Tim Stack
September 13, 2017 AT 03:00 PM EDT

To read more on EW’s Fall TV Preview, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it here now. To purchase the cover featuring EW’s Cover Battle winners, Riverdaleclick here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

If Gossip Girl married Twin Peaks and had a kid, it would probably look a lot like Riverdale, the cover of EW’s Fall TV Preview (and winner of our highly competitive cover contest). With its mixture of sex, drugs, murder and wig rooms (Yes—a room full of toupees!), The CW’s modern reboot of the Archie comics has transformed the sleepy town of Riverdale into a whole new world for fans of the wholesome saga. Archie (KJ Apa), Veronica (Camila Mendes), Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), and their friends deal with typical teen drama, like torturing slut-shaming football players, finding out their parents have secret children (we’re lookin’ at you, Alice Cooper), and solving the murder of a classmate. Conceived by Archie Comics chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who previously wrote for Glee, the series is a subversive, sexy take on the iconic characters that still maintains certain hallmarks (red hair! milkshakes! pep rallies! Jughead’s crown!). It’s that reverence for the original combined with a willingness to push the envelope that is the unique pleasure of Riverdale. “For every really sweet thing, Roberto has something really spicy,” explains EP Greg Berlanti. “For every nostalgic thing, he’s got something so contemporary and adult and scary.” Adds Aguirre-Sacasa, “I think it’s kind of caught between the dark and the light of Archie.”

Riverdale started out much, much lighter. In 2013, Aguirre-Sacasa had been in talks to develop a big-screen take on the comic book for Warner Bros. when things started going a little off track. “It just got crazy,” remembers Riverdale EP Sarah Schechter, who originally worked on the movie version. “There were, like, time portals. At one point one of my bosses said, ‘What about Louis C.K. for Archie?’ I called Roberto and said, ‘Don’t close the deal. Run away.’ Soon after I left [to run Berlanti Productions], one of the first calls was to Roberto to say, ‘Why don’t we do this as a TV show?’ ”

GALLERY: Exclusive Photos of the Riverdale Cast During the EW Cover Shoot

But Archie and his goody-two-shoes gang still came across as a slightly dated franchise for modern audiences. Says Berlanti, “It’s Archie, so people needed to know, ‘Why is it still for today?’ ” The answer was an old-fashioned killing. “When we added the murder-mystery element to season 1, the show unlocked creatively for me,” remembers Aguirre-Sacasa. He admits that his playing with a beloved franchise initially freaked out some fans. “As people watch more and more episodes, they’re much more accepting and excited by it,” he says. “There will always be a hardcore contingency that doesn’t like anything that we change.” But then there are those changes that become social-media gold, like the romantic pairing of Jughead and Betty. The odd couple became a fan favorite, garnering their own shipper fan group called, naturally, Bugheads. “I had a suspicion that people would spark to Betty and Jughead getting together but I did not know that it would electrify fans and take on an elemental life of its own,” says Aguirre-Sacasa. Adds Sprouse: “We were working against 75 years of comic purism in which the two characters had very little romantic interaction. We were also working against Jughead’s asexuality.”

STYLE HUNTER: Get the Looks You Love From Riverdale

This season will continue to track the Bughead romantic rollercoaster but most of the thrills will be the series’ brand new top-secret plot, a full-throttle thriller. The hope is that the scares (and high body count) will not only please Riverdale’s already fervent fan base but be addictive enough to grow the series from solid success to bona fide hit. (Ratings for season 1 were respectable, averaging 1.7 million viewers per ep.) “The first three episodes of this are the strongest of a second season I’ve been a part of,” says Berlanti, a veteran producer of classics like Dawson’s Creek and Brothers & Sisters. “It’s got an incredible new mystery and a new hook, and I think it’s got more of everything that people love about the show.”

Beyond Riverdale, EW’s Fall TV preview is chock full of exclusive details on 145(!) shows, including new series like CBS’ Young Sheldon and Fox’s The Gifted, plus returning hits like NBC’s This Is Us and Showtime’s Shameless. The Fall TV Preview issue will be on stands Friday, but to get your hands on the exclusive cover featuring the cast of Riverdale, click here.

Eric Ray Davidson for EW
Outlander: Ruven Afanador for EW; Riverdale: Eric Ray Davidson for EW; This is Us: Art Streiber for EW; Will & Grace: Robert Trachtenberg for EW; Supernatural and Star Trek Discovery: Matthias Clamer for EW

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