Let the record show that I love teen dramas. I’d call them my “guilty pleasures,” but I don’t feel guilty about it whatsoever. The truth is, you probably feel the same way even if you don’t identify as a fan of the genre. So you just happened to walk into the living room right as your sister was starting new episodes of One Tree Hill? Got it. You watched Friday Night Lights only for the football scenes? Ok dude. Now I can admit that shitty teen dramas are some of the trashiest TV you’ll ever watch, but when these kinds of shows are hitting the right notes, it’s can’t-miss stuff. I maintain that Season 1 of The O.C. is one of the best television seasons of this millennium, and I kept watching Degrassi WAY after guys my age presumably stopped watching the show. If you’re like me and have shows like Mr. Robot in your weekly rotation that make your brain hurt, then you need a popcorn show that makes you say shit like “ugh that BITCH.” May I suggest Riverdale?
Based off Riverdale’s strong ratings and Netflix popularity, there’s a solid chance you already watch the show or have at least heard of it. But if not, don’t worry about it. Allow me to catch you up to speed like Jughead does before every episode (I’ll be much less of an ass about it). Riverdale is based on Archie Comics, with the main cast taking the exact character names and looks. You don’t need to know anything about the comics (I didn’t) to quickly understand what’s going on. These characters fit perfectly into the teen drama stereotypes that have been around since 90210. And while the show does a good job of paying homage to its source material, it still takes place in 2017. Like Betty and Veronica have their face-to-face meetings while drinking milkshakes at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, but most of their communication happens through texting. Oh yeah…it’s also a murder-mystery that takes place in a paranormal town! YUP, it’s a pretty weird show.
I’ll avoid major spoilers in here since this blog exists as a recommendation to watch the show, but here’s something you’ll discover pretty much immediately: all of the characters are hot. It’s the foolproof formula of casting borderline models or actual models in their twenties to play high schoolers that has been followed by…well…just about every teen drama ever. But for a show that prides itself on being progressive and self-aware, you’d think that Riverdale maybe wouldn’t prioritize looks during its casting. NOPE! They brilliantly did the opposite and chose to flaunt it. Within the first five minutes of the pilot, you see Betty in a bra and a shirtless Archie flexing his abs. One of the literal first lines of the show is, “Gamechanger! Archie got hot!” And judging by the multitude of babes that Archie gets with and the reactions of just about every girl I know who watches the show, he is, in fact, hot (which is beyond impressive considering it looks like they dyed his hair using a Ronald McDonald Halloween kit). There’s a representative for just about anyone’s type: you have the sweet girl-next-door Betty (#TeamBetty for life), the spunky it-girl Veronica, the crazy redhead Cheryl, the fiercely independent Josie and her Pussycats, the friendly jock Archie, the mysterious hipster Jughead (I’m being generous here…I don’t get the love for him at all), the suddenly jacked gay-best-friend Kevin…and those are just the kids on the show. But Riverdale fans of all genders and orientations know what’s good…its ladies run the show. If they aren’t already, then Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes are bound to become the next Blake Lively and Leighton Meester. They both seem like locks to become stars. (Realize I’m swimming near the shallow end here, so I should acknowledge that they’d become super famous mainly because they’re both legitimately great actresses. But yeah…it definitely helps that they’re really fucking hot.)
The actual best thing about Riverdale though is how it owns its identity as a teen drama while staying extremely original. It mostly avoids the common and overdone tropes of the genre, and when Riverdale goes conventional, it does so almost to the point of satire. Like there isn’t nearly as much jealousy and heartbreak as you’d probably expect for a show like this, and when there is it’s usually subplot. The writing is sharp, filled with witty pop culture references and metahumor, and avoids those cringy instances of adults trying to write how they think teens actually talk…for the most part. (I still haven’t fully recovered from the early “you totally would’ve been a trending topic last year” line yet.) The storylines never really go full soap opera, and Season 1 moves along at an exciting pace with a climax that is some truly gripping shit. The town of Riverdale also could not be any more different than the settings of most of the classics. It’s a place that’s constantly foggy, dimly lit, and probably wouldn’t show up on any maps. For a show that airs on The CW and probably shares a huge chunk of its audience with the Kardashians, its production value is pretty incredible. They totally nail the aesthetics of a creepy yet charming town that looks like it’s constantly time traveling between the 1950s and 2017. It’s apparently a small town, but it still manages to be filled with murderers, Ponzi schemers, gangs…just about every type of criminal you can imagine. It’s a completely unrealistic story in a completely unrealistic place, but that’s 100% intentional and honestly what makes the show so addicting.
I’m hyping up Riverdale like it’s the greatest show ever and deserving of all the Emmys. That is…not the case. There is A LOT to criticize here. The pilot does a solid job of introducing us to the town and the characters, but its plot is almost irrelevant to the point where it seems like the writers changed their minds on the direction of the show after its script was finished. (Seriously, would we think Archie and Betty even like each other’s company if she wasn’t constantly reminding us that they’re best friends?) The show also aims to be as #woke as possible, and they miss the mark a few times with it. Like the episode all about slut shaming definitely had a strong message, but Betty and Veronica’s methods of shaming the slut shamer are so preposterous that the message kinda gets lost in the shuffle. Or how about when Josie tells Archie that the Pussycats only play songs written by people of color, and then Archie writes them some music like two seconds later? (To be fair, a lot of Riverdale’s social commentary is effective. Season 2’s tension between the powerful Northsiders and marginalized Southsiders is topical, unforced, and fits naturally into the story.) I’m also concerned that the show might go so extreme on the absurdity with some of its elements that it could start to border on disinteresting. This is the exact issue that derailed The O.C. in my opinion, and we’ve seen flashes of it in Season 2 with Jughead. (Jughead is played by Cole Sprouse…yes, the wimpier twin from the Suite Life…and this season he *MINOR SPOILER* becomes the de facto leader of a biker gang. It’s just about as convincing as it sounds.) And do not even get me started on Archie’s singing scenes or the HUUUUUGE misfire also known as the Ms. Grundy storyline.
But all things considered, I could not recommend Riverdale highly enough. It’s as close to a phenomenon as a network show can really be anymore, and it’s always good to be in the know of whatever is so hot right now. And if you’re adamantly against watching it because it’s “for chicks” or something like that, then it sounds like you could use Riverdale as a conversation point at bars instead of your fantasy football teams. Like I mentioned earlier, Season 1 is already streamable on Netflix and we’re only about halfway through Season 2. So cancel whatever plans you might have with other human beings next weekend, get comfortable, lock yourself in your bedroom, and set aside a huge chunk of time. Because I guarantee once you start watching Riverdale, you’re not gonna want to stop until you’re caught up.
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