How Riverdale is poisoning television
Netflix’s teen-melodrama is literally rotting my brain
By Colin Macgillivray, Arts Editor
“Have you seen Riverdale? You have to watch it, it’s crazy!”
Since the premiere back in January, I’ve been badgered and tormented by the prospect of watching the new Archie comics inspired teen-soap opera by almost everyone. If you haven’t heard of the new “must watch” series, the CW Network and Netflix have partnered to deliver a nostalgia based, re-invention of the classic comic series. It stars a gaggle of attractive young actors as the classic characters, and a slew of washed-up 1990’s teen-drama stars as their parents. The whole show is essentially a mystery, in which high school sophomores seem to solve crimes better than the Riverdale police department. There’s sex. There’s romance. There’s brooding, mysterious teens solving crimes. But, most of all, it is a weekly serial that is as nonsensical as it is convoluted, yet it is somehow celebrated in a cult-like manner.
I would like to preface this long winded rant about a television show by insisting I am not trying to change your mind about Riverdale. If you like watching a sexualized version of the supposedly nerdy Archie Andrews, by all means, keep your eyes glued to the screen. But, what I do want you to consider is that by religiously watching such a poorly constructed show, it ruins television in the long run. Riverdale’s toxicity is already spreading through the ranks of entertainment, as a spin-off series is already in the works. Nonetheless, here is why you should maybe give some other shows a shot, and put Riverdale on the back burner.
Now, I’ve heard the argument that because Riverdale is such a terrible show, that it has transcended critique and become something that is watched by millions around the world. That’s absolute bologna. When the show returned this fall for it’s second season, hundreds of fans lined up outside various Calgary locations to experience an authentic Riverdale inspired milkshake. Basements were crawling with costumes inspired by the series this Halloween. Plus, the show actually holds generally positive reviews from critics, as well as universal acclaim from the audience. Don’t justify watching a bad show by saying, “It’s so bad it’s good,” because that’s not why anyone watches anything. If Riverdale’s nonsensical mystery has you hooked, that’s great! Own your guilty pleasure, and then maybe check out True Detective or Fargo, two incredible crime-driven television shows that might open your eyes as to how ridiculous Riverdale is.
That is honestly my biggest problem with the show. It is just frankly unbelievable. I will admit, Riverdale’s countless twists and never-ending cliffhangers generally make someone want to watch the next episode. But, once you realize that all these ludicrous plot points ultimately lead to nothing, Riverdale becomes a sad excuse for a compelling narrative. By throwing hundreds of red herrings the audiences way over the course of 13 episodes focusing more on shock value than character development and logical narrative flow, the first season of Riverdale can essentially be completely understood by watching the first episode and the finale. When a 13 episode season contains essentially 11 episodes of filler, it is not compelling. It is bad! Coupling this disappointingly empty plot with ridiculous sub-plots, like a maple syrup feud and a ridiculous affair with a music teacher, Riverdale is ultimately void of any substance. Maybe watch Breaking Bad instead! It’s filled with substance and also illegal substances.
I could nitpick Riverdale until my fingers start to bleed, so I won’t, but I do want to touch on the fact that the show doesn’t offer anything new, exciting, or fresh to an already bogged down television lineup. Westworld took classic source material, in a similar way that Riverdale has, but managed to up the quality through beautiful visuals, strong performances, and an interesting story. Narcos managed to offer something new in its third season, even after losing two of its strongest actors and essentially having to build a compelling story from scratch. It was incredibly successful. Even Black Mirror took some exciting risks. Although some episodes were clearly more polished, exciting and entertaining than others, one must commend the show runners for at least trying something different. Riverdale essentially feels like any other teen drama, but with the glossy, nostalgia effect of established characters. It doesn’t offer anything new in terms of storytelling or visuals, and although the majority of the performances are either bad or decent, not one has been incredible. Sure, they kill off minor characters, but there has not been one major plot point that has shocked me as a viewer, or truly changed any of the characters on the show. So why bother?
Now, before I’m hunted down and flogged by the series faithful, I want to say that I want to like Riverdale. I genuinely believe that the young cast is talented, they are just often brought down by some cringe-inducing writing. Season two has bounds of potential, as a serial killer is wreaking havoc on the once idyllic town, but so far it seems like they are playing it safe. If the show took some risks with their presentation, allowed characters to develop and grow, and ultimately make every episode essential to the overarching story, I would be a fan. The sad thing is I don’t have any hope that it will happen.
Riverdale is far from the worst show on television. If it really was the worst show ever made, I wouldn’t have been able to get through it myself. My point is that a television show with such a massive following should be willing to push television in a positive direction. It should try to offer something original, and it shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks. With Riverdale receiving massive acclaim, I’m worried that future shows will be as formulaic and unoriginal as this one. I’m also worried that shows that try something new will be discounted as being too different and will unfortunately not be able to break into the mainstream. This poisoning of the mainstream hit will ultimately be the downfall for television, in the same way that big budget blockbusters have marred the beauty of cinema for the past decade.
But, what do I know.