Sunday, December 01, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Archie Grows Up

One look at the TV ratings/box office is enough to make clear how much comic book properties have come to dominate our cultural discourse. But with all the characters making their transition to screens big and small of late, one four-color icon who's never quite managed that magical jump to live action is one Archie Andrews, the eternal teenager who's been in continuous publication since his debut in 1941. Well, "never" isn't entirely true. For a brief instant in 1990, there was To Riverdale and Back Again, an NBC TV movie that tried to turn everyone's favorite checkerboard-headed kid into a primetime soap. Here's a trailer for the flick (which was released theatrically overseas under the title Return to Riverdale):


Wow. I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to make of that.


To Riverdale and Back Again aired in May of 1990, and I can only assume it was trying to follow the Thirtysomething model of post-adolescent angst, but populated with a cast of well-loved characters. Thus, we got Archie (Christopher Rich) returning to his old hometown fifteen years after graduating high school, with Jughead (Sam Whipple), Betty (Lauren Holly), Veronica (Karen Kopins), and Reggie (Gary Kroeger) along for the ride. Great cast, no doubt, but the whole thing was this weird mish-mosh that had neither the bite of a primetime soap, nor the innocence of the original comic strips.

The movie was fully intended to serve as a backdoor pilot for a regular series, but even with a decent critical reception, the ratings weren't there, so that was that. The first time I even became aware of this project was via a comic book adaptation (above) with cover art by legendary artist John Byrne, and interiors by the late Gene Colan, who rendered the adult Archie with all the moodiness and shadow he brought to Marvel's Dracula in the '70s. While To Riverdale and Back Again has yet to find an official DVD release, but someone's uploaded the whole thing to YouTube, so you can catch it below (for now, anyway):

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