A Rant Review Summary of the Insanity that is Riverdale.
Spoiler alert for season 4 of Riverdale. Not that you are even going to believe me when I tell you about the ridiculous and tangled-like-the-wired-earbuds-in-your-back-pocket mess that it is, but alas.
Ever since season two of the CW’s Riverdale aired and went of the rails, it has been the laughing stock of television dramas. You see, season one actually wasn’t quite that bad. Sure, the dialogue was insanely cringe, but it had a lot of good moments and potential.
A teenage murder drama, very Pretty Little Liar-esque (which also went down the drain after some seasons, but that’s a deep-dive for another day) with vintage visuals and millennial references. The Who-Killed-Jason-Blossom? storyline was genuinely well done and intriguing. So what went wrong?
Well, season two came around. Usually, television shows follow either one or two paths - a strong season one and a weaker cash-grabby season two (i.e. Stranger Things), or a season one with lots of potential and a season two were it finds its shoes and fulfills said potential (i.e. Parks and Rec). Riverdale seemed to be on the latter route, but instead, it went with route 1’s season two. Weak, weird, and a waste of time.
That’s when 15 year-old-me jumped off the wagon. For three solid years, I was free of the burden of the near criminally poor writing. I was happy... Then I began watching the absolute glorious cringe compilations of scenes from the show on YouTube. At first, it was only to take the piss out of the ridiculous characters and their dialogue.
But the more of these out of context videos I watched, I started to wonder as to what the fuck was actually going on in this show. I decided to pick it right up from where I left off and binge it all through. So go grab a cup of tea and let me tell you about the insanity that is Riverdale, this is gonna be a long one.
Meet the Characters
I realise that some of you might not actually be that familiar with the characters on this show beyond the snippets posted on Twitter; so here is a quick round-up. We got four main characters, each of whose habitant parents play quite a large role in the show as well.
There is Archie Andrews (played by KJ Apa) - a red-haired guy that loves the epic highs and lows of high school football (and sometimes plays the guitar because uwu, he’s got a soft side). In the Netflix description, he is described as the one that has “got edge” but this boy might just be the dullest character on the show - which is kind of fascinating considering the series is based on the “Archie Comics”.
Anyway, his father is Fred Andrews (played by the late Luke Perry, rest in peace) who owns a construction company. After being groomed by his music-teacher (which the series just completely glazes over), he ends up being the loverboy to no other than the daughter of the woman his father is having an affair with: Veronica Lodge
Veronica Lodge (played by Camilla Mendes) is just straight up the worst person, ever. She is the rich girl from New York that just moved to Riverdale with her mom, Hermione Lodge, as her daddy Hiram Lodge is in prison. She wears expensive 1940’s styled designer outfits and heels at the sweet age of 16, and talks like a teenage version of Tahani Al-Jamil from The Good Place, just without the comedic aspect to it.
She truly is the embodiment of white feminism with legendary woke girl-boss lines such as “I beg your misogynistic pardon?”, “I am so over the toxic masculinity in this hallway right now!” and "Ugh, I can smell the privilege in here", even though she is by far the richest kid in the town, with everything fed to her on a silver plate.
Her best friend, Betty Cooper (played by Lili Reinhart), is the detective/good-grades girl in the group, but oh! She has a dark and deviant side to her (which is fully unironically referred to as Dark Betty on the show)! At first, this was just 16-year-old her dressing up in BDSM cosplay whilst almost drowning her classmate in hottub. Later on it’s actually revealed to be much deeper as Betty is diagnosed with the serial-killer-gene. She is apparently even only one in her family that has it - even though her dad and grandfather are both actual serial killers ...?
Talking about Betty’s family tree… oh boy. At the end of season 2, Betty’s dad Hal Cooper is revealed to be the feared serial killer of Riverdale: the Black Hood (we’ll get into all the plots and insane storylines further down). Alice Cooper, her mom, is a journalist for the local newspaper, and also had another daughter with Hal - Betty’s older sister, Polly. But before Polly, she had a son with FP Jones that she ended up giving up for adoption. FP Jones is the leader of the Serpent gang (and also ends up being appointed sheriff of the town) and also Jughead Jones' dad - Betty’s boyfriend.
