a warm spot in my heart.
SHAPIRO: OK. So how do you strike the balance between, on the one hand wanting to maintain the innocence, the joy, the love that people feel for these sort of all-American characters and, on the other hand, wanting to bring it into this dark place of sex and murder.
AGUIRRE-SACASA: Kind of the guiding principle for us is that we maintain the absolute core of the characters from the comics - from, you know, the 75-year canon of "Archie Comics."
SHAPIRO: So Betty is sort of the sweet, blonde girl next door. Veronica remains the kind of spoiled, entitled rich girl. Jughead is always the outsider.
AGUIRRE-SACASA: Yeah, and Archie is sort of, like, a good kid who always tries to do the right thing and help his friends, kind of screws up, but then his - ultimately comes through. And we take those archetypes, exactly as you just said. And we put them in much more morally complex, adult, even criminal situations, and we see what they do.
SHAPIRO: So I'm imagining a young Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the child of a Nicaraguan diplomat, living in Washington, D.C., reading this pretty lily-white comic book. And you've now created a show where Josie and the Pussycats are black. There's an openly gay character. Veronica's Latina. And yet, at least in the first four episodes that were made available to us, race and diversity are not plot themes.
AGUIRRE-SACASA: You know, I think it's a little bit more about class, and we definitely play the right and the wrong side of the tracks. We definitely play characters who are affluent and some characters who are really, really struggling. Their parents are struggling financially. They're struggling financially.
SHAPIRO: Archie just celebrated his 75th birthday last year, and for a while, it seemed like the comics were becoming less and less relevant. Does the fact that Archie was sort of persona non grata for a few decades mean that you were able to do some of these crazy things that you wouldn't have been able to do if it remained this cherished property sitting on a high mountain that nobody could touch?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: Well, there definitely had to be people in charge of Archie who were willing to take risks. The other thing that really allows us to take these different takes - the noir crime take of Riverdale - is that the characters, when they were conceived, were so strong. They're such archetypes that they really can carry - you can throw a lot of stuff at them, and the archetypes hold. There was something - there's something very flinty about the character, something very steel-like, and I think that's what allows us to imagine these different scenarios.
SHAPIRO: Well, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, thanks so much for talking with us about your new show "Riverdale."
AGUIRRE-SACASA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.