Riverdale is an American teen drama series that takes place in a fictional town of the same name after the death of Jason Blossom, a member of Riverdale’s most influential (read: rich, envied, and by some, hated) family. The series puts a modern spin on the characters created by Archie Comics, and mixes the genre of teen drama with just a hint of mystery.
Riverdale is that slightly trashy, somewhat over-the-top guilty pleasure that you know has its flaws, yet you somehow just can’t stop watching. I don’t know if it’s the surprisingly likable characters, my desperation to find out “whodunnit”, or the fact that I’m a sucker for an angsty teenage murder mystery, there is something about this show that has me hooked.
Riverdale boasts a vibrant and contrasting host of characters. In some ways, these characters are taken directly from the stereotypes, and wouldn’t feel amiss in The Breakfast Club, whilst in others, there’s something just a little different about Riverdale’s teenagers.
We have Betty, the smart, organised over-achiever, under pressure from her mother, and in love with her best friend. Whilst this is definitely a stereotype we’ve seen before, we begin to realise during the course of the series that Betty has a dark side, and that she’s a lot more complex than she lets on. Betty’s best friend is Archie, the boy-next-door and American football player who comes home from the summer vacation with both a sixpack, and dreams of being a musician. Although from first appearances, Archie is very much your average teenage boy, even he has his secrets.
Veronica is the new girl, having moved from the big city of New York to the small and gossipy town of Riverdale. At first, I wondered if Veronica was going to be the spoilt, mean rich kid of the series, but I soon realised that while Veronica may be rich, she’s a people-person, the socialite friend who brings people together. Then there’s the actual spoilt rich kid of the series: Cheryl Blossom. There’s something instantly evil, yet strangely regal about Cheryl. Despite being distraught over the death of her twin, Jason, this doesn’t stop Cheryl from manipulating or bullying everyone around her without any regard for subtlety. Cheryl is an over-the-top cartoon mean-girl, but maybe, if it means finding justice for her brother, she can put her claws away for long enough to solve the mystery.
Finally, there’s Jughead, portrayed by Cole Sprouse. Jughead is the classic “oddball” of this group. He’s “different”, he wears a hat even when he’s indoors, and he couldn’t care less about social standing or “fitting in”.
Alongside these main characters are morally dubious parents, loathable jocks, lovable nerds, and questionable teachers. In other words, everything a show needs to have its viewers thinking that anyone could have killed Jason.
As the series progresses, clues appear as to who might have killed Jason and why. Motives come to light as we learn about the dynamics between the various families in Riverdale, and unearth their secrets. Despite this, we don’t see a lot of substantial evidence. For most of the series, nobody seems to have a big enough motive to kill Jason, and while there are plenty of unusual and unpleasant dynamics around Riverdale, I could never quite pin down any particular person as the culprit.
The unusual thing about this series is that reflection on Jason’s murder actually occupies relatively little of the screentime. Most of our attention is focused on the dynamics within Riverdale’s community, the blossoming friendships, relationships, and spilling secrets. Riverdale feels much more like a teen drama than a murder mystery, with Jason’s murder providing just enough plot to keep me wondering.
Like a lot of teen dramas (see The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl), Riverdale gets a few kicks from debauchery, scandal, and sexiness. Which is weird when you think about how young the characters in all these shows are. As with all good teen dramas, there’s a lot of illicit kissing, unnecessary flaunting of abs (a la Taylor Lautner circa 2009), and some partying thrown in for good measure.
For a show that is a far cry from my usual favoured genres of sci-fi and fantasy, Riverdale has done a really great job of keeping me watching. Although some of the characters (namely, Jughead) make me roll my eyes a little, there are characters I genuinely find interesting, such as Betty, and Jughead’s dad. The series has a great aesthetic, and in terms of production and acting, it’s pretty well put-together. The storyline is interesting, and the first couple of episodes drew me in quickly. The scandal is addictive, and on the whole, Riverdale is just so easy to watch. It’s sometimes silly and contrived, often over-dramatic and filled with angst, but like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars before it, Riverdale has that same addictive quality that makes for a great teen drama.
It may not be the best show on Netflix right now, but Riverdale has definitely found the formula to an easy-watching guilty-pleasure series.