One of the people in my writing group decided to write a Riverdale spec, so I spent the weekend watching season 1. Riverdale is a gritty murder-mystery show on the CW based on the Archie comics, and the look on your face right now is absolutely correct. Some people have described it as “Archie in Twin Peaks,” meaning the dark, murder mystery part of Twin Peaks and not the supernatural or “weird for the sake of being weird” parts. My overall impression is that this is a VERY teenage show. Every time our narrator, Jughead, references the murder of Jason Blossom as “when Riverdale lost its innocence,” I think, “no, you’re just 16. That’s what 16 feels like.” When Betty confesses that sometimes it feels like there’s an evil inside her and she doesn’t know where it comes from, I’m reminded of Pubertus. And when Cheryl changes moods like hats, I remember that brief period in high school when I tried wearing hats.
And yes, this show is ridiculous. Most of the adults are mustache-twirlingly evil. Betty’s mom, Alice, is supposedly a reporter but writes articles specifically about her personal vendettas and without regard for libel laws. When Alice is right, she’s right for the wrong reasons and in the worst possible way. She’s so over-the-top that the writers use her in situations where there is a clear path forward that any rational person would take, but the show doesn’t want to go that way so they use Alice to derail the plot. A friend called her a “human record-scratch,” which is a phrase I have to work into my everyday conversation. For instance, you may have heard about the plotline at the beginning of the show where Archie is sleeping with his music teacher, Miss Grundy. (There was a strong fan reaction when the show debuted.) Miss Grundy is clearly a sexual predator, and when the parents finally find out and confront her, Archie basically recites all the things that kids who are the victims of sexual predators say, starting with “she didn’t do anything wrong! I pursued her!” So the way this would go in real life is that she would be arrested and tried, and those stories can be interesting but the writers really knew they had made a mistake with this one and wanted it over as quickly as possible, so instead they put Alice in the scene and she started screaming to where we thought Miss Grundy would end up swinging from a tree and everyone agreed that she just needed to leave town as quickly as possible.
And yet, the show can be frustratingly real. Betty still trusts and confides in her mother, despite her mother breaking that trust every single time, because it’s her mother. Most of the kids, in fact, should have declared themselves emancipated long ago but don’t because this is how it works. When Jughead’s dad accepts money to set off a chain of events that he knows will involve making his son homeless, it’s heartbreaking. When we watch the other adults in Jughead’s life penalize him again and again for being poor instead of protecting or providing for him, the reality makes us cringe.
And amongst all of this, the Blossom family literally tries to replace their dead son with Archie, because they kind of look alike, and nobody sounds the alarm. Jughead tells someone “you can talk to the Sheriff, or you can talk to me [a high school reporter]” and this is played straight. Betty is not only a far more responsible reporter than her mother (despite trying to cover up stories involving her friends), but the school newspaper, which didn’t exist at the beginning of the year, has a larger operating budget than the town paper. THIS IS ACTUALLY STATED AND UNIVERSALLY AGREED ON. The kids are definitely the adults, and yet the kids are still kids. Sort of what you expect from a show based on the Archie comics.