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January 24, 2014

Let's discuss Archie's Weird Mysteries.

Didn’t see this one coming, did you?

I’ve mentioned several times in the past that I have some major respect for what you’d might call “kid’s stuff”.  And with good reason -- they are, almost by nature, the perfect sources for imagination, good spirits, and charm.  But they can also be sources of insight, thematic merit, and depth.  I’d like to think that in light of shows like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, and either Avatar series, the game has officially leveled up.  And I’m happy for it…even if I only show my support as a spiteful reaction to the brown and gray wastelands of modern gaming.

But for a while now, I’ve had a bit of an opportunity of sorts.  I’ve always believed that one should never underestimate the power of basic cable, as it’s the place where Everybody Loves Raymond once ruled the roost (for a given definition of “ruled” or “roost”…or “the”).  So one night I was flipping through channels, and I just so happened to spot something called Archie’s Weird Mysteries on a dedicated children’s network.  And I watched it.  And as the days passed, I watched more of it -- and more, and more, and more, because hey, I could have something in the background playing while putting together some of the more tedious aspects of Cross-Up.  And I thought to myself, “You know, maybe I should do a post on this show.  It’d be fun -- like a gag post or something.”

How funny you find this post depends on how much you agree with my interpretations.  Because the way things are looking, I’m about ready to declare the cartoon one of the blackest of black comedies ever created…at best.  At its worst?  It’s downright horrifying.  


Let’s start with a bit of context.  Back in the late-late-late nineties and the sort-of-but-not-really turn of the millennium, there was a cartoon airing on some easily-forgotten channel called PAX.  Said cartoon -- Archie’s Weird Mysteries, obviously -- ran for forty episodes, and delivered exactly what it promised.  Said promise?  It took the characters from the comics’ canon -- Archie, Reggie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead too, and a host of others -- and put them in a modern(ish) setting. 

The thrust of each episode?  As a columnist for his school newspaper, red-headed hero Archie Andrews writes about the freaky stuff that happens in Riverdale, and more often than not goes out of his way to sort the problems out before his little town gets ransacked.  Every threat is pretty much a take on B-movie fare or other infamous monster movies; there’s The Blob, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and your usual suite of vampires, werewolves, and mummies.  Generally speaking, whatever you’re thinking of, there’s a good chance there’s an episode on it.  No yetis, unfortunately.  As far as I know. 


Being one of those fabled (dreaded?) children’s education programs, the monster madness is offset by trying to get some moral across to the characters, and by extension the audience.  You know the drill -- taking responsibility for your actions, working together, accepting those who are different, that sort of thing.  I don’t know every episode intimately, but I suspect that cleaning up the mess in 2/3s of the show’s run comes down to applying the “moral of the story” to the situation at hand.  As you’d expect.  And in case someone missed it, at the end of each episode Archie will write his article and explain the story’s moral through voice-over.  And at the start of an episode, albeit by working it VERY VERY SUBTLY into a conversation. 

All told, AWM is formulaic, but it’s not a bad formula.  There are a few shakeups here and there, some of the morals are either refreshing or more complex than just “clean your room” -- becoming a hero and revealing the truth about a corporation’s accidental monster-making, or staying quiet and making sure the town keeps hundreds of jobs -- and the ride from start to finish is always a fairly pleasant one.  There’s some good humor in there, and I have to respect the show’s ambition for making not one, but two multi-episode arcs -- one of which involves time travel, which I’m starting to suspect might be a death-or-glory avenue for writers.  But in this case, they can always fall back on alien potatoes.


It’s probably worth mentioning that I don’t know anything about the Archie Comics as a whole (save for the name being some all-encompassing, multi-universal moniker that lets Archie exist alongside Casper the Friendly Ghost and Sabrina the Teenage Witch).  So the most I know about these characters and their world and the major events are a few broad strokes gleaned from half-assed internet searches. 

Still, I like the characters in AWM.  Archie’s the typical red-blooded American, but exists as the only sane man in a world full of blatant archetypes.  That doesn’t stop him from being the balancing force of his team and the quick-witted hero who’ll solve the weird mystery du jour, BUT he’s overzealous enough and flawed enough to be the Riverdalian in dire need of a life lesson.  Jughead’s quips and quirkiness make for plenty of fun, befitting of a guy who wears a crown wherever he goes.  Betty’s earnest cheer and Veronica’s sultry tones give them both some flavor.  Reggie is a supreme asshole, but that’s part of his charm…if only because his cocky swagger reminds me of my brother.  Only Reggie’s not quite as unrealistic.


