I just finished watching ‘Riverdale’ this past weekend and I was very surprised! No, seriously, this show is nothing like the I expected, and not in a good way.
If you haven’t guessed this review contains spoilers… but let’s be real, after you read this you won’t want to watch this show anyway so why worry about spoilers?
This show is a subversive take on Archie and his friends (based on the best-selling comic books). IMDB unhelpfully gives this plot summary for ‘Riverdale’ on their website.
“The quiet little town of Riverdale is turned upside down after it is struck with the mysterious death of Jason Blossom, a popular high school student and member of the most powerful family in town. Archie and his friends explore the struggles of everyday life in a small town while taking on the haunting case of Jason Blossom. But in order to solve this mystery, the rag tag group of friends must first unlock the secrets that lie buried deep beneath the surface of their hometown. Riverdale may not be as innocent as it appears.” (source)
Sounds nice enough, right? Kinda like a mix of Scooby Doo and Veronica Mars if it was set in Sunnydale… wrong! This show is dark, dreary, and discomforting.
Now, you might be thinking, “It can’t be all that bad! Of course there are some dark themes, a kid was murdered!” Well, that would be true if there wasn’t an outrageously depressing and creepy sub-plot introduced almost every episode.
There are no “struggles of everyday life” in Riverdale because it is, by far, the most removed town from reality.
Almost every sub-plot is less believable than the next. Here’s just a few examples:
- Archie spends the summer in a sexual relationship with his music teacher, Miss Grundy… Like, this is statutory rape, and when parents and teachers find out about the relationship a few episodes later Miss Grundy just leaves with no serious repercussions and it is almost never spoken about for the rest of the season! WTF?!!?
- Kevin, the token gay best-friend (yes, this is literally how he is portrayed, serving only as a plot device for the other straight character. Most of his lines are about his fooling around with closeted gays and how he is corrupting bi-curious jocks), is dating a biker-gang stud-muffin who is secretly using him to learn about how much his father, the sheriff, knows about the murder case.
- Betty and Veronica drug and torture football player Chuck until he apologizes for slut-shaming Veronica (and several other girls) in front of the entire high-school. The whole scene is weird and confusing and pointless because they already have evidence that jocks were keeping a ledger of everyone they ever hooked up with and assigning them “points” for sexual acts.
- Betty’s sister Polly Cooper was dating now murder-victim Jason Blossom and became pregnant. Betty’s parents of course thought it was a good idea to lock her away in a convent until she gave birth so they could give the baby up for adoption. Now this wouldn’t be too crazy – despite the fact that it’s not the 1950s and teenage pregnancy is no longer taboo – except that it turns out that Coopers are, in fact, Blossoms by blood, and Jason and Polly’s relationship was technically incest (they 3rd cousins or something). Holy family secret, Batman!
- Clifford Blossom kidnapped, tortured, and killed his own son, Jason, because he found out that the family business was being used to smuggled drugs from Canada into the U.S. and wanted no part of it. Kinda extreme to murder your own son when you knew he was already planning on running away with his pregnant girlfriend to a farm upstate. Clifford should have just let Jason go and live his life away from Riverdale like he really planned. It would have saved the town a whole lot of trouble.
I could go on! But honestly, the only realistic thing about these friends’ high school experience is that Archie has a different girlfriend almost every other episode (I mean he is a football star and plays guitar – hello, Wonderwall!).
And, as much as the plot of ‘Riverdale’ is ridiculous, the dialogue is not much better.
Every other line was either a book or movie reference. For example:
- “I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s and this town is so In Cold Blood.”
- “The red-headed Ansel Elgort.”
- “Too Season 5 Betty Draper.”
- “Can’t we, in this post-James Franco world, just be all things?”
- “I’m already the Blue Jasmine of Riverdale High.”
- “Watch it, Wednesday Addams!”
- “Did you and Donnie Darko kill him together?”
Plus, the writers seem to forget that they are supposed to be writing about teenagers and not their post-puberty actor counterparts. Seriously, the youngest actor (KJ Apa who plays Archie Andrews) is 19-years-old, while every other lead “teenager” hovers around 22 or 23-years-old.
Every utterance feels like some childless, middle-aged white man* decided to write a screen play about what he thought teenagers discussed in the hallways of the Upper-East Side.
*EDIT: It turns out this assumption wasn’t that far off base when I discovered that both the chief creative officer (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) and executive producer (Greg Berlanti) were, in fact, 40-something white men.
Now there are two redeeming qualities of ‘Riverdale’: (1) the cinematography and (2) the costumes/setting.
Every dramatic shot in this show is absolutely beautiful! The camera angles, slow pans, and use of reflections is masterful. Many fantastic scenes that do not have that pesky dialogue or are simply narrated by Jughead allow a sense of serenity and intrigue that the rest of the chaotic show simply can not give. Manipulating light and shadow to convey feeling and moving the camera with pinpoint-precision to show the empty vastness of the setting depict the gloomy and dark themes of the show. Every lens shot from the widest angle to the most dramatic macro image tells a story in and of itself. Absolutely brilliant!
The costumes and setting only add to the amazing camera shots. The blend of 1950s clothing and modern wear, coupled with the dichotomy of old Victorian mansions, trailer parks, and neon diners give the entire show a timeless quality. Everything about ‘Riverdale’ shows you a town that is quite literally stuck in place, trying to move forward as quickly as the Blossom’s maple syrup empire will allow them.
Unfortunatly, the cinematography and costumes are not enough to have me recommend this show other viewers.
My final conclusion: ‘Riverdale’ was written by someone who had never encountered a teenager in real life, was obsessed with Twin Peaks, and couldn’t think of any original characters so simply borrow the characters from the Archie comic book series.
[Photo credit: CW TV]