Riverdale is an absurd, ridiculous show that I couldn’t possibly force myself to stop watching. Every Thursday, I sit for 45 minutes shouting and cackling at these crazy teens on my TV. I end each episode baffled, both at the show’s ridiculousness, and my own powerlessness to quit.
Riverdale, now nearing the end of its second season, premiered last January on the CW and on Netflix in Canada. The show reimagines the long-running Archie comics and its affiliated characters as a gritty teen drama, in the vein of 13 Reasons Why. The premise, essentially, is Archie comics, but Archie has sex, and crimes happen. Riverdale takes aim at the comics’ idyllic suburban setting. Someone goes missing, perfect families have terrible secrets, there’s a mysterious new girl in town. You’ve seen this before. Riverdale, however, pushes your expectations to the limit and then some, resulting in scenes that are shocking and embarrassing, and always entertaining.
We learn in the first episode of season one, for instance, that Archie has had a months-long relationship with his 30-year-old teacher. It is made clear that Archie and the gang are about 15 or 16. The show tops this problematic and bizarre moment innumerable times. Loveable Jughead joins a gang, and cuts other gang members with knives. Archie literally starts a student crime-fighting militia group. Riverdale’s violent crime rate is equalled only by its dance-off rate.
Yet season one, despite its baffling moments, featured a compelling mystery that managed to remain interesting over 13 episodes, not to mention a decent cliffhanger ending. The show can also be occasionally visually impressive. Scenes inside the iconic Pop’s Chocolate Shoppe are lit strikingly with neon beams of red and blue, giving them a distinct comic-book look.
The second season, however, grows more nonsensical and less compelling. At a certain point, any reasonable person has to wonder if whoever writes Riverdale is for real. It is often challenging to believe so. The characters behave so unsympathetically that they seem to parody themselves—perhaps intentionally. Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has made no secret of the influence of the seminal ‘90s drama Twin Peaks on Riverdale, which masterfully parodied melodramatic soap operas while practically inventing the evil-hiding-in-a-small-town TV trope. There are a number of clear visual references to it in Riverdale, which likely also borrows Peaks’ satirical tendency toward absurd narratives and hilariously irrational characters. However, if Riverdale is attempting a self-conscious jab at bad teen dramas, Archie comics, and America itself, it is mostly lost in execution. The writing is often far too poor and the acting too stilted to evidence any effective sense of satire. While the show at its best manages a convincing deconstruction of small-town facades, it often leaves much of the gist of the comics behind, with its characters and setting sometimes appearing related only nominally.
What I mean by this, of course, is that Jughead doesn’t eat nearly enough cheeseburgers in this show. Historically, Jughead is known for his wit and his goofy hat. But the crux of his character is how much food that boy can eat. Any given Archie comic features Jughead wolfing down a plate of 10 burgers, a full pizza, and multiple shakes with ease—seemingly without chewing. It is awe-inspiring. Yet, in the show’s first two years, Cole Sprouse’s Jughead has eaten a pitiful two burgers in 29 episodes, both of which came in season two (season three does have Jughead eating a lot of burgers following a hunger strike.) If Aguirre-Sacasa is going for a Twin Peaks-esque absurd soap satire, why not include the most ridiculous and hilarious aspect of Riverdale’s source material?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Riverdale is satire, successful or otherwise. I will continue to watch this show because I have no other choice. There will probably never be a point where it becomes unwatchable; a show this ridiculous jumped the shark the moment it was conceived. Whatever half-assed mystery is thrown at me next I will watch powerlessly, and in desperate hope that it will bring more cheeseburgers to poor, starving Jughead.