Station Control

FAMILIAR CHARACTERS, NEW TWIST

by Benjamin Carr

From Archie to zombies, familiar characters and stories have been completely revamped lately, allowing 2017 TV audiences new entryways into tried-and-true material. The approaches have re-energized old properties - in some cases - and found new intrigues there.

RIVERDALE (CW)
The CW’s new teen drama Riverdale is a blast. It takes all the familiar, wholesome characters from the Archie comics, including Jughead, Betty and Veronica, and turns them on their heads by placing them in the middle of a murder mystery.

The drama has been equal parts Twin Peaks and Beverly Hills 90210, with savvy pop culture references and strange detours into the perverse. Archie, played by KJ Apa, is suddenly a ripped, brooding musician who’s having an affair with his beloved teacher Miss Grundy. Betty isn’t just the image of blonde, American purity. Now she’s got a bit of psychosis. Veronica is now running from her father’s embezzlement crimes. And Jughead is writing his own personal In Cold Blood in between cheeseburgers.

All of the crazy twists and pop culture nods are intentional, with tongue firmly in cheek. To prove that they are in on the joke, the showrunners have filled Riverdale with teen stars of the 1990s, including Luke Perry, Robin Givens and Madchen Amick. In doing this, the show feels like a rare treat for both nostalgic and new reasons.

SANTA CLARITA DIET (Netflix)
Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet is a zombie show with a strange, strange flavor. It’s a family sitcom about realtors, played charmingly by Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant, who are trying to keep the spice in their marriage while doing their best to raise a somewhat rebellious teenage daughter.

And, in the middle of the first episode, Drew Barrymore’s character Sheila suddenly falls sick and dies - without actually dying. No real explanation is given for this, yet she suddenly develops a taste for human flesh and a strange murderous streak. The effect this has on her familly is, of course, startling. Yet it adds new energy to the family.

Santa Clarita Diet is a wacky fun sitcom, along the lines of Cougar Town and Desperate Housewives. And the zombie element adds an unexpected charm to the proceedings. Barrymore and Olyphant have great chemistry, and the show is a breeze to binge.

LEGION (FX)
FX’s Legion, meanwhile, is a strange, difficult show to love. Taking a lesser-known character from Marvel’s X-Men comics, the show follows a bafflingly insane schizophrenic named David, played by Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey, who it turns out is also a powerful mutant with the ability to control everything with his mind.
At the outset, though, David does not know this. He merely believes he’s insane, suicidal and under perpetual supervision. He slowly comes to know the danger he poses to the entire world, for the premise suggests that David could easily zap us all into oblivion just by changing his mind.

It’s a tough show to love, even though it comes from Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley. As it continues and David learns the extent of his powers, who knows what it might become?

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