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Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again

"Archie's here. Betty's here... Veronica too. Reggie's here. And here comes Jughead..." but I guess 15 years later, Hot Dog was dead, so instead Jughead dragged along his delinquent son, Jordan. Yes, in the late '80s, someone had the brilliant idea to transplant the classic Archie characters into a weekly live-action TV series. The result was ARCHIE: TO RIVERDALE AND BACK AGAIN, a pilot/movie of the week. A cartoon series had been made in 1987 that featured the characters as tweens, so they went in the exact opposite direction for the film and depicted the characters as adults. Apparently the Archie gang graduated from Riverdale High in 1975 and went their separate ways -- during the '80s they all became yuppies, and they reconvened for their high school reunion in May of 1990. During the course of their three-day reunion, Reggie evicts Pop Tate with plans to expand his gym into the malt shoppe, so Archie and friends rally around to keep the smug Mr. Mantle from seeing this plan through.

Archie (Christopher Rich, "The Charmings," "Reba") was still living in Riverdale, but he'd gotten his law degree and was on the verge of moving to the city with his finance and joining a law firm. Jughead ditched the crown, married and divorced, and became a psychiatrist (!!?!) who employed some very unorthodox tactics. The oft-divorced Veronica (Karin Kopins, ONCE BITTEN) found that money can't buy happiness -- after all, she was still hung up on Archie Andrews! Betty (Lauren Holly) had become a school teacher who was dating a two-faced jerk, though she too was still hung up on Archie... only she didn't even realize it. Reggie (Gary Kroeger) owned and operated a gym; Moose (Jeff Hochendoner) became a chiropractor; and Big Ethyl (Cindy Ambuehl) underwent a drastic transformation of her own.

Despite a great cast (several of whom were mis-cast) and a few fun, comical moments, the film came under fire from fans of the comic books and was blasted by critics (one of whom derogatorily dubbed it "Archiesomething"), so a series never materialized. It didn't click with kids either -- there's some blatant sexuality (which was tame in 1990 and is now pretty dated) with Veronica and Betty each trying to seduce Archie, and Mr. Lodge has become oddly nasty... his henchman makes several attempts at killing Archie! But the part that everyone seems to belittle most is Jughead's silly rap rendition of "Sugar, Sugar" (which I've always thought was cute in a meant-to-be cheesy way).

Many of the cast members do bear an uncanny resemblance to their comic counterparts -- I first knew Rich as Prince Charming on a short-lived sitcom a few years earlier, but for nearly 20 years now, I've continuously associated him with Archie Andrews. Similarly, Karin Kopins was born to play Veronica Lodge. And the late, lanky Sam Whipple was so perfectly cast that he could've been the basis of Jughead Jones in the comics... unfortunately, however, the character itself went through some rather drastic changes from the comics to the film. On the opposite end of the spectrum, David Doyle was completely miscast as Mr. Weatherbee and Cindy Ambuehl was wrong for her part too, though the latter is the fault of the writer. And speaking of both the writer and people who are wrong for their part, the screenplay was written by Evan Katz, who went on to write and produce many TV dramas -- most notably he's been a staple writer / producer on "24." Weird, huh?
Sam Whipple

The movie was released on video under a different (actually a better) title, ARCHIE: RETURN TO RIVERDALE -- however, ten scenes that aired in the network version were trimmed from the VHS release. What makes this particularly strange is that some of these scenes strengthened the story (notably the flashbacks), and a few others were some of the better comic moments -- I don't know what the video editor could have possibly been thinking. The video release doesn't seem to be too hard to find (it's still available to buy on the Archie Comics website), but the film hasn't received much airplay in more recent years.

As a tie-in, Archie comics released a comic book adaptation of the movie. Interestingly, with the exception of the flashback scenes, this book is not drawn in the familiar, cartoony style of the Archie comics.... though the animated characters don't bear a whole lot of resemblance to their live-action counterparts.