Jughead (played by Cole Sprouse) is the emo-writer of the ensemble. Most infamously known for his weirdo speech, Jughead (which is his nickname to his real name which is actually... wait for it... Forsythe the Third) is the epitome of the I’m Not Like Other Girls-girl, just… as a boy. He is the guy that will unironically say “we live in a society”, the guy that can only speak if he references some old obscure American novel to say completely normal things (very Tahani-like as well) to make it sound like he is saying something wildly intelligent. He is the pain of my existence.
“In case you haven’t noticed: I’m weird. I’m a weirdo. I don’t fit in, and I don’t wanna fit in. Have you ever seen me without this stupid hat on?! That’s weird.” - A fully legitimate quote from an actual TV-series on-air that somebody got paid for writing.
There’s also a lot of other side characters, such as Cheryl Blossom (Madeleine Petsch), the twin-sister of the murdered Jason Blossom, and Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), who really only functions as Betty’s gay best friend. Although the best friend title is quickly lost to Veronica, and he remains as just… gay.
Hellooo, Spaghetti Junction City! It's time for the plot!
Alright! We got the characters down. Now it's time to unfold the true insanity of the show. If you haven’t watched the series itself you might think of it as just a cringy and pretentious show for 12-year-olds (even though it most definitely is not suited for 12 y/o’s, but I also can’t imagine anyone above the age of like, 13, genuinely enjoying it. It’s kind of like Jake Paul in that way). But that couldn't be further from the truth.
So the first season surrounds the murder of Jason Blossom, Cheryl’s twin. At first, FP Jones is framed for it, but it’s later revealed that it was Cliff Blossom that shot his son after Jason was planning to run-away with Betty's sister Polly who was pregnant with his twins.
Cliff was afraid that Jason would expose his secret drug operation taking place behind the scenes of their maple-syrup factory, so he hired the Southside Serpent gang to abduct him. Cheryl’s mother, Penelope (who was adopted by the Blossoms to be groomed as a child bride for Cliff) poisons her husband and stages the murder as a suicide (which isn't revealed until season 4).
Season two was mostly just a blip of nothingness, but highlights include the reveal of the Black Hood as well as the introduction to Betty and her boyfriend’s half-brother, Chic. When Betty and her mother go on a journey to try and find her long-lost brother, they meet Chic - a cam boy (or was he a full-on adult actor? Was never really clarified) that claims to be said brother. He quickly moves in with the family, and in the same breath kills a guy that comes knocking on the door looking for him. Betty and her mother covers up the murder, and slight suspicion as to Chic’s true intentions arise.
After various other odd incidents, including getting Betty into camgirling as Dark Betty (which is never really touched upon after the fact. Not even when a sex-tape of her and Jughead almost leaks which is considered to be detrimental to her future career), it’s revealed that oh my God! Chic isn’t actually Alice’s son, but rather an imposter that was in a romantic relationship with her son who was a drug addict that at some point just “disappeared”, after which Chic stole his identity and went to seek revenge on behalf of Charles.
It is highly insinuated that Chic killed Charles, but we know that isn’t true as Betty and Jughead’s real half brother is introduced at the very end of season three and becomes a frequent character in season four. Betty lets Chic go but calls the Black Hood and gets him to hunt down Chic. For a long while we are under the impression that he was killed, but it is later revealed that Hal actually took him in and started mentoring him.
When Hal Cooper confesses to being the Black Hood, that’s kind of just it. He is imprisoned without a trial and sent straight into a copy of Hannibal Lecter’s cell. They never dwell much upon what this means for Betty and the rest of the family, which brings me to my largest issue with the plotlines in Riverdale.
Although most of the storylines are just batshit insane, there are some that have a lot of genuine potential for depth and interesting character development. But because the plot is such a spaghetti junction of a clusterfuck, none of the stories are ever able to breathe.