If there’s one thing I find…well, let’s call it interesting, I’d say it’s the love triangle of sorts between Archie, Betty, and Veronica.  Cursory glances suggest that this is a key part of the Archie canon, and I can understand why.  To an extent.  Based solely on my understanding of AWM, there’s one question I have to ask, and one that’ll segue into the rest of the discussion.

Why would Archie choose anyone besides Betty?

I’m not even joking here.  In the context of AWM, Betty is clearly the superior choice.  She’s smart, kind, spirited, and reliable.  She likes Archie, and presumably has a much deeper and closer connection to him than anyone else in Riverdale.  And if it’s a question of looks, she still comes out on top; her build is 100% identical to Veronica’s, to the point where the two of them are almost a Ryu/Ken style palette swap.  So why is Veronica even worth considering?  She has money, sure, but what beyond that?  What makes Archie so sure he’s going to stay relevant in Veronica’s eyes, and vice versa?  Even beyond that, what can she offer him besides her body?  Archie implies that Veronica’s got the biggest chest in town, but if that’s true, then so does Betty.  Is the poise really that big of a deciding factor?  Even if it is, is that enough to overcome her personality?


It’s true that I like watching Veronica’s antics on screen, but when the characters in-universe get exhausted with her antics within minutes, that seems to be a pretty big signal that dodging her ass might be a good idea.  She’s selfish, petty, lazy, and whiny…and in the context of AWM, she comes very close to destroying Riverdale -- and potentially the world -- several times over.  Or if not that, then at least ensuring that plenty of people, her friends included, risk death. 

She makes a wish on a magic idol that starts turning everyone in Riverdale into clones of herself, with disastrous results both said and unsaid.  She turns into a giant in one episode (because she had the “sense” to touch a laser beam she really shouldn’t have touched in the first place) and stomps through town, up to and including tearing the roof off a building.  She seeks the help of a witch doctor to make Archie into her love slave, and ends up turning him -- and eventually a big chunk of the cast -- into obsessive zombies that don’t eat, don’t sleep, and will tear their hair out for her sake.  If you’re looking for the bringer of despair and ruin merely by virtue of being kind of a bitch (and more than a little dumb), look no further.


To be fair, she’s not the only one responsible for the problems in each episode.  The characters’ intelligence -- and occasionally their personalities, in Reggie and Veronica’s cases -- varies from one episode to the next.  I know I said Archie was quick-witted earlier, but as the town’s weird mystery expert you’d think that he’d immediately suspect that the dice he bought for his car brought it to life instead of figuring it out in the last few minutes.  Reggie unleashes a horde of goblins on the populace when he magically brings a dead actress out of a movie.  (Side note: that episode uses “fanboy” with a level of scorn and mockery that’s borderline hateful -- and eerily mirrors how current-day game fanboys get described.)    

Jughead and Betty fare a lot better, since the former’s episodes are due to problems caused by a verifiable butterfly effect, while the latter is virtuous enough to not let her vices endanger the town (more on that in a minute).  But they’re compensated for several dozen times over by local teenage scientist Dilton, who time after time seems genuinely surprised when his experiments lead to disaster.  Maybe you shouldn’t leave your dangerous chemicals and gadgets out where anyone can use them, bro.  Alternatively, drop out of school and just invent stuff.  You clearly have the talent for it, and I’m sure people would give you a lab.  Why are you even faffing about with school?

…Well, maybe he’s terrible at every subject but math and science, and wants to fix that.  Even if he has to nearly erase his friends from reality to do so.


Dilton (the world’s dumbest genius) aside, there’s something that’s kind of been bugging me about the show.  It’s trying to impart morals and virtues, but sometimes the show seems to go to extraordinary lengths to try and prove that living the proper way is the only way -- to the point where it distorts the show AND its messages.  For example, there’s an episode where Archie and the gang head to a carnival to play a virtual reality game, and Archie gets a swelled head over his wins.  But because of his boasting and outright underhanded tactics, some alien invaders end up breaking through to the real world.  The mess ends up getting sorted out, and ideally the message is “be a good sport and don’t take the fun out of the game for others”.  But it feels more like it’s “Remember kids, always be a good sport, or creatures from another dimension will destroy your town!” 

Sometimes the moral and the weird mystery overlap fairly well, but other times -- like the example above -- they end up clashing.  I feel like the takeaway from some of episodes isn’t the moral, but the fact that the monster or phenomenon has been routed and the day is saved.  Really, what are kids going to remember most from one of these episodes?  That it’s important to clean your room?  Or that if you leave your room a mess and wind up in there while shrunken to the size of an action figure you can go on crazy hamster-riding adventures?  Even beyond that, what’s the point of Archie and Reggie “learning” to set aside their rivalry in one episode if another one is going to put them right back where they started -- and beyond that, why try to teach Reggie anything?  He’s the scapegoat, yes -- the Goofus to Archie’s Gallant -- but sometimes he doesn’t even get the chance to understand where he went wrong. 


