Out of our yellowed and tattered comic book pages and into our screens, Riverdale is the latest instalment of Hollywood’s slew of live-action adaptations. But while we’re all familiar with America’s most sunny and eclectic group of teens, this show captures everything but the gang’s goofy adventures. Instead, they’ve dived into Riverdale’s darkest timeline, where everything is laced with a layer of paranoia and mystique.
Riverdale plunges us head first into the murder of Jason Blossom, the brother of the fiery ginger sex-bomb Cheryl Blossom. As the truth surrounding Jason’s homicide slowly unravels with every episode, we also gain insight into this iteration of this famous comic book town. This little whodunit plot isn’t all that is propelling the show forward: in this community full of selfish characters and devious adults, everyone seems to be hiding something, and it’s up to our teen protagonists to find the truth – not without keeping a few clandestine secrets of their own, of course. Sound familiar?
With Gossip Girl off the air and Pretty Little Liars slowly fading into cultural irrelevance, it’s only natural that the teen drama genre finds something new to fill in this gap. And while these two TV shows have disappointed us at so many plot points, we can’t deny that there’s something so mysteriously intriguing about these upper-class dystopian type stories. Maybe we relish in the drama and absurdity that afflicts these characters. Or maybe there’s something fascinating about how these adult parents are always trying to out-crazy each other at every opportunity. Or maybe we just can’t tear ourselves away from looking at these beautiful human beings.
That’s right, as with every teen soap opera that has become a worldwide pop culture phenomenon (or at least tried to – sorry, 90210), Riverdale comes with an attractive-looking cast. From our favourite redhead and his dad to “Ms. Grundy,” the townsfolk of Riverdale all look like successful products of new eugenics. But hey, we’re not complaining.
Besides providing fans of Cole Sprouse with enough material for them to squeal over for the next decade, the series has also given the fresh-faced talents of K.J. Apa (Archie), Lili Reinhart (Betty) and Camila Mendes (Veronica) their own fan base, cueing a new age of young actors onto the entertainment scene.
But even a new cast and new storyline can’t shake off the unrealism of teen dramas that make them just so frustrating and dissatisfying. And while drama and trauma seem to be the two main tenets of modern TV, Riverdale pushes the histrionics too far with their melodramatic plot and futile attempt to make our teen protagonists as hip and culturally savvy as possible. Let’s be honest – no sixteen-year-old would get away with the short shorts and mini-skirts the girls from Riverdale High are sporting, and few would be that familiar with pre-2010 pop culture to be referencing them in their casual conversations. MacGyver? Indecent Proposal? American Graffiti? No one under the age of twenty-five would get those references (probably).
While there’s something highly sceptical about how writers in their thirties or forties think kids in their teens speak these days, it does seem that they are making an effort in representing characters of diverse colours and sexualities, although some do contend that what they’re doing is queerbaiting. Nevertheless, while this adaptation of the all-American town hinges on a dark and gloomy premise that makes even Eeyore seem cheery, its lessons (while a tad preachy) are optimistic and clear enough for a toddler to understand. The very flawed and duplicitous characters are also interesting enough to keep your attention from flickering out like its neon-blue opening credits.
It’s 2017; Archie Andrews and his friends are reintroducing themselves to a whole new generation of teens and rediscovering themselves while they’re at it. Here’s to hoping that Riverdale isn’t just a story about pretty faces and forced plot twists riding on the legacy of America’s most recognisable redhead.