Riverdale, the television reimagining of a classic comic series no one asked for, taught me why soap operas exist. Blowing through the first season on nothing more than a whim, a Netflix bender, and a totally nectar PBJ, this odd and often experimental first season is the perfect encapsulation of drama for drama’s sake.
Don’t get me wrong: Riverdale is not a great show. It is riddled with problems, many of which it gleefully and willfully ignores. No one alive or dead has ever talked like these kids. It has a serious issue with under representation where the only people of color are relegated to plot devices where their entire existence is defined by the lead characters. And calling its handling of progressive topics like slut-shaming ham-fisted would be a tremendous understatement.
But there is something just so inimitably watchable about this show, like a puppy running around at your feet. It wants to desperately to impress you and it undoubtedly has the potential to do so, but it doesn’t ever give itself the chance. The show often feels like it was made by a room full of writers shouting out ideas until they find a good one and before they get a chance to refine it into a great one, someone’s already gone and filmed it.
It’s somewhat indicative of the overall direction the comics themselves have gone, which is to say progressive af. Archie, after all, took a bullet for the first openly gay character in his world in an issue that was intent on tackling gun control. But if you take the slut-shaming episode of an example, it is impressive that a show like this would want to take on such a topic, but it also fails to do so with any nuance.
To wit, it says the problem with Chuck Clayton’s actions isn’t the actual slut-shaming but the fact that he lied. And you can’t ignore that one of the major arcs for our redheaded Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) is just statutory rape despite the show’s desire to present it as a Romeo and Juliet sort of forbidden romance.
But here’s the thing: Riverdale is masterful at crafting at least one or two Moments (with the capital M) per episode. When Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) tells Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), “You wanted fire. Sorry, Cheryl Bombshell, my specialty is ice.” I seriously yelled at the screen in glee. It was so over-the-top and impossible while being oh so delectable, I couldn’t help but react.
And that’s not even the best the show can do. The crux of the season, you see, is that Cheryl’s twin brother Jason (Trevor Stines) presumably drowned while enjoying a boat ride together, but his body eventually washes up ashore—with a bullet hole in his head. The quiet and sleepy town of Riverdale quickly mobilizes: who dunnit?
Then it turns into a high school basketball game sort of resolution and revelations; everybody gets a hand on the ball. Almost everyone is involved in some way or another, and the reasons why are teased out at a tantric pace, slowly dripping into your drama IV. Characters are dolloped on, and with each introduction, you know they’re there for a reason.
It’s also quite addictive in seeing just how these classic characters get chopped and screwed while their origins still get their due. Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), for example, has his oddball family turn into a wholly broken one, but when he drops a choice line hinting at his love for hamburgers, a smile still creeps across your face. (Admittedly, his step back from asexuality is disappointing.) And the inevitability and undying nature of Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica’s friendship is not only charming but potent.
Riverdale‘s structure and its off kilter and slightly menacing characters is evocative of some choice shows including the likes of Twin Peaks and Veronica Mars. They all share the same DNA of starting and revolving around the singular question of who killed X, sure, but the way it feels they all slowly peel away at the superficial topsoil to dig into the dark and dirty core is distinct and immediately recognizable. (It also doesn’t hurt you have Mädchen Amick dishing up slices of cherry pie.)
It also takes a page out of Veronica Mars‘ book by drenching its shots in color. Except instead of making it toxic with its hues, Riverdale somehow turns the dial towards eerily cold while still being eye-bleedingly vibrant. It’s such a unique and overwhelming choice but it works for this show and adds just the right amount of otherworldliness to the proceedings.
I suppose this could all be boiled down to a single sentiment: Riverdale is peak CW. It features a cast of irresponsibly attractive people all touching and kissing and betraying each other in equal measure; there are seemingly expensive pop needle drops in every episode; and it’s executive produced by Greg Berlanti (of Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow fame). If that interests you, then get to it. And if it doesn’t, then you just don’t know it yet.