That all said, Betty is an interesting case.  She has to learn something every now and then as well -- through some extreme means, and even then it’s a lesson learned alongside Veronica as per their feud over Archie -- but for the most part she’s the cast’s (and the show’s) moral fiber.  She is, in the words of her friends, a goody-goody.  That’s something deconstructed in an episode where she has to learn not to have blind trust (ending with her going all pre-reboot Lara Croft to seal away an ancient demon she freed), but when all’s said and done she’s still the most saintly citizen of Riverdale in the show…if only because she’s the least likely to destroy it. 

But in the context of the show and the nature therein, I have to wonder about what it’s trying to say here.  Is morality, a life dedicated to virtue and philanthropy, truly the ultimate state of being?  It could be, given that Betty is consistently the happiest and brightest character in the show, even if Archie’s double-dating shenanigans force her to reveal her hard edge.  (Then again, the AWM canon suggests that Betty and Veronica will become treacherous hussies on a moment’s notice if it means clinging to a sufficiently-muscular athlete.)  Still, for an E/I show to have a character like that isn’t automatically a bad thing.  The problem, I’d say, comes from deviation.  What happens when someone does indulge in their vices in Riverdale?  Does it spell doom?

If we take AWM as proof, then yes.  Yes it does.


The Wikipedia page suggests that all of the stuff that happens in Riverdale is the result of a lab experiment gone awry (damn it, Dilton!), creating a sort of nexus of paranormal activity.  It’s a reality shift, making the impossible possible on a regular basis.  And while it’s obvious that something like that pulls in the weird mysteries, I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to assume that it’s had some sort of effect on the people.  Could it be that their vices and indulgences preemptively bring a potential disaster within Riverdale’s borders?  I don’t have any proof, but it can’t be a coincidence that the same episode where Jughead has to learn about how awesome libraries can be is the same episode where a ghostly librarian from his past starts haunting the town. 

My question is how aware of the circumstances Archie and the gang really are.  Chalk this up to a VERY shaky theory, but hear me out here: what if there’s a reason why Betty tries to be good, beyond just the sake of being good?  What if she’s literally trying to make the world a better place, even if she’s only slightly aware of it?  That would make her something very near a savior.  Conversely, that would make someone like Reggie -- someone who goes out of his way to be an asshole -- something like the antichrist.  But what if that’s intentional?  Not everybody can be the wellspring of virtue that Betty is, to the point where her goodness and optimism almost make her inhuman (so I guess that’s one reason why you’d choose Veronica).  Could it be that by letting themselves fall prey to their darker qualities, the people of Riverdale are just trying to live their lives as they see fit?  Could it be that they’re trying to choose lives of decadence -- lives of freedom -- over the stresses of immaculate righteousness?  Could it be that they’d risk everything just for the sake of the lives they want, no matter the consequences?  Or rather, specifically BECAUSE the people want to face those consequences regardless of whether or not they can resolve them?

Could it be that the people of Riverdale, as part of a collective consciousness -- a unified will -- want to leave behind their town, and the mortal coil itself?


I suspect that this post got away from me.  Let’s get back on topic.

If I had to sum up AWM in one word (setting aside the potentially horrific implications), it would be “charming”.  That, or “cheesy” -- but that’s to be expected when the plot of virtually episode is something straight out of a B-movie, AND each episode is announced via a hammy voice-over.  The main cast may regularly be the cause of the episode’s problems, but in a pinch they’re always the ones to resolve it with some quick thinking, physical prowess, risk-taking, or any mix of the three.  By no means is it a 100% logical show -- are there no policemen in this town?  Why are there so many death traps in Riverdale?  Why would the villains so often agree to the terms of a bunch of pitiful humans?  Why the hell doesn’t anyone watch Dilton before he does something rock-stupid? -- but it is a surprisingly entertaining one, with lots of color, wit, and that all-American spirit that lends the show an unmistakable and interesting character.  I wouldn’t recommend it over, say, Game of Thrones or Mad Men, but it is worth a look if you can find an episode on YouTube or on TV.   