See, Betty Cooper has the personality of an empty mayonnaise jar and the writers are always trying to push this idea that there is more to her. Yet the only times her character develops in some way is by extreme escalation for whenever the plot requires it. Nothing even happens to her as a character when her dad is revealed to be an actual serial killer! Instead, we just move straight onto the next thing:
A cult under the disguise of a "healing community" called the Farm is slowly recruiting students through the leader's, Edgar Evernever, daughter, Evelyn, who is attending Riverdale High. Polly and Alice Cooper have already become members, and Alice is even engaged to Edgar. It turns out though, that Evelyn is actually Edgar's wife and has been posing as a teenager for a decade.
The Farm hypnotizes the members to make them believe they are able to talk with their dead loved ones. They also convince them that any emotional pain they are experiencing can be healed through surgery - which brings us to the end goal of the Farm: to harvest the member's organs and sell them on the black market.
As Betty is getting closer to the truth about the Farm, her mother commits her to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy - a Catholic group home with a prison-like structure, as well as illegal conversion therapy operations. Oh, right. While this cult thing has been happening, a satanic D&D like game (here called Gryphons and Gargoyles) has returned from the '90s and are now spreading like wildfire in Riverdale.
The game brainwashes the players to believe in this "Gargoyle King" (which will be revealed to be Chic, the imposter, trained and honed by Penelope Blossom and Hal Cooper who have been having an affair and also orchestrated a Hal's prison escape) - a fearsome God-like figure that wants you to 'ascend' (die) by doing a game of Russian Roulette with to cups of Koolaid, one of which contains cyanide.
A Gargoyle Gang that is giving out fizzle rock (Hiram Lodge's new drug) for free, appears in Riverdale. At the Sisters of Quiet Mercy, Betty discovers that Hiram has actually been running a drug operation with the nuns. The nuns have been testing the hallucinogenic powers of fizzle rock by feeding it to the kids at the home, and then dragging them down to meet the Gargoyle King himself - even though it is actually just a statue. Betty decides to break out all of the kids at the SoQM, and brings them to her home.
Regarding the Farm - well it basically turns into this Waco Siege situation and it’s revealed that Betty's mom has actually been undercover FOR THE FBI this entire time. Not only that, but the real long-lost brother Charles Smith? Yeah, he is an FBI agent that’s now conveniently situated in Riverdale and is still engaging in a secret affair with Chic who is now imprisoned for his involvement with the fizzle rock/gargoyle gang operation.
It is genuinely so difficult to summarise the plot because again, hello Spaghetti Junction City! While this cult-D&D-thing is going on, Archie has actually been convicted for a murder. Yup. Framed by Hiram Lodge, his girlfriend's father, he is now serving time in juvenile detention (where people are also playing Gryphons and Gargoyles). But of course, he can't just be in jail. He has to get recruited for this underground illegal fight-club that all the elite mobsters and politicians in the area comes to watch and bet on.
When Veronica finds out about this, she decides to plan a classic jail-break. Somehow successfully so as well. Archie hides away in an underground bunker until he is proved innocent of any guilt, after which he - instead of going back home to his dad - decides to walk to Canada. But then he gets attacked and almost killed by a bear and decides to come back home. Yeah, that actually happened.
At the same time that is happening, Veronica has bought the popular dinner in Riverdale and has turned the basement into a “secret” (that everyone knows about) 1920's styled speakeasy where they serve non-alcoholic drinks (until they suddenly do... without mentioning when or why, only to be raided for it later on) and also occasionally runs illegal casino operations for mobster families. Keep in mind Veronica is around 17 when this is happening.
There are thousands of other subplots taking place at the same time of course; Jughead has become the leader of the Serpent gang that Cheryl has also joined, Hermione Lodge (Veronica’s mom) has become mayor, and at some point, Hiram Lodge is put in jail for his crimes. However, he owns the jail and can just walk out of it whenever he wants…?
Of course, Hiram ends up being exonerated of whichever crimes he was convicted for and successfully runs for mayor in town. It is then revealed that Hiram has a second secret daughter who he runs a rum-empire with (which has never, ever, been mentioned before).
Out of spite, Veronica (the 17-year-old) sets up her own rum-business with Cheryl Blossom (who's family runs a maple-syrup business). Despite being under-age, she succeeds by setting her business up in a secret rum club in the headquarters of Cheryl Blossom’s mother’s previous prostitution ring. Oh, and this is after Cheryl kidnapped and waterboard-tortured her mother with maple-syrup, now keeping her as a slave in said club.
