Is it trash? Is it Warholian-style art? Is it gratuitous melodrama? Yes, yes, and yes. Despite, or because, of this, you definitely should be watching Riverdale.
Based on the famous American comic Archie – you know, the ginger kid with the friend who always wears a crown? – Riverdale is soap opera meets tumblr aesthetics. Everything about this show glows – from the neon sign over Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe (a diner) to the dewy skin of every single protagonist on the cast. The visuals alone are enough to entice even the most keen-eyed TV critic, but what Riverdale has is so much more than just a good veneer.
Take the two of the four main characters. First, we have the comic’s namesake, Archie (KJ Apa) – the bad-dye-job ginger son of construction worker single dad, football player and acoustic guitar ‘heartthrob’ (in quotes because who exactly fawns over him isn’t yet clear). Then there’s Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart). Blonde haired, green-eyed, the perfect girl next door. Veronica (Camila Mendes), the Manhattan-ite latinx daughter of a gangster, and finally Forsythe “Jughead” Jones III (Cole Sprouse). No, that is not a joke. Though it seemed to be one step too far for this over the top drama to put Cole Sprouse in an actual crown, they’ve given him a beanie with pointed rim. Together, these four work to …well, it’s not quite clear yet, but keep watching and it will undoubtedly become so.
What these four characters bring to the show is more than just your average teenage drama. Yes, there are love triangles and teen-angst, but each also delivers an often heavy-handed message about life. The best in the show come consistently from the two female protagonists. Together, Betty and Veronica work subtly and overtly to nail the patriarchy to the wall. Veronica rattles off phrases like ‘the Bechdel test’ and ‘toxic masculinity’ without batting an eye. There is no eye-roll or hot-take or political correctness gone mad. Instead, what you have is the way real women are speaking to each other.
Betty is more subversive in her tactics. Performing a striptease for a bar full of gang members, Betty’s dance highlight the misogyny that runs in far more subtle ways through society. By being over the top in her actions, she casts a spotlight on the male-driven expectations of what women should be doing.
The brilliance of Riverdale is that you don’t have to look between the lines for the feminist agenda. The women of colour (WOMEN. As in, there are more than one!) in the show constantly bring up the racial divides of their town without couching their language to appease white viewers. Betty Cooper’s mother, brilliantly named Alice (side note: all the adults on this show refer to each other by their full names. ALICE COOPER.) shows what upward mobility coupled with shame looks like.
Though each plot is so full of melodrama it’s hard to take it seriously (there is an unwitting incest plot, a forced adoption plot, a vigilante murder spree plot) the dialogue, behaviours, and relationships between – particularly the female – characters on this show make it feel more relevant than most ‘real life’ dramas out there.
Guys, don’t worry – you have your heroes too. Jughead Jones takes male brooding to a whole new level and yet refrains from tumbling into the abyss of gaslighting-emo-misogyny that runs rampant with these kinds of characters. Kevin deals with the realities of being a gay male in a small town – not to mention, the son of the sheriff. FP Jones gives us a redemption plotline, while Archie’s father highlights the plight of a single parent.
Yes, three of the four main characters are white. Yes, everyone is undeniably extremely good looking, not to mention way too old to be in high school. The latter doesn’t really matter, though. With Jughead’s film noir style narration (oh, yeah, he’s writing a novel about their town and everything that happens in it. He might be gossip girl, just saying), the heightened aesthetic, the impeccably hilarious but sometimes poignant dialogue, and a slew of kick-ass female characters, Riverdale makes social justice talk sexy. And if that’s not your thing, you’re still going to like it anyway. Everything about it is tantalising, technicolour, and so well overwritten that once you fall into the rabit hole there’s no coming out. Get caught up on Netflix; new episodes weekly.