The Underestimated Brilliance of Riverdale

In the immortal words of Cheryl Blossom: listen up, ragamuffins!

The moment I always feared has arrived.

I’m writing a piece defending Riverdale.

Now if you’ve never seen Riverdale, you might have heard about its unusual plot-lines and ridiculous dialogue about bear attacks or some obscure cultural reference that not even the characters truly understand.

But if you’ve seen Riverdale, then you understand.

Let me start with a brief history. Was I roped into watching Riverdale by my obligation to see the kiss between two girls in the trailer? Yes. Did I continue to watch after I realised that kiss was nothing more than someone trying to prove a point to the seemingly straight-laced cheerleaders? Yes. You might be asking why, considering everything you’ve heard about it. Over the next few paragraphs, I’ll laying out what makes Riverdale work despite all the signs that it shouldn’t (and perhaps doesn’t).

First of all, and perhaps most vitally, it’s the most self-aware show I think I’ve ever seen. However much it draws inspiration (sometimes very closely) to shows like Twin Peaks and other shows of a similar ilk, it knows its brand. That doesn’t excuse it from the occasionally convoluted story threads and unconvincing character work, but it allows us to suspend disbelief and not judge it for not being a Golden Age of TV icon, but instead for a whimsical, melodramatic show based on some comics. Neither of those words are intended negatively, either. Riverdale‘s self-possessive whimsy is one of its main draws for me, because it appears serious on the outside, but doesn’t take itself too seriously means that it can get away with some of the more ridiculous plot lines on the show.

And boy are they ridiculous. From a girl performing a strip routine to “Mad World” in front of her mother and her boyfriend’s father to gain entrance in a literal gang called the “Serpents” to the now infamous organ-harvesting cult run by Chad Michael Murray, Riverdale always played it fast and loose with the rules of typical television storylines and moments. I know my fave Glee had its moments of ridiculousness, but Riverdale makes Glee look relatively normal. When the aliens finally descend on this planet, I’m going to show them Jughead’s “I’m a weirdo” monologue so they’ll realise we’re doing horribly and that we need help. I still don’t know whether the writers were purposefully poking fun at their own tropes or whether that was supposed to be a serious piece of character writing.

Despite the absolute horror of the above, Riverdale still manages to have some great things going for it. One way it pays homage to its predecessors is through aesthetic. The culture of the 80’s is a big hit in the town of Riverdale. From the Breakfast Club-style flashback episode to the heavy synth influence on its score to the 80’s music covers, Riverdale imbues style into its veins and becomes a recognisable pastiche as opposed to being a faux imitation of an iconic period of time in both cinema and culture itself.

Oh yeah, there’s music covers on this show. Although the songs admittedly vary in quality, there’s a real goofiness to how they come about which does whisk me back to my Glee days but also provides yet another stylistic variation from the norm of CW’s slate of shows. Riverdale throws everything at the wall and it just about sticks. That’s not to say that some of the music doesn’t vex the mind in its choice. I mean…a group of teenage cheerleaders singing Jailhouse Rock as a cheer-up routine in front of a juvenile detention centre is the very definition of ‘on the nose’, but it’s that sort of obvious lamp-shading that gives Riverdale a lightness despite some of the truly demented things that happen on the show. Behold a few cover from the show that is actually worth its salt.

If they don’t convince you, check out some of the selections from the Carrie: The Musical special episode soundtrack, which are also amongst the show’s best. Only a handful of the cast are actually trained singers, so it’s surprisingly what some of the tracks do musically. Not of all of them are flawless obviously, but there’s enough there to justify their appearance in the show.

And if the “Anything Goes” clip didn’t convince you, Riverdale has some cracking visuals. From the stylish opening to the gorgeous lighting and cinematography choices, Riverdale uses its budget impeccably well, providing great craft quality to perhaps make up for some of the overwhelmingly pretentious dialogue. If either Jughead or Veronica is speaking, the line is probably something ridiculous while name-dropping some dead author or completely seriously using the word ‘demimonde’ on a CW show.

And honestly, that’s what makes it so much fun. As well as the outlandish plots and extravagant musical numbers, Riverdale is (usually) a lot of fun from week-to-week. Sometimes providing genuinely exciting mysteries and cliffhangers, other times completely forgetting their own plotlines, there’s enough in each episode to carry you through until the next one. It’s a good show for the current era of streaming, as it’s very easy to binge and whether you pay attention or not, Riverdale is largely incoherent.

But get this…plot doesn’t matter.

If you watched Season 1 of Riverdale and no further, you might gives the plot some applause for being well-paced and intriguingly unfolded. If you watched any further, you know that is no longer the case. From teenagers being framed for murder to teenagers blowing up their own houses to teenagers…well, you get the point. It’s teenage melodrama done with just enough stylistic grandiosity to actually work.

And if that doesn’t make you want to go and watch it? Maybe this will…

Still not convinced? How about this?

No? Doesn’t do it for you. Well then I’m out of options.

I know Riverdale doesn’t work for everyone, but its particular brand of eccentricity just hits the spot for me. Not every week, but I enjoy most of it (the rest of it I tolerate).

If you do find yourself wanting to give Riverdale a try (or a reappraisal) following this post, it is streaming on Netflix in over 30 regions. That’s queen behaviour right there.

As always, feel free to chat with me in the comments about the enigma that is Riverdale. Alternatively you can forget this post ever existed and I’ll try to reclaim some of my dignity I lost while watching the weirdo monologue.

Oh, and because I simply couldn’t resist…

If you made it this far, you’re a true hero.

Stay at home everyone!


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