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Prestige Drama or Quirky Musical: Which Archie Is Right for You?

Between BritBox's Cary Grant biopic and Netflix's Hindi movie, Archie is everywhere this week.
  • It's Archie's world, and we're just living in it. (Photos: BritBox, Everett Collection, Netflix)
    It's Archie's world, and we're just living in it. (Photos: BritBox, Everett Collection, Netflix)

    He's here, he's there, he's every-f*cking-where — and we're not talking about Ted Lasso's Roy Kent. "Archie" is the name on everyone's lips this week, although the man in question varies depending on whether you're looking for an iconic actor or a teenage bandleader. On Thursday, December 7, Archie dominates streaming in two new projects: Netflix's The Archies, a Hindi-language musical directed by Zoya Akhtar, and Archie, a four-part biopic about the life and career of Cary Grant, born Archibald Alexander Leach, streaming on BritBox.

    While The Archies brings the story of Archie Andrews (Agastya Nanda), Betty Cooper (Khushi Kapoor), and Veronica Lodge (Suhana Khan) into 1960s India, Archie isn't connected to the Archie Comics universe in the slightest. A collaboration between ITV and BritBox, the series stars Jason Isaacs as Grant, who recalls his journey from Bristol, England to Golden-Age Hollywood. Across four episodes, Archie dramatizes Grant's eventful life, which, for all his professional success, was marked by a deep personal sadness.

    Despite their obvious differences, the two projects have some unexpected commonalities; even more surprising, the BritBox biopic overlaps quite a bit with The CW's Riverdale, which wrapped this summer after a seven-season run. Whether your preferred Archie is British, Anglo-Indian, or all-American, one of them is bound to be the right fit — or take a page out of Archie Andrews' book and try out a few different options.

    If You Prefer Your Archie in the Past, Present, and Future

    Young Archie, headstrong teenager Archie, elderly Archie — BritBox's biopic is the only one of these series to follow the titular character across multiple decades of life. The drama is structured as a frame narrative in which Cary Grant (Jason Isaacs) recounts his life and career during a performance of his one-man show, "An Evening With Cary Grant," shortly before his death in 1986.

    Archie covers a lot of ground in just four episodes, jumping between Grant's tour in the mid-1980s — which ended when he suffered a stroke and died during a stop in Davenport, Iowa in November 1986 — his childhood in Bristol, England; his teenage years in the circus and transition to acting; and his storied career in Hollywood. Different actors (including Oaklee Pendergast and Calam Lynch) play Grant at various ages, but Isaacs carries the limited series: He conveys the depths of both Grant's charm and his despair, a characterization that certainly doesn't apply to his red-haired, comic-book companion.

    If You Prefer an Archie Who Overcomes Great Personal Trauma

    Talk about despair: The Archie premiere introduces one tragedy after another, from the preventable death of Archie's brother John (Ben Shorrock) to the institutionalization and supposed "death" of his mother Elsie (Kara Tointon). (Grant believed his mother was dead until he was 31, when he finally learned the truth; their shifting relationship is dramatized in later episodes, with Harriet Walter playing Elsie). Abandoned by his father Elias (Peter Ellis), young Archie learns to rely on himself, and when he's offered an opportunity to travel to the United States, he jumps at the chance, believing the only way to succeed is to get as far away from his father and his harmful past as possible.

    While Archie is the clearest story of one man's triumph over his trauma among these three, it wouldn't be fair to exclude Riverdale from the discussion, as Archie (KJ Apa) was deeply affected by the passing of his father Fred Andrews (Luke Perry), who died in a hit-and-run incident in the Season 4 premiere, "In Memoriam." (The episode paid tribute to Perry, who died in March 2019). Archie proceeded to dedicate his life to upholding Fred's legacy, and in later seasons, he became the community's biggest champion, fighting tooth and nail to preserve Riverdale's values and ward off the many threats looking to wipe "The Town With Pep" off the map.

    If You Prefer an Archie Who Fights for Justice

    When he's not focused on his love triangle with Betty Cooper (Khushi Kapoor) and Veronica Lodge (Suhana Khan), Archie Andrews (Agastya Nanda) spends his days saving Riverdale, a proud Anglo-Indian community, from Hiram Lodge (Alyy Khan) and his evil corporate interests. In The Archies, the young hero learns that winning the battle against Hiram, who wants to close down the town's public park and open a hotel, requires honoring one's history, and he and his friends accomplish their goal by doing just that. Navigating around Hiram's chokehold over the local government and the press, they remind the townspeople of all that Green Park represents for a community and country that achieved independence less than 20 years prior.

