Riverdale is the tale of a quaint rural town overtaken by the dark cloud of Jason Blossom’s death. Jason was the crown jewel of Riverdale, the captain of the football team with unnaturally pronounced cheekbones. During a cozy boat ride with his sister Cheryl (the cold hearted head cheerleader with trademark blood red lips), Jason tragically disappears and his decomposed body is soon found. Gossip quickly proliferates through the tiny town. Betty (the innocent girl next door) and Archie (the redheaded football player and underappreciated musician whom Betty has crushed on for years) are swept into the inundation of gossip and begin to investigate Jason’s death. Their twosome is interrupted by Veronica (the formerly snobbish and superficial mean girl from New York private-school royalty; her father is convicted of embezzlement) who quickly becomes infatuated with Archie. A lengthy love triangle ensues and finally Archie and Veronica find love together and Betty falls for Jughead Jones (the boy from the wrong side of the tracks who always wears a hat in the shape of a crown). This Riverdale gang faces the tumult of high school while simultaneously tracking down an elusive killer.
Season Two of Riverdale follows the same equation. Another twisted killer is introduced and once again the Riverdale gang takes it upon themselves to uncover the identity of the murderer. Though this time the killer is a hooded man with an obsession with Betty Cooper. He tortures her by forcing her to be complicit in his killings and makes her ostracize herself from all of her friends and family.
It all begins with the red glow of Pop’s diner’s neon sign highlighting the artificial cherry of Archie Andrews’ hair. Chocolate and vanilla milkshakes ornament the diner straight from a fifties daydream. The impossibly attractive, not-so-teenage teenagers of Riverdale crowd around a booth and somehow resist the plate of fries that lies before them. I have to ask myself how these characters have forgone the ubiquitous forehead acne and sexual awkwardness that defined all of my teenage years. Their perfectly coiffed hair and impeccable style have hypnotized me; my academic duties lose importance as I become enraptured with the world of Riverdale. This deviation from responsibility has lead me to dye my hair twice in order to emulate Archie Andrews and Jughead Jones.
To be quite honest I am very conflicted. I look forward all week to sitting down on my plush futon so I can tune out and watch Riverdale. Simultaneously, I am aware of Riverdale’s blatant flippancy and inclination to soapy plotlines but Season Two differentiates itself with a darker plot suffused with violence and vigilantism. Death has never been so tangible for our beloved Riverdale gang. Surrounded by the vintage American wholesomeness of Pop’s diner, Archie’s father Fred Andrews is shot and gravely injured by an armed man who dons a ski mask that only reveals his brilliant green eyes. The innocent façade of Riverdale is shattered once and for all. Blood pools on the floor and Archie kneels by his father’s head; I can’t help but let a small and anxious breath escape my lips. This breath was a harbinger of the stimulating unease that Riverdale would produce.
The first season, though consumed by intrigue over the death of Jason Blossom, explored only the theoretical motivations of murder rather than the physical act itself. Season Two is not afraid of blood. Fred Andrews nearly dies from exsanguination, Moose (a closeted bisexual football player) manages to live through his torso being torn by bullets, Ms. Grundy (a former Riverdale teacher who deflowered Archie in what was obviously assault) is viciously garroted in her home, and in an illusion, Kevin Keller (Betty’s best friend) is stabbed while looking for lovers in the woods.
Riverdale the television program was never quite like the comics. It is more progressive as Betty and Veronica refuse to fight over Archie’s attention and instead opt for friendship rather than rivalry. This may not seem to be such a liberal accomplishment but juxtaposed to the comics where Betty and Veronica’s lives are overwhelmed by winning Archie Andrew’s affection, it truly is. The show welcomes soap opera tropes with open arms as pregnancies are hidden, virginities are lost, and secondary characters die at every corner. Riverdale is clearly attempting to sell itself to an audience of angsty teenagers who smoke American Spirits and wear tattoo chokers. It succeeds. By sticking its toes into politics but refusing to dive in, Riverdale attempts to retain a tepid neutrality that makes it increasingly palatable for those who abhor politics. Nonetheless, I unashamedly watch Riverdale and tout it as enthralling television. It is inconceivable to ignore the realities of American politics in the age of Donald Trump but Riverdale does so mightily. Other shows have come to explicitly address political issues such as Blackish, Broad City, and even Keeping up with the Kardashians. Riverdale, on the other hand, makes sure to cursorily cover topics of race, sexuality and class. The show skirts around Kevin Keller and Moose’s sexuality and never truly examines their experiences as gay and bisexual men in a rural town. Josie McCoy (a singer and daughter of the mayor who happens to be one of Riverdale’s sole African-American characters) is never able to speak about her existence in an almost all white town. It appears that Riverdale silences the characters with the most to say.
This lack of substance is exactly what makes it so easy to binge. After a day filled with unsolvable problem sets and droning lectures, Riverdale is the perfect outlet for just detaching from the stressful Princeton atmosphere. As the Riverdale gang attempts to find the enigmatic distributor of Jingle-Jangle (a cocaine-like substance), the Sugarman, I am capable of completely divesting from reality and find myself deeply invested in their Scooby Doo–like hijinks.
As golden girl next door Betty Cooper is manipulated by the same hooded serial killer who shot Fred Andrews and continues to terrorize the town of Riverdale, I can’t resist thinking that this storyline is immensely familiar. It is tired and cliché. The main character, sweet, well intentioned and selfless, is corrupted and mentally tortured by a deranged killer. It sounds riveting but sadly I felt that I had watched the story time and time again. Obviously I am captivated by the world of Riverdale but interest slips as the show loses sight of its source material and the plot becomes increasingly stale. The melodrama of Jughead being recruited by a leather jacket-wearing gang that goes by the name of The Serpents while Veronica’s Bernie Madoff–like father concurrently returns to Riverdale is just too much to take in. Clichés multiply and taking the plot seriously is almost impossible.
I set out with an ambivalent view toward Riverdale, but as the words were transcribed upon the page, I realized that I had more to complain about than to praise. I wanted to indulge my fandom of Riverdale, but in writing I found a different conclusion. All in all, Riverdale is as good as it is mindless. It’s a simple soap opera that disguises itself with younger characters and sly pop culture references. Its superficiality is comforting but quickly loses its appeal. Over-dramatized storylines become tangled up in one another and the plot is lost in a soapy amalgamation. I will continue to watch Riverdale and revel in its glossed exterior; I will gasp at the murders and swoon at the teenage romance. I just hope that Riverdale can loosen its grip on soap opera-esque plotlines and instead explore some of the characters the show has neglected.