Liam Ferguson offers a defence of the much-maligned teen drama
As Riverdale, the much ridiculed but extremely popular ‘Archie Comics’ adaptation, is now filming its fifth season, it is poised to become even more ridiculous than ever before. The inclusion of a supposed seven-year time jump highlights this. At the time of writing, I am about halfway through the fourth season of the show, and I started watching it a little under two weeks ago. The show is beyond addictive; its consistently escalating storylines always leaving you wanting more. The strong performances from most of the cast and its overall self-awareness adds to the appeal. There is, of course, a lot to criticise - from the cheesy dialogue to the overall absurdness of it all - but if you can get past that there’s a lot to love about the show.
The storytelling within Riverdale is, of course, the main reason I haven’t been able to stop watching. Season one of Riverdale is normal. It is a thirteen-episode murder mystery that focuses on a small town rattled by the disappearance and subsequent death of a teenager. The narrative is tight, focused, and does a good job of introducing the characters and world in a convincing way. It focuses on developing the relationships between our main characters Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica, and provides a strong, if slightly derivative, murder mystery. Season two, however, is when the real rollercoaster begins.
Riverdale’s second season focuses on the mystery surrounding The Black Hood, a serial killer terrorising the town. Archie embarks on a revenge quest against him. Betty receives calls from him nearly every day, Veronica deals with her father, Hiram Lodge, who has recently been released from prison, and Jughead continues to be a weird weirdo who is never seen without his stupid hat. To add to the drama, Betty is revealed to have a secret long lost brother who is a sociopathic cam-boy and Archie begins to work with Veronica’s criminal Daddy. The show keeps you guessing about the identity of The Black Hood right until the very end with a reveal that will make you kick yourself if you didn’t guess it. The twists and turns in season two are constant and riveting, with plot threads changing rapidly between episodes.
Season three continues this pace and turns up the bizarre to eleven. It revolves around a Dungeons & Dragons (re-named Gryphons and Gargoyles) inspired romp, in which the creature/man/legend/cosplayer known as the Gargoyle King is coercing drug fuelled teens into murdering one another. Yet again, the show introduces a million plot threads alongside this, including a Jonestown-like cult and a prison arc. Somehow, these plot threads all come together and make a decent amount of sense, but there’s no denying that the show bends a lot of logic to get to the end result. This only fuels the show’s addictiveness. Seasons two and three, while almost double the length of season one, progress at such a rapid pace that they have to constantly shake up the formula and introduce new elements to keep the audience glued to the screen - making that click on ‘next episode’ that much easier. As I mentioned above, I’m currently only halfway through the fourth season so I won’t comment too much on it. However, I will say that I still have no idea who or what the main antagonist is, and I know it won’t be resolved as the season was cut short due to COVID-19. It was certainly a much messier season than the previous three and this could honestly have something to do with the writers running out of crazy ideas.
Regardless, there is no way I could talk about Riverdale without discussing its musical episodes. Once per season Riverdale goes all out with a fully-fledged musical episode a la Glee. The three musical episodes so far are Carrie, Heathers and Hedwig & the Angry Inch. They feel like watching a train crash in the best way possible. The Heathers episode, for instance, is jammed into the middle of season three and attempts to solve a breakup between two characters after they have had a fight. Characters swap between roles on the fly, half the cast sings off-key and it really does feel like a subpar high school production of Heathers. It’s exactly what you want it to be. It is with these bombastic episodes that the show truly knows what it is; an over the top, hyper-camp high school drama first, and a murder mystery second.
In conclusion, while the singing is off-key, the logic is flawed, and characters change personalities on a whim, Riverdale is a lot of fun. It escalates to no end, while somehow never truly losing focus and wrapping up each season with a nice little bow. It may not be high art, but it is certainly worth a watch.