I don’t know how much effort went into the show, but for what it’s worth, it’s pretty well-handled.  It’s not going to beat out what we have nowadays, but I’d like to think that relative to its age and era, it stands strong.  It’s proof that wherever we are now in the world of high-quality animation, there were building blocks beforehand leading up to them.  And when all’s said and done, Archie’s Weird Mysteries may very well be one of them. 

It’s enough to make me want to look into the comics’ canon a bit deeper, as any related media should.  So, let’s see what I can scrape up right quick through Wikipedia, and --


Oh, dearie me.  This is an interesting development.  Very interesting indeed.  I guess these comics have some real juice after

PICK BETTY YOU STUPID PUTZ

4 comments:

  1. Honestly? I had this conversation not to long ago. Role Playing game adventurers have it great. They have free reign of villages, people in shops are expected to buy random crap they find laying around, and if you ever get low on cash you can run around in circles outside and slaughter a few easy monsters.


    But ultimately you're expected to fight the great evil of the world. However, it is a formula perfect for underachievers. You just want to get rich and live a normal life and have 2.5 kids. So in short, the best job ever is to be on the B team of the band of adventurers out to save the world.


    No one expects you to go and kill the big bad. You're just there to fill out the party at the inevitable multi- Party dungeon or when someone on the A team is being temporarily emo because their village got blown up or something. You have a unusual skill set and proprietary equipment that the main guys can't use, but you can easily mop up Goblin Captains to supplement your bar tab.


    That'd be the life. Sign me up any day. Just make sure you're an amusing comic relief character and STAY AWAY FROM CUTSCENES. Especially if you are the only 'not important' party member in the group.

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  2. Aha, that is a pretty clever strategy. Excellent abuse of loopholes. No one would ever force you to be the hero, or even a member of the main party. And I suppose making money in an RPG is decidedly easy.


    Just make sure you don't decide to settle down in any doomed hometowns. Seems like every other RPG has to burn a village down to the ground. Best not to get embroiled in that.


    Remarkably, that pun was not made on purpose. But I'm glad it slipped in there.

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  3. Dear lord... I HATE spiders. Let's just say I had a bad experience with them when moving around from one house to another one day. A... nest if you will... in a piece of my bedroom furniture. I was traumatized for weeks.


    Anywho.


    Arguably, I'd like being in a world that was very detailed and immersive. As much as I adore Mass Effect, I realize I am not really military material and I'd hate to hear threats of giant f-you robots coming to kill us all. But - and I'm not sure if you did a post that mentioned tis once - there are still chances to explore unknown worlds in little time and all sorts of research can be done in so many corners of the galaxy. Considering what I'm studying in university, I'd hop on board if there was a chance for me to study the mythologies of the different alien races on their colonies and their home worlds. I'd might study their languages to help improve the translating software the galactic citizens use. Or I could help ease the political tension between humans and the other races. When I retire at 100 or so, I'd spend the rest of my days teaching or advising based on my experiences. All this could be considered boring background stuff for military-obsessed gamers, but if I had to, I might get some military training so I could use a gun if needed. Some biotics could be awesome too, I guess, if asari are around.


    I don't put a ton of thought of where I'd live in other games, though. The SMT franchise has far too many post-apocalyptic worlds manifested with trollish demons that could gouge my eyes in a millisecond. (Have I mentioned I'd be more of a long-distance, magic using fighter over a close-combat warrior?) Legend of Zelda... feels too empty at points for me to want to live there. Windwaker and post-fixed up Majora's Mask might be minor exceptions, but they both are pretty vast and desolate too. So I guess Mass Effect's the easiest one for me to envision.

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  4. Had I known that anyone would actually click that link, I probably wouldn't have added it in in the first place. Then again, you can't look anywhere in the Zelda universe without finding something horrific (pro tip: NEVER look up "Dead Hand" in YouTube, Google, or anything. EVER). Still, I feel you on the whole spiders issue. I have my brother to thank for my issues with creepy-crawlies. Let's just say he used a Nerf gun to commit a great evil, once upon a time.


    In any case, the ME universe would be a pretty good choice, assuming some of the space-threatening calamities (Ah, yes. "Reapers") get taken care of. In the same sense that not everyone who's in the military works as a gun-toting soldier, there are probably thousands of opportunities for space exploration, cultivation, and outright adventure. Then again, I can't imagine that being too easy on the space-wallet, so I guess those are some woes that'd need cleaning up. Well, joining a crew's always a possibility.


    Also, I'll have to keep your RPG class preference in mind. For the record, I'd go with a defensive/support class, like FF's Monks or World of Warcraft's Paladins. In battle, there's nothing more important than survival.


    ...Then again, I WOULD like the chance to punch some baddies. The Tekken fan in me demands it.

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