This week’s minorities in cartoons entry involves the short-lived 1987-88 Saturday morning series “The New Archies.”
“The New Archies” was meant to offer a then-modernized take on the long-running Archie Comics characters. While the Archie gang had a lengthy run on Saturday mornings in the late 60s and 70s, by the late 80s they’d been off TV for a decade. Per the 80s craze (spawned by “Muppet Babies”) of making “baby” or “kid” versions of older characters, it was decided to set “The New Archies” during the gang’s junior high school years. As it was set halfway between the comics’ long-running “Little Archie” stories (set during the gang’s grade-school days) and the normal high school setting, the series offered an odd mix of characters from both eras: Archie’s childhood dog Spotty (renamed “Red”) appeared on “The New Archies,” as did childhood bully Fangs Fogarty as one of the show’s antagonists. However, high school-setting-only secondary characters such as Moose Mason also appeared. Similar to Riverdale Elementary in “Little Archie,” Riverdale High’s faculty—Ms. Grundy, Mr. Weatherbee, Coach Kleats, and even Ms. Beazly the cafeteria lady—all worked at Riverdale Junior High.
However, several characters from the usual teeange setting didn’t appear in this series: Chuck Clayton, Dilton Doiley, and Nancy Woods. Instead, “The New Archies” featured two new characters: Eugene, an African-American boy; and Amani, an African-American girl. Similar to Chuck and Nancy, the two were seen going to school dances together. However, while Amani was similar to Nancy (a nondescript nice girl who often hung out with Betty and Veronica), Eugene was a genius inventor similar to Dilton. Eugene’s personality was similar to Dilton’s as well; he was mild-mannered and conservatively dressed, frequently wearing a bow tie. One episode featured an invention of Eugene’s causing him to swap minds with Moose. Another episode focused on the boys trying to help Eugene ask Amani out, while the girls (not knowing about the boys) tried to do the same for Amani.
The show as a whole tried its hardest to seem “hip” for the 1980s. Thus, Pop’s Chocklit Shoppe became a restaurant and video arcade, and the gang dressed in “hip” 80s fashions, i.e. the era’s garish clothing designs and colors. Even Jughead’s trademark hat was neon-pink colored! One episode features Mr. Weatherbee (trying to impress Miss Grundy) dressing like the leads in “Miami Vice” for a school dance. However, Veronica’s clothes and general style (down to a “Valley Girl” accent) might stand out as the most dated-looking element of the series. Unlike the earlier Filmation series, the animation quality was improved, being animated by DIC (the producers of “Inspector Gadget”).
As for why “The New Archies” was short-lived (only lasting one season), my guess is its competition was deemed more compelling by kids at the time: ABC aired its own successful “kid version of adult characters” series “The Flintstone Kids,” while CBS aired “Teen Wolf” (based on the popular Michael J. Fox film) and “Dennis the Menace” (which was otherwise a syndicated series). There’s also the possibility that with most of the plots similar to regular high-school-set Archie stories (Eugene, Amani, and a lack of driver’s licenses aside), setting them in junior high might’ve not been distinct enough. Ironically, I watched this show first-run when I was the same age (in junior high) as “The New Archies,” and while I enjoyed it, I do vaguely recall having thought about their regular high school selves I’d seen elsewhere, probably in the then-still-syndicated Filmation Archie series or the sporadic Archie comics I ran across.
While “The New Archies” only ran one season, it did gain its own spinoff Archie comic for a short period. While the Little Archie stories are considered “in continuity” as flashbacks to the gang’s childhood (and are still regularly reprinted up to this day, with the rare new “Little Archie” story printed), “The New Archies” ended up quickly ignored/forgotten. Unlike other Archie elements that first appeared on television (“The Archies” band, various elements of Sabrina Spellman’s cast/backstory, etc.) Eugene and Amani never made the jump into “proper” Archie canon. I suspect the continued usage of of Dilton, Chuck, and Nancy probably precluded including Eugene and Amani. Dilton already covered the “class genius” angle, and Nancy was by that point a long-established character. Archie’s recently started to reprint “The New Archies” comics in the digests, but the few flashbacks in regular Archie stories to junior high, such as the “first day of high school” storyline a few years ago, seem to ignore “The New Archies.” By contrast, the Sabrina comics fully embraced the junior-high set version of the comic (based on “Sabrina, the Animated Series”), incorporating it as her actual junior high years in Greendale, including an explanation for what happened to Sabrina’s friend Chloe.
Eugene was voiced by Colin Waterman, for who this seems to be his only professional acting/voicework credit. Amani was voiced by Karen Burthwright, who later appeared as a character in the “Blues Brothers” sequel “Blues Brothers 2000.”
Finally, here’s the opening theme song, in all its “totally awesome” 80s-ness.