ARCHIE GROWS UP? NOT VERY COMICAL

The letters began coming a few weeks ago. They were small. Very small. I’d say they were small enough to fit inside a comic book panel.

The return address read: “Riverdale, USA.”

There was no stamp.

“Please help us,’ the first letter said. “Tell them it’s not true.”
(signed) Betty.

I had to use a magnifying glass to read it.

The second one was much the same.

“It’s not us.” (signed) Jughead.

Then came the third one.

“Give us a break. That guy doesn’t even look like me. How are the chicks up there?” (signed) Reggie.

I put the letters in a Q-tip box. I wasn’t sure what to make of them. A few days later, I picked up the newspaper and saw a story on the TV page. NBC, in its rush to cash in on the Batman/Dick Tracy success — especially during ratings “sweeps,” a TV word meaning “sweep your conscience under the carpet”
— is about to air a two-hour show based on the Archie comics.

Only it is not a cartoon. It is called “Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again.” And the characters are no longer teenagers. They are real adults. With problems. TV problems. Divorce. Sleaze. Family conflicts.

The Riverdale gang? I couldn’t believe it.

And then the phone rang.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hi,” said a small voice, “it’s Archie.” Calling the big world

“Where are you calling from?” I asked.

“The phone booth at Riverdale High,” he said, his voice kind of squeaky.
“I gotta talk fast. Normally we’re not allowed to call the big world. If Mr. Weatherbee finds out, I’ll get detention for sure.

“Did you get our letters?”

I told him I did.

“You gotta help us. Tell people not to watch that show. It’s phony. We would never do that.”

“Do what?”

“Grow up.”

I believed him. For 10 years I read Archie comics and nobody ever popped a whisker. Nobody ever lost a hair. Heck, nobody ever got out of high school. It’s been that way since the 1940s, when the comic strip began. And yet, in this TV show, Archie is now a lawyer, engaged to a yuppie. Veronica has been divorced three or four times. Jughead is a psychiatrist with a troubled son.

“I can’t believe that one,” I told Archie.

“Wait a minute. I’ll put Jughead on.”

“What’s a psychiatrist?” a new voice said.

“Jughead?”

“I’m hungry. Let’s get a burger.”

It was Jughead, all right. In fact, one by one, they each took the phone. Betty said she couldn’t believe Archie would marry anyone but her. Veronica said divorce sounded “yucky,” and she would much rather date and spend her daddy’s money. Reggie asked about the chicks up here.

Moose was angry.

“In the TV show, you turn into a chiropractor,” I told him.

“Grrrrr,” he said. “Coach would never let me play another position.” Go to the malt shop instead

I could see this was a big deal at Riverdale. And I understood. Some things should be left alone. Some things, television should keep its sleazy muffs away from. Next thing you know, Charlie Brown will be a truck driver and Tinkerbell will be a prostitute.

“When they asked us to do the Saturday morning cartoon show, we said OK,” Archie said, “because we got to be ourselves and play those cool guitars.

“But this is different. This is bad. This is, um, what’s it called? Defamation of Character. We read about it is Miss Grundy’s class.”

“Listen, Archie,” I said, finally. “I’d be happy to help. But I always wondered something. How come, year after year, you keep coming back to high school and you never graduate? You never even take your SATs. Moose never looses his eligibility for football. Veronica never gets too old for cheerleading. How come?”

He paused for a second. He asked the others. Finally he said, “I dunno. That’s just how it is down here.”

I heard a yell. “Oops, here comes Mr. Weatherbee,” said Archie. “We gotta go. Help us, OK? I’ll be your pal forever.”

There was a small click.

We were disconnected.

So here I sit, with the TV page. There are at least five other shows you can watch tonight, 50 if you have cable. My advice is you do so. Please.

Of course, if you insist on breaking Archie’s heart and watching some no-name actors stick their phony, soap opera angst all over Riverdale, go ahead. Be a jerk. I won’t have anything to do with it.

And I’m gonna tell Moose.

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