The Downfall Of Riverdale

Alice Bennett

Now famous for its cringey dialogue and bad musical episodes, Riverdale’s first season was actually well-received. But when exactly did it go downhill, or was it bad to begin with? (Warning: spoilers).

We look back at these shows with a fond sense of nostalgia

Bad teen shows have always existed – Pretty Little Liars for instance- we just didn’t realise it until we were older because we look back at these shows with a fond sense of nostalgia. Usually, this type of show starts out okay, then it goes downhill because the plot becomes too complicated (PLL again) and main characters are killed or written off because the actors leave the show (think when Elena left The Vampire Diaries).

In the first season of Riverdale, the plot was more concise and focused mainly on who killed Cheryl Blossom’s brother Jason. The narrative started to get a little more contrived in season two with Betty’s long-lost brother and the antics of Hiram Lodge, but the plot was still fairly focused on the main arc of the Black Hood. At this point, the fanbase was still strong, particularly due to the popularity of couples on the show like ‘Bughead’ and ‘Choni’, as well as Cole Sprouse’s following.

However, I don’t think season one was as good as we remember; there were definitely signs of a bad teen drama. The affair between Archie and teacher Miss Grundy for example – a classic sign of a trashy teen show.

In fact, for me, the beginning of the end happened in the first season when Cole Sprouse uttered the words: ‘In case you haven’t noticed, I’m weird. I’m a weirdo. I don’t fit in. And I don’t want to fit in. Have you ever seen me without this stupid hat on?’. It became a meme, and what was once considered an up and coming show of a beloved comic series was slowly being recognised for what it actually was. This was the first sign that maybe the writers didn’t know what they were doing… or did they?

Though Riverdale was always fairly dramatic and out there, the plot really started to go off the rails around season three with the introduction of the gargoyle king, characters having seizures, a cult, Hiram’s drug dealings and Archie being attacked by a bear after escaping a juvenile detention centre where he was forced to participate in an illegal fight club (yes, this all happened in just one season).

Despite this season really solidifying Riverdale’s bad reputation with its plot being all over the place (see for example YouTuber Mike’s Mic’s attempt to summarise it), in my opinion it had reached its golden age. It was still really popular not only with fans but with its haters; Riverdale memes and hate videos were at their peak. For example, compilation videos with titles like ‘Riverdale being bad for _ minutes’ had millions of views (for example: ‘Riverdale having bad writing for 2 minutes straight’ or ‘everyone in Riverdale being absolutely cringey’). Sometimes I wondered if this was the writers’ intentions all along- I mean there’s no way the person who wrote Cheryl or Veronica’s lines was being serious (think ‘we’re endgame Archie’), and to make a show memeable is a clever marketing strategy.

The early musical episodes are a prime example of the show’s duality. Heathers was bad with the weird choreography (especially when it was a bit too sexual for underage girls), the weird lyric changes (‘go play duck-duck-goose’?), the swooshing sound effects and the almost threesome on-stage – but it was so campy and funny to the point where I genuinely thought it might be satire. But even at its campest- when it’s most enjoyable- one of its biggest issues shines through: taking itself too seriously. At the end of a ridiculous episode, the cast sings the last song of Heathers with a bit too much sincerity, and you’re left wondering whether it was intentional after all. But just as you get so frustrated with the show you want to quit, Chad Michael Murray stands up and applauds. For all its ridiculousness, this amazing introduction of the cult leader is purely iconic, and you end up sticking around for more episodes.

Riverdale just doesn’t seem to know who it’s for and is very tonally confused

This problem with taking itself too seriously becomes more apparent as the show progresses, and I would argue that this was its real downfall. The later musical episodes encapsulate this – with the latest one in season five featuring the music from Next to Normal being kind of boring – they literally just sing in their houses. I personally think that Riverdale’s real problem is not it’s bizarre plotlines, but it’s failure to embrace its own weirdness. It’s now gotten to the point where the show is no longer campy and over-the-top, but just plain bad.

With every new musical episode and every painful note Cole Sprouse is forced to sing, even his popularity declines. Even for the most die-hard fans, it’s getting harder and harder to defend the show – I mean its own cast members hate it.

Riverdale just doesn’t seem to know who it’s for and is very tonally confused; one minute it is pure camp- again I would use the gargoyle king as an example- and the next it’s vaguely attempting to be feminist with ridiculous lines like ‘I beg your misogynistic pardon?’ despite overwhelmingly being not feminist (once again I think of the sexualisation of underage girls-  dark Betty and the scene where she strips and pole dances in front of the Serpents comes to mind).

It had potential to be a guilty pleasure but fails when it takes itself too seriously

Ultimately, I’m not sure when exactly Riverdale went downhill – I would argue that its first downfall was when it went off the rails in season 2/3, and its second was because it failed to embrace its own outrageousness. It had potential to be a guilty pleasure but fails when it takes itself too seriously.

It seems that Riverdale has had its time. Hopefully the show will end soon, the actors can finally escape their prison-like contracts and Cole Sprouse will never have to sing against his will again.

Alice Bennett

Featured Image courtesy of Richard Russell via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article image 1 courtesy of thecwriverdale via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

In article image(s) 2 courtesy of madelame via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

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