Riverdale revamped: The long-running comic book series gets a live-action facelift

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Jacqueline Spendlove / TV Media
Marisol Nichols and Camila Mendes in a scene from "Riverdale"

Marisol Nichols and Camila Mendes in a scene from "Riverdale"

Step aside, superheroes! A different type of comic book character is coming to prime time, and if you live and breathe, chances are you're familiar with him.

Remember Archie? That wholesome, redheaded, jalopy-driving, love-triangle nexus who's been around since before our parents were alive? (My parents, anyway.) He's finally coming to television in the first live-action series centered on him and his posse in their hometown of Riverdale.

Gone, however, are the bow ties, sweater vests and brogues -- even the checkerboards on the sides of his head are a thing of the past. Expect a much more hip and modern version of Archie and his high school cronies -- and a much darker story to boot -- when "Riverdale" premieres Thursday, Jan. 26, on CW.

Archie made his first appearance in a 1941 issue of Pep Comics, a comic book anthology series. The following year, the first official issue of "Archie Comics" was published, and the ongoing series delivered story after goofy story for nearly 75 years. Immediately after publication wrapped in 2015, a reboot series was launched, featuring the same characters but with a notably updated design and more mature storylines. This revamped version of Archie is closer to what is reflected in the new CW drama.

The subversive series is led by New Zealander K.J. Apa ("Shortland Street"), who landed the role of Archie Andrews after a four-month worldwide talent search. All the other "Archie Comics" notables are there, too, though their appearances and back stories might not be the ones you're familiar with. Archie's burger-scarfing best friend Jughead Jones is played by former child star Cole Sprouse ("The Suite Life of Zack and Cody"), all grown up now and -- yes, breathe easy -- wearing that quintessential weird Jughead hat. Newcomer Camila Mendes plays Veronica Lodge,  and Betty Cooper, the last point of the well-worn love triangle, is played by Lili Reinhart ("The Kings of Summer," 2013).

The series is a teen drama wrapped up in a murder mystery, and has drawn many comparisons to '90s crime serial "Twin Peaks." It opens with the characters entering their sophomore year at Riverdale High following the death of the town golden boy, Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines, "A Tragic Love Story," 2015). The twin brother of conniving redheaded bombshell Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch, "The Curse of Sleeping Beauty," 2016), Jason drowned in the river under mysterious circumstances, and the focus on the first season is: who killed Jason?

"It's definitely 'Archie,' but a little darker, a little more complex and a little weirder than you might remember from the digest you bought at the supermarket," executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told Entertainment Weekly at San Diego Comic-Con. "We're saying it's a little bit like 'Archie' meets 'Twin Peaks.'"

Madelaine Petsch as seen in "Riverdale"

Madelaine Petsch as seen in "Riverdale"

The secondary mystery in the first season is who is Veronica Lodge? In the comics, the spoiled, rich brunette is Betty's best frenemy and Archie's primary love interest, but the TV series sees her returning to her mother Hermione's (Marisol Nichols, "24") home town of Riverdale from the big city, hoping to reinvent herself following a scandal involving her father. As in the comics, there's a definite spark between her and Archie, but more important to her is her new friendship with Betty, who has long held a candle for Archie herself.

As for Archie, he's dealing with his own parcel of teen angst. He and Jughead, far from the unshakable pair we know and love, have suffered a falling out that's left a major rift between them. The leading man is also dealing with the sudden end of his taboo relationship with his music teacher, Ms. Grundy (Sarah Habel, "Whip It," 2009) -- who, before your eyes pop out of your head, is way younger and hotter than the grey-haired matron of the comic books.

Jughead, who's described as "a philosophically bent heartthrob," has a unique role as the main point-of-view character in the show. He's the sleuth and narrator in a Riverdale that we're seeing through a very film noir lens.

It may not sound exactly like the Riverdale you know and love, but don't be too quick to dismiss it. The cast and showrunners maintain that the town and characters will all still be recognizable to those who grew up reading "Archie Comics."

"It's something that feels new because it's live action, but we're still basing these characters fundamentally and completely off the characters that have already existed," Sprouse assured IGN. "We don't want to do any injury to the long-lived, huge fans of these comics."

"It's being true to the characters from the comic books, and just putting them in darker situations and seeing how they respond," Aguirre-Sacasa added at Comic-Con.

Catch the premiere of "Riverdale" when it airs Thursday, Jan. 26, on CW.