Riverdale: Inside the show's darker, sexier season 2

September 22, 2017   |   Written by Tim Stack

We’re 98 percent sure that Archie Andrews was never offered a bump of cocaine in the original comic. But then again, Riverdale is not your granny’s Archie. It’s a cloudy and humid day on the Vancouver set of The CW’s edgy reboot of the classic franchise and America’s favorite redheaded quarterback, true to his apple pie roots, is just saying no. Archie (KJ Apa) and girlfriend Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) have just arrived back at the Lodge home with her old flame Nick St. Clair (The Good Wife’s Graham Phillips). Nick’s a bad boy from New York (is there any other kind?), and he’s in the mood for a little “dessert.” Veronica also rejects the powder. Quips Nick, “Veronica Lodge, turning down a bump? What a brave new world it is.”

Sex. Drugs. Murder. Wig rooms. All of these elements have helped transform the sleepy town of Riverdale into a whole new world for fans of the wholesome comics. In this Twin Peaks-meets-Gossip Girl soap, Archie, Veronica, Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), and their friends deal with typical teen drama, like torturing slut-shaming football players, finding out their parents have secret children (we’re lookin’ at you, Alice Cooper), and solving the murder ofa classmate. Conceived by Archie Comics chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who previously wrote for Glee, the series is a subversive, sexy take on the iconic characters that still maintains certain hallmarks (red hair! milkshakes! pep rallies! Jughead’s crown!). It’s that reverence for the original combined with a willingness to push the envelope that is the unique pleasure of Riverdale. “For every really sweet thing, Roberto has something really spicy,” explains EP Greg Berlanti. “For every nostalgic thing, he’s got something so contemporary and adult and scary.” Adds Aguirre-Sacasa, “I think it’s kind of caught between the dark and the light of Archie.”

The second season is definitely embracing the dark side. While Riverdale’s first episodes focused on the mystery surrounding the murder of high schooler Jason Blossom, season 2 is a completely new thriller in the vein of Scream. Showrunner Aguirre-Sacasa says the inspiration for this season comes from the classics. “One of my favorite movies is an Alfred Hitchcock movie, Shadow of a Doubt, which has often been described as Our Town with a killer on the loose,” he says. “This season is a little bit of an homage to that.” The hope is that the scares (and high body count) will not only please Riverdale’s already fervent fan base but be addictive enough to grow the series from solid success to bona fide hit. (Ratings for season 1 were respectable, averaging 1.7 million viewers per ep.) “The first three episodes of this are the strongest of a second season I’ve been a part of,” says Berlanti, a veteran producer of classics like Dawson’s Creek and Brothers & Sisters. “Tt’s got an incredible new mystery and a new hook, and I think it’s got more of everything that people love about the show.”

America was thiiis close to having Louis C.K. as Archie Andrews. In 2013 Aguirre-Sacasa had been in talks to develop a big-screen take on the comic book for Warner Bros. when things started going a little off track. “It just got crazy,” remembers Riverdale EP Sarah Schechter, who originally worked on the movie version. “There were, like, time portals. At one point one of my bosses said, ‘What about Louis C.K. for Archie?’ I called Roberto and said, ‘Don’t close the deal. Run away.’ Soon after I left [to run Berlanti Productions], one of the first calls was to Roberto to say, ‘Why don’t we do this as a TV show?”

But Archie and his goody-two-shoes gang still came across as a slightly dated franchise for modern audiences. Says Berlanti, “It’s Archie, so people needed to know, ‘Why is it still for today?’” The answer was an old-fashioned killing. “When we added the murder-mystery element to season 1, the show unlocked creatively for me,” remembers Aguirre-Sacasa. He admits that his playing with a beloved franchise initially freaked out some fans. “As people watch more and more episodes, they’re much more accepting and excited by it,” he says. “There will always be a hardcore contingency that doesn’t like anything that we change.” But then there are those changes that become social-media gold, like the romantic pairing of Jughead and Betty. The odd couple became a fan favorite, garnering their own shipper fan group called, naturally, Bugheads. “I had a suspicion that people would spark to Betty and Jughead getting together but I did not know that it would electrify fans and take on an elemental life of its own,” says Aguirre-Sacasa. Adds Sprouse: “We were working against 75 years of comic purism in which the two characters had very little romantic interaction. We were also working against Jughead’s asexuality.”

The Bughead bond is so strong that it sparked rumors of a real-life pairing between Reinhart and Sprouse. Reinhart won’t comment, but Sprouse says, “Since the show began, people have wanted Lili and I to be together. People have wanted Lili and Camila to be together. People have wanted KJ and I to be together. People have wanted every actor on this show to be in a union that they could make real. So that kind of discussion, especially because it’s based so much on rumor and hearsay, needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But, truthfully, it’s very pleasing that people talk about Lili and I in that way because it means that we’re resonating so strongly that people really want that to be true.” Adds Aguirre-Sacasa, “Listen, I think showmances happen. You’re up there in Vancouver filming they’re all work and all business.”

