On The CW series Riverdale, from executive producers Greg Berlanti and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics), the new school year begins as the town is coming to grips with the tragic but mysterious death of high schooler Jason Blossom. Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) would prefer to pursue a career in music rather than follow in his dad Fred’s (Luke Perry) footsteps, while girl-next-door Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) is deciding whether to continue to keep her crush on her best friend and neighbor a secret. Throw in new student, Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), a curious Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) and Queen Bee Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), who is happy to stir up trouble, and secrets are bound to surface.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa talked about what it means to him to get to bring the Archie Comics characters to life, in this way, the evolution from coming of age movie to a darker TV series, why they needed a dead body, the perfect casting, which character dynamics will be most surprising, and the format they’re looking to follow in future seasons. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: What does it mean to you to not only be the Chief Creative Officer of the Archie brand, but also to have the responsibility of this being the first exposure that a whole new audience will have to this world?
ROBERTO AGUIRRE-SACASA: I do feel that, but I’m not thinking about that 24/7, or else I’d be paralyzed. Listen, I love these characters. No one is more protective of them than me. I made it my personal mission and said to Jon Goldwater, the Head of Archie Comics, “I believe I was put on this earth to help you bring these characters to three-dimensional life.” It’s truly been a dream come true. I’ve worked with Greg Berlanti for a couple of years, and he’s always said, “The first show you create and run should always be the show that’s closest to you and that you’re obsessed with because it will define you. You’re going to go on and do other things, Roberto, but it’s so perfect that your first show is Riverdale because it’s so your sensibility, you love these characters, and you work your ass off on it.” And he was right, when he said that. They’ve been such an obsession for me, my entire life, that to be the guardian of them, for a few years, is a huge honor and a responsibility that I do not take lightly.
Because this is a different version of this world than people familiar with Archie are used to, what was the process for deciding what this show would be and could be? How much did you want to live up to the expectations that people have, and how much did you want it to be something completely fresh and new?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: Honestly, it was a little bit of trial and error. Originally, we were just going to do a straight coming of age, slice of life show. And before that, we were actually going to do it as a movie. We went out and pitched an Archie movie, and people really responded to the characters. They really loved the characters, but studios were wary because gone are the days of John Hughes. Big studios make big movies, and what we were pitching was a small character movie about first love and first kisses. The first big shift that happened was realizing that it’s not a movie, it’s a TV show. And then, when we took up the TV show, it was again a slice of life, coming of age show, like My So-Called Life or Freaks and Geeks. Again, people really loved these characters and really wanted to get in business with Archie and make the show, but everyone felt like, as much as people loved Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life, those shows only lasted a year. The way TV has shifted, over the last five years, may not support that kind of show anymore.
Greg Berlanti is the one who first said, “I think you’re gonna need a dead body. I think you’re gonna need some kind of hook, or some kind of genre element that will hook the viewers.” That gave me the permission to explore darker themes. The story really is a loss of innocence story. I thought of the coming of age movies that I really liked, like Stand by Me, which is about four friends who go see a dead body, or River’s Edge, the Keanu Reeves movie where he’s a high school student and his group of friends all know there’s a dead body by the river’s edge. Those were coming of age movies, and I, Roberto, probably liked them more than the John Hughes movies. I loved the John Hughes movies, but those were closer to my sensibilities than the others were. So, I thought, “What would a coming of age story be like, if David Lynch made it, or if Stephen King wrote it? And how could we take these characters and test them?” The show Riverdale is what we arrived at. It’s a show that’s the Archie comics, pop and aspirational, but also darker, mysterious and moodier, and like a David Lynch movie, like Blue Velvet.
The casting for this show is awesome. Aside from finding actors that perfectly fit the Archie characters, you also have my teenage dream cast, with the actors playing the parents. What’s it like to have this amazing cast, and were you worried you wouldn’t find them?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: I was petrified. We spent six months looking for the cast. Archie was literally the last kid we cast. You read about projects that fall apart because the right actors don’t reveal themselves. In the dark part of my soul, I was like, “We’re not going to find an Archie. We’re not going to do this TV show.” And then, KJ [Apa] arrived and we were like, “Yep, we’ve got an Archie! We have a show!” We have Luke [Perry], Madchen [Amick] and Marisol [Nichols] play the three main parents, Robin Givens is the mayor and Josie’s mom, who you’ll get to know more, and Skeet Ulrich, who you’ll get to know more. The show would not work without them. It’s very hard, on shows like this, to cut to the grown-ups. It’s much easier to cut to the grown-ups when it’s Luke Perry, Skeet Ulrich, Madchen Amick and Marisol Nichols. It’s much easier to imagine those stories with them. They are luxury casting. I now have reached a point in my life where I associate more with the parents than I do with the kids. It’s a real testament to the casting director and to the care everyone took to find this group of people.
We get to see a bit different version of the Archie characters in this. The Archie-Betty-Veronica triangle is different from what we’re used to, the Betty-Veronica dynamic is different, and the Archie-Jughead relationship is different. Which of these character relationships do you think will most surprise people?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: I think people really love the idea that Betty and Veronica are true friends and not frenemies. And when we go a little bit deeper into the season, Archie and Jughead’s friendship is really terrific, and weirdly not something we see a lot of, or at least I haven’t. And then, I think Fred (Luke Perry) and Archie have a great relationship. It’s one of the pillars of the show.
How far ahead have you thought about and talked about where things are headed? Do you have a good idea for what Season 2 would be, and have you talked even further down the road than that?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: We definitely have started conversations about Season 2. It won’t be a reset, completely. Obviously, the show is serialized. It’s not a mini-series, or anything. There will always be a mystery/noir/crime aspect to it. It won’t always necessarily be a murder mystery, but it might be.
If this version of Riverdale were a real place and someone asked you whether or not they should move to town, what would you tell them? Would you encourage them to move there, or would you tell them to stay away?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: I love everything about the show, so I’d say move! I’d move into the glamorous Pembrooke Apartments, though. That’s where I’d go. I’d like to be there with the Lodges.
Riverdale airs on Thursday nights on The CW.