Checking in on Riverdale
Thursdays still belong to Shonda Rhimes but for the past 7 weeks, I’ve ventured out of Shondaland and into a mysterious, perpetually overcast town called Riverdale for an hour every Thursday. Riverdale is back with new episodes next week but to hold you over until then, I’m essentially going to yell at you to watch Riverdale if you aren’t already (but you are, right!?) and break down the highs and lows of the first 7 episodes.
When I wrote about the show in November after the first trailer was released, I was just trying to wrap my head around Sexy Archie and a cast that looked like they were on a lunch break from Abercrombie & Fitch. Everyone is really pretty. Everyone has secrets. Archie is especially pretty but Archie’s secrets are the least interesting. The tagline for this show should be Riverdale: come for KJ Apa’s abs and stay for the nostalgia, the camp, the drama and literally EVERYTHING ELSE. KJ Apa’s Archie is the weakest member of the Riverdale gang and that’s OK. Dawson was the lame duck of Dawson’s Creek. I probably would have liked Dawson Leery a lot more if he looked anything like KJ Apa with his shirt off. Have I mentioned that Archie is HOT? For the first 4 episodes, the show was very committed to making sure Archie was shirtless in at least two scenes every episode and I was here for it.
Aside from the eye candy though, here’s what else is working on Riverdale: sure, it’s dark and moody but it also refuses to take itself too seriously. Through subtle quips and Jughead’s sardonic voiceovers, Riverdale seems like it’s always in on the joke. The characters are clear and—aside from Archie—they’ve got depth. Cheryl Blossom is 2017’s Regina George. Josie McCoy is ambitious and adorable. Kevin has been relegated to Veronica’s gay sidekick as of late but he’s got some serious potential. Cole Sprouse got off to a rocky start with his portrayal of Archie’s bestie and Riverdale’s resident outsider, Jughead Jones, but as the show has progressed, Sprouse has settled into Jughead’s brooding, socially inept persona and in the past few eps, he’s been nailing it. Jughead’s complicated relationship with his dad FP (played by Skeet Ulrich!!) delivers real feels. Riverdale has yet to make me cry but the scenes with Jughead and his dad have come close.
On other teen shows, the grownups might as well have been doing the Charlie Brown adult “wah wah” for every line. No disrespect to The O.C’s Sandy Cohen. I couldn’t tell you what the parents were up to on Pretty Little Liars and I barely remember if the kids on Gossip Girl had adult supervision. Maybe it’s because Archie’s dad is Luke freaking Perry and Josie’s mom is Robin f-cking Givens but I care about their storylines. I want to know if Hermione Lodge and Fred Andrews are going to end up together. I’m intrigued by FP’s gang ties. I want Betty’s mom to be in every scene. Mädchen Amick is pitch perfect as Alice Cooper. Picture Big Little Lies’ Renata Klein meets Emily Gilmore. My original assessment of Betty’s story arc was that she would be “caught up in her crush on Archie and an overbearing mother.” When Betty is actually caught up in these two things, she’s at her best. As much as I want to like the whole *SPOILER* Betty/Jughead pairing—and I do, mostly— I just want a good old fashioned Archie/Betty/Veronica love triangle.
Last week, Vulture suggested that Riverdale embrace Archie, Betty and Veronica as a “throuple”. It has been multiple episodes since any inkling of a love triangle between these three has surface. Right now, they’re trying to get us to care about a Jughead/Archie/Betty triangle. Nope. I don’t believe that Betty and Veronica are not both obsessed with Archie (that face, those abs, COME ON) and that their obsession wouldn’t occupy most of their time. Does that make me a bad feminist? I know this is not the Archie comics we grew up with but let us have this one thing! WHY aren’t we getting the classic Betty/Archie/Veronica love triangle!? I texted Duana about this, as I do when I have frustrations about a TV show, and since Duana is Duana, she dropped this intelligent theory: Since we’re all programmed to think Veronica is a backstabbing bitch who will steal your man at any chance, maybe the show is just trying to reintroduce us to Veronica Lodge, the fully-formed human being, before she comes between the Joey and Dawson of Riverdale? Over the first 7 episodes, Betty and Veronica have become close friends. It does feel like a deliberate attempt to portray a healthy female friendship instead of a stereotypically contentious one. Fine. But when the show has shown us glimpses of Archie’s relationship with either Betty or Veronica, it has made all three of them more compelling. Archie may be a dud but he’s at his strongest when he’s attempting to tell his best friend Betty why he loves her but he’s not in love with her. And can I just give a quick THANK BLUE IVY that the Miss Grundy storyline is over – at least for now? I was over that sh-t after episode 1.
In other Riverdale news, how’s that murder mystery going? Yes, aside from teen angst and unrequited love, there’s a murder to solve. And this is where we get to what isn’t working on Riverdale. I. DO. NOT. CARE. ABOUT. POLLY. As Duana pointed out, the whole ‘secretly engaged’ plot is dumb. I don’t care that Polly is pregnant. I don’t even think I really care who killed Jason Blossom. You would think that would be a bigger issue given that this is the entire plot of the season but everything else is so strong, the murder mystery feels like an afterthought. Plus, I think I tuned out when the big family drama between the Blossoms and the Coopers turned out to be over maple syrup. Maple. Syrup. They couldn’t have been fighting over land like most rich white people on soap operas?
If you can get past the silly syrup plot, I promise Riverdale is worth your time.
Here’s a preview of next week’s episode: