Riverdale – A Review in Retrospect

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Of late, I’ve been very into murder mystery TV series.  I just finished binge watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries  and Murdoch Mysteries on Netflix, so I didn’t imagine that I had room for another anachronistic mystery series in my life.  Growing up, I had a passing knowledge of Archie comics, but they weren’t really my thing.  I hadn’t felt an overwhelming need to check it out until I saw the early positive reviews for the show and I decided to give it a shot.  These are my thoughts after seeing Riverdale:

If TV Tropes was a show, this would be it.

From the start, the show makes tongue-in-cheek references to TV teen drama tropes as characters make jokes about how everyone had magically transformed into hot teenagers over the summer, unrequited teenage love is explored via spin the bottle, and that girls kissing was last controversial in 1994.   Riverdale clearly knows it’s in charted territory and is willing to embrace it, which is kind of refreshing.

The first scenes are a throwback to that of Twin Peaks, opening with the mysterious death of a prominent citizen’s teenage son in a small town full of dark secrets.  The mystery is reminiscent of Lois Duncan novels, where the teenagers know more than they’re willing to let the adults know, and the shenanigans are about to commence.

The major players are laid out plainly from the start – Archie is the tortured jock/musician, Betty is the classic girl next door and her gay best friend is Kevin, with Veronica as the new girl in town causing a stir.  While none were close to the deceased, his death is a stand in for the end of their lives as they were.  Betty takes a risk to tell Archie that she’s in love with him, but he’s too caught up on the arrival of Veronica and trying to figure out his life choices to return the sentiment, splitting the lifelong friends apart.  At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that the lurking background character Jughead was once Archie’s best friend as well, but for some reason they’re no longer close.  Usually, it takes at least a dozen episodes for a teen drama to play out to this point of big reveals.  The pilot manages to have the whole tangled mess unfold in less than 45 minutes.  This sort of plot pacing works for a feature film, but the show will likely spend its entire first season trying to overcompensate for it.

Overall, the series is off to a fairly strong start.  The actors have good chemistry and there’s enough room to build in plot twists that could undermine the seemingly straightforward whodunit aspect of the murder.  It’s enough to make me tune in for next week’s edition anyway.

Photo credit: IMDb

The Big 1,000

Whoa, it’s been a year since I wrote on WordPress. Well, it’s because I was busy with grad school and work stuff. But let’s kick this return off!

I never really kept track of how many books I’ve read over the last quarter of a century I’ve been around. Reading has always been a regular habit with me, like breathing, so I never thought to actually count how many books I’d read over my lifetime. While I suspected it was a large number, it wasn’t until I finally started a GoodReads account this year that I realized just how many. My current GoodReads number is in the 800 ballpark, but the thing is, I’m not done backlogging the books I’ve read and I know there are a large number of books I’m not remembering off the top of my head (I’m kind of caught between if I want to root through physical/online/GR collections for missing books I didn’t tag or just letting it go at the current stat). Plus, books I’ve read that aren’t “officially published” but posted online is somewhere in the range of ~200 if my collection of links and tags is up to scratch. So, all things considered, I might have hit the 1,000 mark somewhere late last year or early this year.

The craziest thing is trying to wrap my head around it… 1,000 books?! ONE THOUSAND BOOKS. WTF?

My friends and family rolled eyes at my announcement, to them that was hardly a surprising turn of events. They asked if I was out of stuff to read and were offering suggestions, but the truth is that I don’t feel like I’ve read all the books I’ve set out to read. There are tons of books still on my to-read list (i.e. A Song of Fire and Ice, Mistborn, Wheel of Time, etc.). But now every book read will feel anti-climatic.

At the end of the day what does this number mean to me? I never cared before about how much I read and thought about my reading in terms of numbers. Maybe I’ll just work to 5,000 from here? I doubt I’ll be reading as much as I do now when other life factors come into play. But I did manage to read 1,000 books in about a quarter of a century, and considering I couldn’t read for the first three years, I’d say that’s not too shabby.

When It’s Done Right

Here is a rare gem indeed – I’m going to rant about a historical romance done right.

The characters are multi-dimensional, humanistic rather than characteristic, and there’s a level of genuine drama, not melodrama lingering between them.  Connie Brockway has been on my radar since last year, but I hadn’t touched her McClairen family series until now.

The trilogy is formulated around the three Merrick silbings, whose tragic family history haunts them and their truly villainous father Lord Carr is at the heart of it.  This hearkens back to my theory that a hero is only as good as his/her villain, and Lord Carr is the exact scheming, mad and cunning evil genius that keeps the heroes on their toes.  He isn’t the usual caricature Jafar villain of historical romances, he’s actually got his hands all over the pot and proves difficult for his children and their respective spouses to combat.  His greedy motivations and deft ability to play the role of wolf in sheep’s clothing puts him in a league above 98% of the other historical villains I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of those).

The stories unfold like a chess match.  It is a true battle of wits in order to survive, and the Merrick children pull it off in such a smart and heart-felt way.  Though they love, Brockway makes it natural and subtle rather than large pronouncements and obnoxious repeats of how in love they are.  No crying around virginity being the exaltation of being, though there are female virgins.  And Brockway knows how to conduct romantic tension like it’s the New York Philharmonic. She takes time to develop the plot and the romance together, rather than tacking on a plot to the romantic plot.

Elements of foreshadowing and Gothic flair add to this series.  The conclusion is befitting, though rushed it works.  While there are some weak points, I find that this has to be one of the best romances I’ve come across and it deserves way more credit than it has.

Reviews, reviews, reviews…

We’ve all been led astray by resounding numbers of 5 star reviews of a book, only to discover our own marks would be closer to 2 or 3 stars, or a rarer occasion of upping a 2 to a 4.  That’s a large reason why I take reviews with a boulder of salt, sometimes the book is positioned incorrectly for its genre and people have a knee-jerk reaction to take away stars for that or they see the story with rose colored glasses since it fulfills a specific fantasy they have.

There’s another way I judge reviews to figure out if I’ll try the book or not — how articulate are the most highly ranked reviews?  Sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have customers vote for the best reviews to make it to the top of the reviews, so it gives a sense of whether the there’s a flood of disingenuous 5 stars when most people feel it’s closer to 2.  I use those reviews to determine what kind of writing people that read the book like — if the top review is articulate, precise and well-written, I’m more likely to give it a try than a review that was written clumsily.  This isn’t fool proof of course, because sometimes a story just doesn’t strike the right chords with you, or there aren’t enough reviews (I’d say as long as there is at least one extremely low and one fairly high, along with three others, this method works well enough).

So I secretly judge writers by their readers.  It’s been a pretty effective method so far, so I’ll keep using it.