We Need to Talk About Riverdale
And how it's cuckoo bananas, obvi
I love watching trash tv. Not reality tv but fictional overwrought, dramatic garbage. It's an indulgence for me or maybe nostalgia that I enjoy teen dramas specifically. I don't watch a lot of new teen dramas, mostly I rewatch Buffy or Dawson's Creek for that but four years ago Riverdale premiered and it piqued my interest just enough to watch and, at first, it was actually pretty good. It was this weird mix of nostalgic teen show and weird Twin Peaks mystery. Sure it was over the top, sure there were bizarre moments that never get explained but it was a fun, campy mystery with a nostalgic twist and I was there for it.
Then Dark Betty happened and everything went insane, pushing this show from a guilty pleasure to something I watched gleefully to see just how weird things could get. Are teen shows ridiculous by nature? Of course, no teen goes through the amount of drama and weird situations that teens do on fictional shows. That's the nature of entertainment. If someone tried to make a tv show of my teen years, they'd be bored stiff. Nothing but school, homework, the occasional night out with the pals, and lots and lots of tv. An embarrassing amount of tv and weird movies which, oddly enough, made me the perfect candidate to love this show. And nothing could prepare me for the craziness of Betty donning a black wig to almost drown a beloved character who had already been trashed by being made the school borderline rapist.
I read the Archie comics as a kid, so I was aware of who they were referencing and the dynamics of the characters. I watched things like Dawson's Creek which this show was compared to (and funnily enough that show compared themselves to Archie...it's all come full circle!). I even watched Twin Peaks which Riverdale desperately wants to be. So badly do they want to be Twin Peaks that I think they forget that they're writing about high school kids. Everyone who watched the first season and laughed their asses off at the "weirdo speech" thinking this show was poorly written did not understand the shit storm that was to come and it is GLORIOUS!
There are gang wars (which started as interesting back flavour but devolved into something that fits so poorly within this show that everyone was glad when they did away with the whole thing); a teen fight club, a demonic(?) D&D Game, Cults, S&M clubs where only men are beaten (yay, feminism?), a girl hanging out with the corpse of her dead brother, and on and on and on. Everything getting wildly more crazy the more the writers try desperately to come up with stories to tell for these kids. The more they try to distance themselves from the very comics they were forced to branch off from, the more ill fitting everything becomes. With every increasingly edgy thing they throw at us with this show, I hear the writers crying out that they're not the comics! These kids will not hang out at Malt Shops! These teens hang out at a speak easy! And I think the big question I have is...
Yet, I keep watching because I just love how ridiculous everything is. I mean, how can you take Betty's Dad being a Hannibal Lecter style serial killer as anything other than goofy? I have this theory that the writers are in competition with each other to see just how far they can push things each week and who can come up with the stupidest sub plot. My vote goes to the teen tickle ring because WTF?
Sure, the first season could never exactly be taken seriously what with two teenagers predominantly doing the investigation of another teen's murder while the sheriff sat back and did little to nothing but oh man, did the writers throw all rules out the window come the second season, to the point that it honestly felt like the children of Riverdale lived in some type of Children of the Corn situation. Instead of worshiping corn, they worshipped maple syrup. This show clearly wanted to be something more than it could be, constrained by age appropriate shackles while also ignoring those same chains and just writing what they wanted anyway to mixed results. They also seemed to do away with anything remotely resembling the original comics by doing away with the infamous and original love triangle dynamic and giving us set in stone couplings. I actually admire it, them looking at the source and going NOPE. It honestly makes them all better characters for it, except maybe Archie who is still the most boring part of the show which is saying a lot considering he tried to start a vigilante street gang, got sent to juvie, and fought a bear.
The writers just really liked The Revenant and thought, we can do that! And that's not the only plot ripped from elsewhere. The most obvious plot is that of Shawshank Redemption and they were not subtle with the references, even including a character dressed to look exactly like Warden Norton and also named Warden Norton. Other plot lines pilfered include a massive football game that ends in bloody tragedy (Sleepers, didn't think anyone would notice that one, did you, writers? No one remembers Sleepers, you thought. I do. I remember Sleepers because it's awesome and Brad Renfro is amazing), a hidden fight club (Fight Club boiled down to it's most basic reading anyway), and there was even an entire episode trying to be Chinatown which they were pretty obviously paying homage to. Yet even with this over obvious homage or rip off or whatever they're trying to do, I love it more. I don't know how this works but it's like they're so blatant they're daring me to guess what movies they've seen lately or that influenced them and I kind of love it.
The only real issue I had with this show was the weird and overly sexual vibe the show loves to dabble with. I have nothing against racy and sexy things, I loved True Blood...for a bit anyway. The problem was that any time a scene would come on that would be a little too lingering or exploitative, I got uncomfortable because while the actors are adults, the characters they're portraying are teens. Teens are absolutely curious about sex and that is normal and healthy but I question the writers judgement in how they portray things to their mostly underage audience. It's uncomfortable every time they do it and they do it a lot. Mostly, I can ignore it because, obviously this is geared towards their teen fans and that's fine but there are other times when it jumps right out at me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth that anyone thought it would be ok. Case in point, when Betty does a striptease to Mad World in front of her mother, her boyfriend and his dad, and his dad's other 40-50 year old gang member friends. I get it, you want to be edgy, racy, dangerous and seedy much like Twin Peaks was but writers, you are writing for teenagers and while stuff like this can happen, maybe we shouldn't present it in such a blasé way with no real explanation or consequence?
I want to be clear here, I don't want bad things to happen to Betty because she did this. I wanted there to be a bit of explanation that it's not a great idea for her to do it and that the men in the room are explicitly gross (but the Serpents get rebranded as good guys so...) Then there was the inexplicable tickling ring which was very obviously a stand in for cam girls and/or porn. Not the most delicate of subject matters and it was handled with all the grace of a boulder falling off a cliff. I wondered if maybe some of the charm was wearing off for me especially when I tuned into the latest season to find that they would be exploring the world of snuff films. I think even that was a step too far for them and the writers realized things needed to change because they promptly resolved the plot (it was Jughead's sister in a bid to get him to stay in Riverdale with her to solve the mystery), graduated the kids, and then jumped ahead 7 years.
The time jump might actually be the best thing the writers could have done for this show. Now they're free to write the steamy show they want without the fall out of everyone pointing out that they're writing for minors. Plus with it being based in the Archie universe, they can still get away with using cheesy puns and play on words like having a serial killer called TBK (get it?). I'm actually pumped about where they could go with the new season with them all being fully adults now. So, if the teen thing kept you from watching Riverdale, maybe now you can give it a shot because for all its faults, I love this stupid show for just being the most nonsensical and bizarre thing you could possibly imagine. Who knew a show that tried to be Twin Peaks while ripping off any and all movies possible using the Riverdale gang could be so fun? And now that they're adults, I don't have to be so creeped out when the sex scenes start (but admittedly it still throws me for a loop because this is the Archie gang). Either way, fire up the popcorn and buckle up because it's going to be one hell of a ride.