BINGE-R #17: Riverdale + Sneaky Pete
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: 10 episodes now streaming, new one added each Saturday morning
Riverdale might resemble a teen soap, right down to the bitchy retorts and slightly too old cast, but really it’s a ghost story that’s haunting Gossip Girl, Twin Peaks, Mean Girls and many more previous incarnations of adolescent manoeuvring. There’s an air of spectral wispiness to exterior shots where the titular small town is wreathed in early morning fog, while smoke meant to diffuse the interior lighting lingers in hallways and locker rooms. The dialogue may be ripe, but it’s only the criminal jolts of the plot that give Netflix’s new series an actual pulse.
The screenwriters really fan the dialogue: in the first 10 minutes of the opening episode there’s talk of organising a book party for Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, a reference to Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, and a comparative metaphor based on Truman Capote novels, all from perpetually perfect high school student Betty (Lili Reinhart) and her possible new best friend, big city blow-in Veronica (Camila Mendes). Thankfully gay sidekick Kevin (Casey Cott) is there to supply the crucial news: “Archie got abs!”
The old and new iterations of these comic book characters readily intermingle. The love triangle between Archie (K.J. Apa), Betty and Veronica remains, but it’s complicated by the affair 16-year-old Archie had with music teacher Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel). The two were enjoying an early morning tryst the day a popular student went missing, setting up the mystery that underpins the story and leaving the victim’s twin sister, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), as a loopy loose cannon who turns cheerleader tryouts into the Nuremberg trials.
Riverdale is meant to be a tart, knowing pleasure, complete with Archie’s former friend, aspiring novelist and successful outsider Jughead (Cole Sprouse), as the narrator documenting the corruption just beneath the spotless surface. But with graduates of Twin Peaks (Madchen Amick as Betty’s manipulative mother) and 90210 (the furrowed brow of Luke Perry as Archie’s father) in the supporting cast the winking nods become overwhelming even as the tone proves as flexible as certain character’s affections. It just lacks the pulp and daring to be a lasting diversion.
>> Bonus Binge: If you want to go straight to the source Stan has both seasons of David Lynch’s ground-breaking Twin Peaks. Catch up now before the first new episodes in 25 years debut May 22.
SNEAKY PETE S1
Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
Giovanni Ribisi has a character actor’s face from the 1940s: he could play a stool pigeon or a gunsel any day of the week. Most features cast him for one quality and work it relentlessly, whether it was his venal diligence in Avatar or the whack job whispers of Ted. Sneaky Pete, a crime drama from Amazon [my rundown on the new streaming service], appears to set up a similar outcome: Ribisi plays Marius Josipovic, a cold-hearted con man who needing to hide out who upon his release from jail poses as his cellmate, Pete Murphy, and returns to the unknowing victim’s estranged rural family.
Having met his new grandparents and cousins, Marius is always one slip-up away from being discovered, which both tests his talent for reading people and creates suspense. Once he realises the family’s “bond business” is posting bail and not trading financial products, he finds himself working as a skip tracer with his cousin Julia (Marin Ireland) and trying not to reminisce too much with Taylor (Sam McRae), another cousin and also a cop. It helps immeasurably that his tough nut grandmother is played by Margo Martindale (The Americans), an actor whose menace nonetheless has maternal warmth.
Even as he has to deal with an unhappy former colleague, Vince (Bryan Cranston, the show’s co-creator, in a supporting role), Marius is drawn into Pete’s life. The show is very good at holding back information, including why Marius was incarcerated, so that motivations repeatedly get recast. It’s a promising series with a hint of the black humour that showrunner Graham Yost invested in Justified: the real Pete was in jail for the failed armed robbery of a gun range. It also suggests, through family dynamics and secret calculations, that everyone is engaged in subterfuge of one kind or another. A grifting associate relocated to the suburbs tells Marius, “This is a con I plan on running for the rest of my life.”
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