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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Riverdale: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Riverdale: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Warner Archives // Unrated // Region A
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted December 26, 2017 | E-mail the Author

There's no shortage of long-running or otherwise successful TV shows I've unreasonably avoided during the last decade or two just because the synopsis or gimmick just sounded dumb. Buffy the Vampire Slayer immediately comes to mind, as does Scrubs, True Blood, Entourage, Weeds, and about a dozen other shows that I might enjoy (or at least tolerate) but probably won't ever get around to actually watching. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's Riverdale (2017- ) might've easily fallen into that category, had Warner Archives not recently re-issued the first season on Blu-ray when my screener plate was clean: although somewhat intrigued by its gimmick of "wholesome, all-American franchise revamped to be all edgy and stuff", I couldn't blame anyone for writing it off as avoidable for the exact same reason.

Riverdale's premiere season story arc leads off like this: Jason Blossom, the uncomfortably close twin brother of wealthy Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), is found dead. Their small town of Riverdale is rocked by the news: Jason's football teammate Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), best friend Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), brooding writer Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), and just about everyone else is deeply affected, especially once the investigation reveals foul play, a few red herrings, and no shortage of family secrets for just about everyone in town. Of course, plenty of side-stories pad out the main arc: love triangles, turbulent family moments, town politics, a biker gang, musical performances, and other items that either contribute to the main plot, serve as passable filler, or dangle unresolved. Not surprisingly, there's drama by the bucket-load here...and though some of it isn't earned by a long shot, Riverdale manages to gel better than fence-sitters might be expecting. For better or worse, just about everyone fully commits to their character; with a few notable exceptions, that's probably the show's most obvious strength during these first 13 episodes.

But good lord, barely an hour can go by without at least three or four lines of the lamest Diablo Cody-grade dialogue in recent years. The biggest culprits are Veronica and Cheryl, who manage to one-up both of the Gilmore Girls combined: almost no one under the age of 18 can pull off name-dropping Truman Capote books, Toni Morrison, or all five seasons of Mad Men, let alone in group conversation without skipping a beat. This type of overly rehearsed, rapid-fire dialogue has its place---rare as it may be---but shows up way too regularly here, and I'd be lying if I didn't miss a few scenes after rolling my eyes completely up to the ceiling. Luckily, it's toned down as the first season progresses, and with any luck they'll skip that nonsense in future episodes. The same goes for the Desperate Housewives drama between some of the moms: just about every middle-aged female role model is despicable in one form or another, which doesn't go far in making anyone believe their little town was more or less drama-free before one murder happened.

In any case, I enjoyed a surprisingly large chunk of what Riverdale brought to the table: after the first few episodes I was able to accept it on its own terms, as what initially seemed like a total gimmick paved the way for a rather entertaining and re-watchable chunk of guilty pleasure television. With a bit of fine-tuning, though, Riverdale might be able to shake the "guilty" off in future seasons, but even the least effective parts of its still-developing formula weren't enough to turn me off completely. Whether you're new to the series or picked it up on DVD a few months back, Warner Archives' new three-disc Blu-ray package of Riverdale: The Complete First Season is the best way to watch it, as the show's moody atmosphere looks and sounds better than ever here...even without the benefit of new extras.

Video & Audio Quality

As expected, these 1.78:1, 1080p transfers look very good from start to finish. The digitally-shot cinematography favors lots of browns, greens, and dimly-lit interiors; luckily, the color palette is rendered nicely, shadow details are strong and black levels are consistent with no obvious color bleeding. Image detail is also quite impressive at times, especially during outdoor scenes and close-up shots. There are a few noticeable spots that show compression artifacts (which appears to be a source material issue), and other common problems such as banding, digital noise, and interlacing didn't appear to be an issue at all. Overall, Riverdale looks extremely strong in high definition and fans should be enormously pleased to have the option. Here's hoping that future season(s) get the Blu-ray treatment from WAC as well.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed screen captures and promotional images are decorative and do not represent the title under review.

Not to be outdone, the terrific DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track generates an effectively cinematic atmosphere. Though Riverdale is obviously a dialogue-driven series (which consistently sounds clean and crisp, by the way), it has no shortage of suspenseful, music-driven segments and occasional bursts of action along the way. Channel separation is strong and surrounds are reserved for subtle background ambiance and occasional jumps. The low end also gets time to shine, especially during several music cues and darker moments. Riverdale is a small-screen production to be sure, but one with a suitable dynamic range that won't have you reaching for your volume control every few minutes.

Menu Design & Packaging

The packaging is kind of unimpressive, but at least it doesn't hog shelf space: this three-disc set is housed in a hinged, single-width keepcase with promotional themed cover artwork and no inserts. The menu follows suit with WAC's standard template: a plain-wrap interface with options for episode selection, subtitle setup, and bonus features. I'll admit that the lack of a built-in "Resume" function is lazy: this should a a requirement of TV-on-disc releases.

A few behind-the-scenes photos from Cole "Jughead" Sprouse's Instagram account. View them all here.

Bonus Features

Not much, but what's here is appreciated. "The New Normal" (8:46) offers a quick but enjoyable chat with several cast and crew members, who discuss their own personal memories of growing up with the Archie gang and this much different new adaptation. A painfully short 2016 Comic-Con Panel clip (8:05) mostly introduces the cast and crew. "Riverdale: The Ultimate Sin" (9:15) serves up a tour of the town and, more specifically, the darkness lurking around every corner. "I Got You" and "These Are Moments I Remember" (2:17 total) are music performances with Archie and company, while a short Gag Reel (4:45) features the expected amount of line flubs and goofs. Finally, a well-rounded collection of Deleted Scenes (12 clips, 13:52 total) serves up additional clips for almost all of this season's 13 episodes.

I wasn't expecting to dig Riverdale but, like most casual viewers, was obviously intrigued enough by its dark revamp of wholesome source material to give it a shot. And I'm glad I did: though this 13-episode season borrows a bit too much from the likes of Twin Peaks, Bates Motel, Veronica Mars, and just about every other "small town, dark underbelly" TV series out there, it at least manages to put its own stamp on both the franchise and the genre with fun characters, twists, plenty of camp, and a great atmosphere. (If they could ditch the Desperate Housewives adult drama and Diablo Cody-grade dialogue, though, I'd be even happier.) Warner Archives' three-disc Blu-ray set obviously serves up a tighter A/V presentation than their parent company's DVD counterpart released earlier this year, but the so-so bonus features appear to be identical. Recommended for new viewers or established fans who didn't grab the DVD yet.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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