Each week Lachlan Mitchell, gloriﬁed tabloid writer, tries to cover up that he is blatantly copying Vanity Fair.
I started watching Riverdale over the break upon it being recommended to me by the wonderful Craccum staff, as my excitement over the undoubtedly Too Edgy For Life Sabrina reboot caused them to tell me where it all began.
And boy, Riverdale is a pile of horse shit.
But I have anosmia – a condition that means I cannot smell and I can barely taste at all. So naturally, I could ignore the pungent odour of Riverdale and continue into the hot mess, like a canary taking its final squawks in a Victorian child labour coal mine.
Like, I can see the appeal. It has very high production values and it hits all the right notes for its target audience. It’s taken a rather static intellectual property like Archie Comics and adapted it with raunchy sexuality, murder mysteries and even acknowledging the realities of gay cruising in 2018! If Aaron Spelling hadn’t already died, he would drop dead. But much like the lone surviving scientist in their apocalyptic message to the player character in any survival horror, they didn’t stop to think about whether they should, not whether they could.
Archie Comics is famous for being the ur-example of ‘50s innocent Americana, where the biggest problems facing isolated white suburbia were the hijinks of a red-headed quarterback and whether he would choose the staid and devoted Betty or the seductive raven-haired rich girl, Veronica. The characters here have literally become bywords for the idea of a love triangle, and to this day, Betty and Veronica are used as archetypes for opposing love interests. The small-town adventures of Archie and Friends came to simultaneously define and be defined by the repressive and unchanging nature of this time period, which allowed it to remain popular as nostalgia content for baby boomers wishing to pass on fond memories of better, easier days to their offspring, with said offspring doing the same with their own. The power of distraction propelled the publishers through the decades. No matter what was on the news, whether it was Vietnam, the Gulf War or 9/11, Archie Comics was there to provide a storyline about the trials of Archie deciding whose coochie he wanted a cup of.
So naturally, the appeal of updating the famously unchanging formula is something I understand. The original run of Archie actually came to an end when he took a fatal bullet for Sole Homosexual Kevin Keller, never actually deciding which girl he wanted. But Riverdale took this concept of modernisation and shot it with a cannon.
I’m about halfway through Season 2, but I’ve read enough of the fanmade Wikia page for the show that I know what’s coming. But just getting to the point where I am already has been a Herculean labour. Teen drama is not supposed to be the high peak of storytelling, I have no problem with that. But at some point, you just have to step back and look at the mess you’ve made. In order to bring Archie into the modern era, the showrunners decided that this means, in no particular order (spoilers ahead): Gangland murders; hard addictions to fictitious drugs; implied incest; actual light incest; Jughead Jones cutting off a drug kingpin’s tattoo with a knife; statutory rape and Lolita sunglasses; Archie starting an ANTIFA-adjacent group (that part I actually liked) and releasing a public protection manifesto; filicide; Jigsaw-style murder of moral magnitude and, above it all, a sexy cover of Gary Jules’ version of Mad World. You know, the song from Donnie Darko. I think that was the point where I was like ‘Yeah, okay, I know where we’re at now. No problem.’ Once Betty started sliding up and down on that stripper pole with her cover of Mad World playing in the ground, that was when I simultaneously checked out and yet developed full acceptance of what Riverdale is, like Patti Hearst deciding that she identified with her terrorist kidnappers and their beliefs.
Riverdale is not meant to be good television. Not really. If it once aspired to be primetime teen HBO drama, it abandoned that conviction over a season ago. And that’s okay. What Riverdale has become is accepting of itself. And learning to accept oneself is the ultimate plot point of any teen drama – so on that point alone, Riverdale itself has achieved what its characters may not. It has fully accepted where it is going and has unapologetically embraced how cringeworthy that direction may be. Riverdale doesn’t mind that it is completely ludicrous, it doesn’t mind that it is beyond the point of parody. And occasionally there’s actually something masterful going on. The plot point of there being a puritanical serial killer dedicated to purging elements of Riverdale that wouldn’t exist in its nostalgia years is pretty genius. That’s a level of self-reference that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Look, I watch Family Guy. I’m not an arbiter of taste by any means – I’m all about that Family Guy Glamour. So, when I say something is shit, I can generally be assured that I’m right. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that Riverdale is terrible, because it doesn’t care. It’s not mean or harmful, it’s not some deeply problematic clusterfuck like Netflix’s other teen darling 13 Reasons Why, it’s just bad television with high production values. And that’s okay. Sometimes that’s just perfectly okay.