About Cheryl, did I mention that after the whole cult thing happened, she stole her DEAD BROTHER'S TAXIDERMIED CORPSE and has been keeping it in her chambers where she has casual daily conversations with him? And for some reason everyone is totally cool about it? When she tells the main ensemble about it and has a final funeral for Jason (who may I remind you died like 3 years ago), no one even questions it in the slightest (??).
As we melt into season 4, Jughead has switched schools to this pretentious prep school where he studies creative writing. He has even becomes part of this exclusive book club - but it very quickly becomes clear something much sinister is at place. As it turns out, Stonewall Prep is linked to the creation of a very successful murder-detective book-series called the Baxter Brothers.
All books are ghostwritten by selected Stonewall students under a pseudonym. Now, how a student is selected is not by simply submitting a chapter or two. Oh no. To prove that one have written the perfect murder, one must get away with murder themself.
Jughead becomes the appointed murder victim, and the others in the book club plans to frame Betty for his murder. But without the club knowing, Jughead actually survives the attack and gets Betty, Archie, and Veronica to help him fake his death in order to gather all the puzzle pieces before exposing the ongoings at Stonewall Prep.
Although rare, I must give credit when credit is due. I did genuinely find this storyline, the twists and turns, really interesting. Of course, the never bending shitty dialogue was present, but the plot itself - from the mystery, the investigation, to the reveal - was pretty well planned out and executed. Especially to Riverdale’s usual standards.
Yet again, it was never able to take up the space it deserved. While all of that was going on, Veronica and Cheryl were running their underground under-age rum business, Betty is lowkey a serial killer, Archie is dressing up in a a mask and spandex to fight street crime... and, oh yeah, the ever important SAT’s and prom are coming up!
Yup, here’s your friendly reminder that these guys are actually supposed to be high school students. Can you believe they even had the audacity to say that they had “been studying for this test all year”? Excuse me? You’ve been to class like 7 times ever since you first started in high school, and none of you have ever held a textbook before - you really want me to believe you are got accepted into Yale and Harvard? How is that actually the most unbelievable thing to happen in this series?
Sometimes I catch myself wondering if the writers actually are self-aware. If maybe this is an ironic parody of itself. They can’t possibly write this shit and be serious about, right? There’s no way! And the network knows this too, otherwise, they wouldn’t keep on renewing it even though everyone is taking the piss out of it, right?
But then I watch the interviews with these poor actors. Man, these poor actors. Forced to say the absolute dumbest lines written for TV. Which just automatically makes them look like horrendous actors - regardless of their actual talent. Anyone that would read these wet dreams of a Wattpad writer-lines would end up sounding like a complete moron. It is like asking Usain Bolt to run in six-inch heels on a sandy coastline.
Watching the cast awkwardly chuckle as they very clearly are struggling to not make fun of the show, it is crystal clear that this show is not and never was intended to be a comedy. If it was, they would have just said so up straight. But no, this is a deadly serious crime-drama, and I suppose that's what makes it so hilarious.
However frustrated I am that this is the stuff the entertainment world promotes instead of the truly good shows that are getting cancelled left and right, saying that I hate this show and I would want it to end would be a lie. It is my ultimate guilty pleasure - the fiction equivalent of McDonald’s -, whenever I wake up on a Thursday morning and a new episode is released, endorphins rush to my brain. And so I admit, I am a major hypocrite and part of the problem.
There are so many things I didn't even get into - from the teenage rival gangs, the musical episodes, the fact that literally every big business in the town is a cover up for some drug operation, the overt sexualization of minors, how every 16 year old seems to have been involved with murder... Yeah, I guess that will be for another day.
If you do want a full timeline of the events in Riverdale (up until the mid-season finale of season four), I highly recommend this video by Cinematic.
I sincerely apologize if I caused you any loss of brain cells. Thanks for tagging along.
Read more by Malin Evita: Normal People, Review - Does the Modern Romance Live Up to the Hype?
“With this ambiguity and minimalism, it in ways make the story much more focused. We see these two people live a life in our physical world, a world that feels closer and less impersonal as it sometimes can online.”