TV's biggest surprise romance? We'll say it's Jughead and Betty


TV critics are supposed to be immune to any surprise. We've seen the Red Wedding on "Game of Thrones," the fictional election on "Scandal," the real one on the news. Still, my biggest surprise came last Thursday (March 2), when Jughead and Betty had a warm kiss. This week (March 9), they're dating and happy; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Thursday-night
television has delivered some sharp jolts lately.

Doctors kept dying,
lovers kept leaving, politicians kept cheating. Also, the Jets won
big.

Still, this may be
the biggest surprise: Jughead is now dating Betty.

Yes, Jughead Jones.
Fans of the old Archies comics remember him as the goofy guy with a
goofier name and the goofiest hat. Fans of the recent, darker comics
remember him as stridently asexual.

And now Betty Cooper
– Archie Andrews' girl next door (literally) and the nicest person
in Riverdale – is his girlfriend. That's in “Riverdale,” which
CW network executive Paul Hewett calls a “subversive take on the
characters from Archie Comics.”

Fans will accept
such subversion, said Cole Sprouse, the former child star who plays
Jughead, “as long as Archie doesn't die to a bullet, saving Kevin's
life.”

Hey, there have been
bigger changes than that. In 2013, the “Afterlife With Archie”
comic had an alternate universe. “Archie was in the middle of a
zombie apocalypse,” said Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the author of that
story (and chief creative officer of Archie Comics). “He was still
the character we knew. He was still basically a good kid, trying to
do the right thing, often messing up.”

Hey, if we can
accept zombies then maybe we can accept loverboy Jughead. Maybe.

“Riverdale”
offers a darkly pensive Jughead, forever writing in his journal. His
dad compares him to Holden Caulfield in “Catcher in the Rye,” but
there might be another literary comparison:

Think of Archie as
Tom Sawyer – clean-cut, optimistic, fortunate. Jug is Huck Finn
without a raft, the homeless son of an alcoholic. He lived in the
drive-in theater until it closed; he's an empathetic guy, helping
Betty find the sister who fled a home for unwed mothers. (No, that
wasn't in the comics either.)

And he's the series
narrator, something Sprouse prepared for. He said he had “a
three-week binge of 'Twilight Zone.' I was trying to channel my Rod
Serling when I went in for the audition. I wanted to kind of fit
myself into a darker, more strange, more broody version of my
childhood self.”

TV viewers be
surprised that there were any dark-strange-broody moments in his
childhood. On-camera, Sprouse reflected Disney-esque cheer.

At first, he shared
characters with his twin brother Dylan. At 8 months, they did a
diaper commercial, then were Brett Butler's son in “Grace Under
Fire” and Adam Sandler's adopted son in “Big Daddy.” Then they
played twins in Disney's “Suite Life” and its sequel. This was
not great television, but it lasted six years and made them rich.
They had their own line of clothes, books, comics and more.

Both graduated from
New York University and Dylan still lives in New York, planning to
open a Brooklyn brewery this spring; Cole was into maps and such.
“For a year, I was in an all-concrete office in New York, doing
archeological cartography.”

That retreat was
deliberate, he said. “I didn't make the choice when I was younger
to act. I needed to discover what it meant to do that and step away
from myself.”

He decided that he's
fond of acting. “It's kind of like an ex-lover to me.”

And it has led him
to a miracle of sorts – Jughead Jones, lucky at love.

-- “Riverdale,”
9 p.m. Thursdays, CW