Season 3 of Riverdale is exactly what the teen melodrama needed
By Colin Macgillivray, Arts Editor
One year ago, I felt it was my duty as a troubadour of good television to dismantle the “it’s so bad, it’s good” narrative that surrounded Netflix’s hit show, Riverdale. If you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea what Riverdale is, it’s a nostalgia based, re-invention of the classic Archie Comics. It stars a gaggle of attractive young actors who act brooding and mysterious and solve a bunch of crimes. There’s sex. There’s romance. It’s directed at teens and I have no business writing about it.
The previous article was littered with criticism towards the show’s lack of cohesion, the multitude of filler episodes and how it didn’t add anything to an already oversaturated television market. Here’s an excerpt that summed up my main gripes.
“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.”
It’s ironic that the headline of that article was ‘How Riverdale is poisoning television,’ as season three of Riverdale, which premiered in early October, started with two teens chugging cyanide-laced sports drink in a Jonestown-esque manner. Archie Andrews, the star of the Archie comics inspired teen-soap opera, also went to jail at the start of the episode. Oh, and two babies were dropped into a fire in some sort of witch coven ritual. And there’s also some sort of beastly cult leader named the Gargoyle King and a sinister board game called Gryphons & Gargoyles. That all happened in the first episode.
Now, I’m not going to say I was wrong about the first two seasons of Riverdale. I still think they meander along through boring storylines, end anticlimactically and are so hokey it hurts. I’m not even going to say that season three of Riverdale falls into the category of classically exceptional television. Nonetheless, I was wrong, because the third season of this silly little show is so crazy that it’s ridiculously entertaining.
I might dive into some spoilers here, but looking back at the article I wrote, it’s almost surreal looking at the direction the show has gone in season three. I was clamouring for some original, risk-filled content and that’s exactly what I got. I referenced True Detective, explaining that the first season of that show is a masterclass in the cult-crime drama genre. When two ritualistic murders — that clearly take inspiration from True Detective — magically showed up in the premiere, I was both rolling my eyes and thoroughly entertained.
Like I said before, that’s only one part of this season. Archie ends up going to jail and is forced to participate in bare-knuckle brawling for bloodthirsty mobsters. He also gets shanked and escapes the prison in the most on-the-nose reference to The Shawshank Redemption I’ve ever seen.
Although it has been a little glossed over, two babies were also dropped into a fire by what is surely a witches coven. In any normal television show, this would be a massive plot point that would most likely drive the season’s narrative forward. In Riverdale, it’s brushed aside in favour of seeing teens open alcohol-free bars and play with bows and arrows. It’s so ludicrous, that in it’s own unique way, becomes daring and fresh when compared to other television shows.
I’m not suggesting that Riverdale wasn’t ridiculous before. There was a maple syrup feud that escalated to murder, mobsters who were obsessed with handsome teen boys and a serial killer who ended up being Betty Cooper’s dad. But, the problem with all of those narratives is that they were inconsequential to all of the main characters. Sure, things happened, but there were never any real consequences. In season three, there has been some seeds planted that would suggest some very real changes in the main characters. It is still early in the season, so I could be completely wrong in the end, but only time will tell.
Either way, out of the first five episodes of this newest season, I’ve only actually felt I’ve wasted my time watching one. Considering you can watch about four of season two’s 22 episodes and get the overall gist of things, they have upped their game. Episode five, that was released two weeks ago, is arguably the best episode in the series. Expertly switching between a dual narrative that serves the overall story, the show managed to keep me engaged through the use of minor characters, clever structure and a peak into the story’s future direction.
That being said, I don’t want to give anyone the impression that Riverdale is suddenly a really good television show. It’s not. It is geared towards teens, so I can’t fault it when it constantly flaunts just how good looking these actors and actresses are, but that’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. The writing is still occasionally cringe-inducing, the acting is passable for the majority of the time and it is still plagued with pacing issues.
“Instead of being so bad it’s good, Riverdale has pushed itself into the realm of ‘it’s so crazy, I need to tune in.'”
But, with this new Gryphons & Gargoyles narrative, the show honestly might be onto something. Without completely spoiling five episodes of season three, Riverdale might be setting themselves up to retroactively explain why the previous seasons of the show were so bad. Again, only time will tell, but this refreshing, no holds barred approach to storytelling in a teen drama is something I don’t think I’ve seen before.
Ultimately, it is kind of dumb to be critical of a show that is obviously not being made for someone like me. I used to genuinely dislike watching Riverdale, but I kept going back to feed some sort of deep rooted masochism. Because of its high production values, it failed to fall into the “it’s so bad, it’s good” camp and lingered in a weird state of boredom and cringe.
Instead of being so bad it’s good, Riverdale has pushed itself into the realm of “it’s so crazy, I need to tune in.” Before, I never felt the need to watch the show every week, because I would rarely miss anything important if I happened to miss an episode. Now, I’ve made a concerted effort to find time to watch the show, not only because it has become legitimately entertaining by basking in its own lunacy, but because I’m afraid to miss the next crazy thing that they introduce.
In the end, I’m 21 years old and I no longer hang my head when I admit to watching Riverdale, even though I probably should. It’s still not even close to being a good show, but by embracing its own ridiculousness and basking in it’s goofiness, the show is teetering on the brink of becoming an engaging meta-commentary on both teen culture and teen melodramas as a whole.
So, if season three of Riverdale ends up being complete garbage by the end of it, discount everything I just said. But, in the meantime, if you have 45 minutes to waste and still haven’t checked the show out, start with season three, it’s very fun.