    The film's overarching theme — "To make art, you have to go in, not out," Fred (Suhaas Ahuja) tells Archie — couldn't be more at odds with the mentality on display in Archie, in which Cary Grant's artistry emerges in spite of his background, not because of it.

    Because The Archies is based on the comic book characters that also inspired Riverdale, the two tell similar stories. In both, Archie becomes Hiram's main adversary, though the businessman, played by Mark Conseuelos in Riverdale, proves far less cunning (and murderous) in Netflix's version. Hiram is defeated in each project, but while the film ends there, Riverdale took Archie's hero journey even further, pitting him against Percival Pickens (Chris O'Shea), an immortal agent of the devil, in Season 6's "battle for Riverdale's soul" and the institutionalized sexism and toxic masculinity of 1950s America in Season 7.

    If You Prefer an Archie Who Regularly Breaks Into Song

    Sporadic bouts of singing may be the only thing at the center of the venn diagram of Archie, The Archies, and Riverdale. The biopic includes the fewest musical moments of the three, but they're there: Twentysomething Grant (Lynch) performs "Give My Regards to Broadway" during a (failed) audition, while Isaacs' 1980s version of the character often adopts a singsong voice as he answers questions from the audience during his show.

    The Archies, meanwhile, is a musical through and through. Original songs and choreographed dance numbers appear throughout, and they're surprisingly catchy, especially the fast-paced opening theme "Sunoh." Some songs are entirely in Hindi and others incorporate English phrases, but regardless of how they're presented, each captures the colorful nature of the comics and incorporates details specific to Anglo-Indian culture, like "Plum Pudding," one of the only songs to feature both the teens and their parents.

    Riverdale splits the difference between the two. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's series operated within a teen drama framework, but it never passed up an opportunity to incorporate musical numbers of its own, whether via performances at one of Veronica's (Camila Mendes) many venues (she's probably the only 16-year-old on TV to own a speakeasy) or in its annual musical episode. Archie himself began the show as a devoted musician, and though his interest waned as the seasons progressed, Season 7's "Archie the Musical" brought his journey full-circle when it prompted him to evaluate what he really wants out of life. (For what it's worth, the episode also included a shower scene featuring Apa and Julian Blossom, played by Nicholas Barasch.)

    If You Prefer an Archie Who Pursues a Woman Half (or Twice) His Age

    The age difference between our favorite Archies and their love interests is perhaps the most surprising connection between Archie and Riverdale. The British series is based on Dyan Cannon's 2011 memoir Dear Cary, and it dramatizes their marriage and eventual divorce in the 1960s. As Archie (and Cannon, who serves as an executive producer) tells it, Grant wasn't deterred by the 33-year age gap with Cannon (Laura Aikman), who was 27 when they married in 1965; instead, the discrepancy only heightened his interest in the up-and-coming actress, as it eased his doubts about entering a new phase of his career in his 60s.

    On the flip side, in one of Riverdale's most poorly considered storylines, Season 1 followed Archie's romance with Mrs. Grundy (Sarah Habel), the music teacher at Riverdale High. Rather than depict the situation for what it was — a teacher taking advantage of a 15-year-old student and sexually abusing him — it was presented as a steamy, taboo love affair, an idea that was revisited years later in Season 7, albeit to a lesser extent.

    And If You Just Want to See Archie Fight a Bear After Escaping From Prison

    Archie cheated death many times during Riverdale's seven-season run, but the bear attack he suffered in Season 3 remains one of his most harrowing encounters. After escaping from Leopold and Loeb Juvenile Detention Center (where he was sent after Hiram Lodge successfully framed him for murder) Archie went on the run, but his luck ran out when he crossed paths with a bear in the woods. He survived but was badly wounded, and as he drifted out of consciousness, he experienced an elaborate hallucination that culminated in him "killing" himself — or, rather, killing the part of himself that connected him to villains like Hiram, the Black Hood, and the Gargoyle King.

    Though the moment was quickly forgotten (those SATs aren't going to take themselves, after all), the bear attack remained one of Riverdale's most bananas moments — and barring any potential sequels to Archie or The Archies, it may be the only time viewers are treated to a post-prison-break fight between an Archie and a wild animal.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Archie, BritBox, Netflix, The Archies, Riverdale, Jason Isaacs, K.J. Apa