Regardless, Bugheads will find themselves a tad heartbroken this year as the premiere finds Jughead attending rival Southside High and being pursued by his father’s gang, the Southside Serpents. The different schools and Jughead’s descent into the gritty world of the Serpents drive a wedge between the lovebirds. “They’re Sandy and Danny. They’re Romeo and Juliet,” says Aguirre-Sacasa. Reinhart puts a finer point on it: “There’s definitely a divide between the north side and the south side. Betty’s on one side and Jughead’s on the other. But there has to be trouble in paradise. This is Riverdale, and people die.”

Speaking of Riverdale’s increasingly high crime rate, season 2’s premiere will pick up immediately after Archie’s dad, Fred (Luke Perry), was shot at Pop’s. “We will reveal his fate at the end of episode 1,” Aguirre-Sacasa promises. “Episode 1 is a little bit like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode ‘The Body.’ It’s structurally different.” Archie becomes hell-bent on revenge, a la Bruce Wayne, in a story line that’s given Apa the most challenging work of the New Zealand native’s career. “Tread that first episode of the second season, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m good enough to do this,” says the 20-year-old. “I’m a new actor. I’m new to this kind of material, and I was cushioning myself. I really have learned a lot this season, and I think I’ve shot some of the best stuff I’ve ever done.”

Archie and Veronica will still be a couple as the season progresses, as does their, well, friskiness. “I think we’re even more sexual now,” says Mendes. “Death brings out certain passions or thirsts for life.” But the pair also has to deal with the arrival of Veronica’s previously incarcerated father, Hiram (Pitch’s Mark Consuelos), who may or may not be attempting to manipulate Archie to do his bad deeds. “Hiram is someone who’s concerned with his own financial wealth, his own image, potentially at the cost of a lot of people,” says Schechter. “I don’t know why anyone in America would be able to relate to that!” Adds Consuelos, “He loves loves loves his family, and he’s fiercely protective over all of that.” Hiram’s return also makes life a little more complicated for wife Hermione (Marisol Nichols). Says Nichols, “She’s terrified of him, and she needs to protect Veronica. But she also admires the hell outta him and respects his mind. She’s slightly schizophrenic because she’s got to play both of these worlds.” And while it seemed like Betty and her mom, Alice Cooper (Madchen Amick), had bonded in the finale over Alice’s reveal of getting pregnant in high school and giving the baby boy away, the pair will be back in fighting form. Says Amick, “Like good dysfunctional relationships, you think you resolve some things but then you just go right back to old behavior.” After finding her father dead in the barn and setting fire to the family home, Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) is determined to return to her former glory. “I think a lot of people read her trying to burn the house down as her breaking, but it was her pulling herself together and telling her mom she’s not going to take any more crap. She’s in charge now,” says Petsch. But she’s alsofinally got a good friend: Pussycats lead singer Josie (Ashleigh Murray), who will become more of a core member of the gang this year. “There is talk of Josie exploring the option of going a solo route,” teases Murray of Josie’s musical career. Casey Cott’s Kevin Keller will also become more prominent now that he is a full-time regular on the series. “Betty kinda left Kevin hanging a little last season,” says Cott. “I think he’s lonely, and it’s time maybe he says something.”

The real threat to Riverdale this season, though, is something so top secret the cast is lip-zipped. “We haven’t been able to talk about it all,” says Reinhart. “What I can say is that Betty’s speech in the finale at the Jubilee about how the town needs to do better has repercussions. Betty becomes very much in the middle of the mystery.” And if you liked Dark Betty in season 1, you’re going to love Even Darker Betty in season 2. Aguirre-Sacasa says, “We’re putting her through the fires like never before. Betty is at the heart of the darkest story we’re telling this season.”

One story fans keep wondering about is whether Aguirre-Sacasa will ever take the series in a supernatural route. The writer crafted a zombie version of the comic called Afterlife With Archie in 2013. But it’s still unclear if zombies (or even nearby resident Sabrina the Teenage Witch) will show up this year. “I will tell you that they’re definitely not happening in the first nine episodes,” says Aguirre-Sacasa. “I don’t know about the second half of the season. Anything is possible for a special episode.”

But before they can even think about going the Walking Dead route, Berlanti is more concerned with wrapping up these twist-filled episodes. Says the exec producer, “I actually don’t know what Roberto would do for the third season yet because [season 2] is so edge-of-your-seat. His biggest problem is going to be topping it. But that’s a problem for another day.” Riverdale loves a good mystery, after all.