Monthly Archives: November 2017

Riverdale, Season 1

Archie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead, and the rest of the gang find themselves ensnared in the disappearance and murder of Jason Blossom when Archie comics meets teen soap opera in Riverdale.

I watched the first episode of Riverdale shortly after it premiered on the CW website (I don’t get CW on my local cable plan). I liked it, but didn’t keep up with it until the series became available on Netflix. I have finally finished the first season, and I feel in the mood to review.

I enjoyed the first season immensely.

The acting is good. Certainly better than other examples of the teen soap genre. K.J. Apa grows into the role of Archie throughout the season, but his performance is consistently good. Lili Reinhart captures the multifaceted Betty beautifully. Camila Mendes is amazing as Veronica. And Cole Sprouse captures the idealism and pessimism of Jughead wonderfully.

The story is compelling. The viewer is never quite sure who killed Jason Blossom until the end. The subplots and individual character arcs sprinkled throughout the season are all well written and interesting.

The look of Riverdale is quite stunning. The intentional anachronism creates a halcyon and wholesome veneer that belies the corruption endemic to the town. Thematically, well done!

But, as much as I enjoy the series so far, I do have some issues.

As much as I like the look of Riverdale, the fictional city, I am not sure the writers thought through the world building. Does Riverdale have its own police department, or does the county provide all law enforcement? Why is Riverdale High so nice looking whereas Southside High looks like it comes from the gritty 1990s? Surely some parents would sue! Okay, I get that, thematically, the differences between glittering Riverdale High and gritty Southside High have to be extreme, even if the two schools are in the same school district. But the contrast might be too extreme.

Another issue I have is with Kevin Keller. Casey Cott is in every episode. Why is it only in the second season that he is in the main cast? It makes one wonder. . .  (Expect a variation of this criticism if I ever get to reviewing Iron Fist and The Defenders in the case of Madame Gao).

In the end, Riverdale is an engrossing and enjoyable teen soap opera that takes the idealism of Archie and turns it on its head to interrogate the wholesome illusion.

What I Read in October

October was a busy reading month. It was also a month in which I bailed on a lot of books. Without more preamble, here is what I read in October.

Let me begin with The Malice, the sequel to The Vagrant by Peter Newman. I suspect I am being too harsh on both books. So, I am going to revisit the entire Vagrant trilogy in the new year. Maybe I will enjoy the novels more on a second look.

Anyway, I started the month with Everyday Life of the Etruscans by Ellen Macnamara. I found the book useful, but incredibly difficult.

I then read Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock. A good one volume biography of Mary I. But, I don’t think the goal of rehabilitating Mary I’s reputation is quite achieved. More attention, I think, should have been paid to Mary’s accomplishments as queen.

I moved from Tudor England to Ancient Egypt with my next book. Joann Fletcher’s The Story of Egypt is amazing. It is a positively refreshing new history of Ancient Egypt. One of my favorite books of the month.

Next, I fell under the sway of the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Unfortunately, China Mieville’s October: The Story of the Russian Revolution is terrible. Mieville is a terrific writer, one of my favorites, but his politics can blind him at times. This book is more polemic than history.

Fleeing Russia’s revolution, I headed back to the ancient world with Kingship and the Gods by Henri Frankfurt. The ideas are interesting. But the book, on the whole, is outdated.

I next read White Trash by Nancy Isenberg. I found the book a very interesting and well researched history of America’s white underclass. Maybe too exhaustive, though.

Next I read a new take on Greek Myths in The Universe, Gods, and Man by Jean-Pierre Vernant. I didn’t particularly care for this book. Too repetitive and overly selective.

Keeping with mythology, I read Gods in the Desert: Religions of the Ancient Near East by Glenn Stanfield Holland. I enjoyed it. A very useful resource, I think.

Moving to the history of the region, I read Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History by Trevor Bryce. I love this book. It is engaging if too brief. My one problem with the text is that Bryce loses interest as he approaches 200 CE.

Going back to Greek Myths, I read When the Gods Were Born by Carolina Lopez-Ruiz. I was disappointed. Too specialized, too academic, too disjointed. Ultimately not the book I was hoping for.

Leaving the ancient world behind, I return to the twentieth century with Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang by Jillian Becker. Not a terribly good book, I must say.

Next up, I tried Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire. I didn’t like the writing or the direction the story was going. So I bailed.

I next picked up the eagerly awaited The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera. I am not happy with my first reading. The narrative structure bugged me. I didn’t care for the world building. The story needed work. But, I grant I may be too harsh and need to give The Tiger’s Daughter another look in the new year.

The disappointment continues with Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. Again, I did not care for the writing. So I bailed.

The only novel I enjoyed reading this month was Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. I don’t know why, but I loved this charming novel of an Irish American family in New York.

The bailing, unfortunately, begins again with The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute and A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume. I really did not like either book. Especially The Beans. 

Abandoning fiction for a bit, I read The Militant South by John Hope Franklin. I enjoyed the book immensely. An important look at the intellectual conditions in the South that led to the Civil War.

I followed The Militant South with The Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse by John Nichols. A great field guide to Trump’s minions. But does not have the depth I had hoped for.

I ended the month bailing on more fiction. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall is a cold, characterless novel that produces zero sympathy for the characters save a troubled boy who lacks the love and attention he desperately needs; Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg did not engage me at all; and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell failed to gain my interest namely due to the very wooden writing style.

And so, October ends on a sour note. I read a lot. But didn’t like much of what I read. Maybe November will be better.