Exit Only: Archie – To Riverdale and Back Again
“Exit Only” is a (hopefully) regular feature article that examines backdoor pilots, made-for-tv movies that were made as way to launch a new series. Sometimes they work but most of the time they don’t.
The year was 1990. The world had already been taken over by Tetris on the GameBoy, people still gave business to Blockbuster Video, and we were asking MC Hammer to not hurt anyone. That same year NBC aired Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again, based upon the Archie comics published by Archie Comics, practically an American tradition for the previous fifty years.
I remember seeing the commercials for this before it aired. I expressed interest in seeing it and my mother shot down that idea, saying that it probably wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. She was probably saying that due to the shot of Veronica in lingerie trying to seduce Archie. Little did she know that for my younger self that is exactly the reason I wanted to see it. Over twenty years later, I decided to disobey my mother and watch it. I’ve come to the conclusion that she, just like any mother, was just trying to protect her young.
The basic premise is that those perpetual teenagers, the Riverdale gang that we all grew up with are now grownups dealing with grown up problems with all the flair and seriousness you would expect from an early 90’s dramady. Everyone has gone their separate ways since high school and are about to be rejoined for a high school reunion. Archie is now a lawyer and engaged to another lawyer and about to make the move to the big city. Jughead is a physiatrist, divorced, and has a teen son that he can’t relate to. Betty is the grade school teacher I always wished I had. She had an asshole boyfriend and is Lauren Holly. Veronica had been living in Paris and has been married and divorced four times. Reggie manages the biggest business chain one can have in 1990 next to selling pagers, a gym, and is working for Mr. Lodge. Oh, and he’s still a dick.
The pilot really plays out like an Archie comic, in that things happen, there’s a resolution, and at the end it’s like nothing really happened to begin with, which is what I imagine the show would have been like. So it has been about fifteen years since graduation and when Archie meets the brunette and blonde again all those old feelings come back to all three of them. Since Archie and Betty are in relationships they choose not to act upon it. But Veronica does and eventually Betty does too, so I should probably just delete that last sentence. This time they both use a tactic that they never though during their days of raging hormones: lingerie, showers, and the possibly of a happy ending.
One of the main conflicts here is that Reggie is trying to evict Pop Tate which would put the Chock’lit Shoppe out of business. Mr. Lodge wants it to be another gym, even though Riverdale probably has maybe double the population of Smallvile and two would most likely be enough. Lawyer Archie takes the case for Pop and tries to save the Shoppe (he does).
I’ve read some Archie Comics in my youth and I can tell you there is one thing I never really saw in those books that they decided to add here and that would be attempted murder. See, Mr. Lodge gets Smithers, his butler, to stop Archie from winning the case. Evidently, Smithers interprets that as meaning to use a gift-wrapped bomb. Earlier he cuts Archie’s brake line. Once Archie figures out his car has an issue with stoppage, in fantastic 90’s fashion, him and Jughead look at each other and say “Oh no!” But they survive and the movie continues.
You know what is great about the early ‘90s? Rap. It seems so easy. Anybody can probably do it, right? But let’s flashback to 1969, a song called “Sugar, Sugar” climbed the charts to be one of the number one hits of that year. That song was released by a band called The Archies, which is a fictional band that’s these five fictional characters where a part of. We have all heard the song. I bring it up because Jughead performs a rap version of this song with his son to try to help him get to second bases. It’s as awkward as it sounds…and just as catchy. I may work it in somehow when I renew by wedding vows.
Later there is a school reunion dance (naturally) and everyone at the school wants The Archies to reunite one last time and play a song. Remember that this band is comprised of Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, and Reggie…who everyone hates because he is trying to take Pop’s shop away from him. Reggie still has the balls to jump on stage, saying something like “Not without me, you don’t” and they all play a crappy little song just like the good old days and the crowd cheers. No boos for Reggie. Moose doesn’t threaten him to leave and never come back.
If that’s not the kicker, at the end on the movie, once the Chock’lit Shoppe is safe and Archie and the gang agree to stay in Riverdale, Reggie just strolls right up to them with his tail between his legs and hands in his pockets and says “Ah shucks. Sorry about trying to tear down the one place in the town to holds just about all of our best childhood memories. Can you forgive me?” And they do without any hesitation at all.
Yes, this did not do well in the ratings. If it was to continue it probably would have looked like a weird cross between Perfect Strangers and 90210. The title could be a little misleading since they do go back to Riverdale but then do not return to where they come from. When it was released to video it was retitled Archie: Return to Riverdale. Much better.
I think a show like this could work but more so today than back then. With the quality of today’s scripted television and the boom of comic book properties in all mediums it really could be a success in the right hands. Of course they would never solve the great mystery of who Archie ends up with. It’s probably the oldest and best ask question is comic history, one that has such weight to it that when Archie married one of them in the comics, he ended up marrying both, one in each parallel universe. In fact that could be your series. Base it on the Life with Archie series that is currently being printed. Maybe on Tuesdays you get episodes where he marries Betty and on Thursdays are the ones where he married Veronica and each could be a thirty minute episode. You could follow both or just one. If you did follow both then it would be fun to see how much life would be different for everyone just like the books. They split Batman into two nights a week in the ‘60’s and that worked fine.
And that’s how I was able to put a Batman reference in the article.