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Betty Cooper delivers a speech at a town cel­e­bration on the CW’s “Riverdale.” IMDB

After Betty Cooper greeted the audience at the 75th anniversary jubilee of her town, she asked: “But what is Riverdale? It’s the people, right?”

“Riverdale,” the TV drama inspired by the iconic char­acters from Archie Comics, takes a dark look at small-town America, per­verting the nos­talgic per­fection as it is often stereo­typed. The show will take an even “darker” spin in its second season, which starts at 8 p.m. on Wednesday on The CW, the exec­utive pro­ducer told TV Line.

These are not the goofy comic book char­acters you may know. Veronica (Camila Mendes) is a reformed mean girl whose father is in jail for embez­zlement and fraud, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) is a brooding loner weirdo from the south side of town, Betty (Lili Reinhart) has a mental illness brought on by the pressure she feels from her parents, and Archie (K.J. Apa) has six-pack abs and is sleeping with his music teacher. And their classmate, Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines), is found shot to death in Sweet­water River, a mystery that stretches across the first season.

Despite the sub­versive take, “Riverdale” actually por­trays small-town life in a manner familiar to those living in another dale named for its geog­raphy — Hillsdale. Some of “Riverdale’s” dark ele­ments may even provide a more accurate depiction of life in the dale.

Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica dine at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe. IMDB

The show’s safe place is Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, the 24/7 neon-lit ’50s diner where all the char­acters go for milk­shakes, the best burgers in town, and to see Pop Tate, the owner of the town staple. Hillsdale lacks an all-day, all-night hangout, but college stu­dents would be remiss if they did not slide into a booth at The Palace Cafe during its nighthawk hours one weekend for a plate-sized pancake or chat it up with Pai Rin­genberg, owner of the Coffee Cup Diner, on the hap­penings in town when they dine.

But Riverdale is changing. The murder of the high school water polo team’s captain has shaken the town’s res­i­dents, just as it would in the rel­a­tively safe City of Hillsdale. Jason’s death, however, is uncov­ering secrets that are showing the hidden ten­sions in Riverdale.

Agri­culture is a large part of the economy in Hillsdale County, and Riverdale was built upon maple syrup. However, as Mayor Sierra McCoy (Robin Givens), says, “The old Riverdale is dying.” Sym­bolic of this, the city is tearing down and selling the Twi­light Drive-In movie theater, despite Jughead’s pleas to keep it open. Replacing it is the “SoDale” project, a 40,000-square-foot com­mercial space promising jobs and income for the com­munity.

 

Riverdale St. in Hillsdale. Breana Noble | Col­legian

Bal­ancing tra­dition and how to prosper now is some­thing many small towns, including Hillsdale, are still working out. Hills­dalians can still catch a movie in their car at the Capri Drive-In Theater in Cold­water, but Hillsdale’s railroad heydays are long gone, and the city is looking at new and dif­ferent ways to develop the community’s economy.

In the face of such chal­lenges, however, small towns have become victims of America’s opioid epi­demic, which is esti­mated to kill 91 people a day in the United States. In the “Riverdale” season one finale, Sheriff Keller (Martin Cummins) notes that more heroine is spilling into the com­munity. Hillsdale is not the worse county by far for overdose deaths in Michigan, but one person died of an opioid overdose in 2016 and two more from other drugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Pre­vention.

In “Riverdale,” Keller expresses par­ticular concern over the opioids, because the heroine is moving across the railroad tracks into the “north side” of Riverdale now, too. The season finale plays up a “civil war” between the two sec­tions of the com­munity, setting up tension in the second season. The socio-eco­nomic divide in Riverdale is rem­i­niscent of the town-gown divide in Hillsdale in which stu­dents from the college and those in the com­munity do not have a suf­fi­cient or long enough rela­tionship to under­stand each other fully.

But both “sides” are a part of Hillsdale. College Pres­ident Larry Arnn is a part of Hillsdale as much as Mayor Scott Ses­sions or the cashier at Market House. The only way to bridge the sep­a­ration is by being respectful, being honest, and taking advantage of the oppor­tu­nities available to interact with those from the “other side” such as vol­un­teering, grabbing a meal at a local spot, or greeting a neighbor at church. After all, what is Hillsdale? It’s the people, right?