Ah, Friday! The most wonderful day of the week, for today we escape our work prisons to sit on our couches and avoid showering for the next two days. If you’re flipping through your Netflix queue looking for some new show to binge, look no further than the CW’s Riverdale. The first season, an easy-to-digest 13-episode drama, just joined the streaming service.
In case you’ve missed out on what’s so far been a small-scale but genuine cultural phenomenon: Riverdale is a modern-day adaptation of the Archie comics. Rather than facing off against the Predator or hanging out with the cast of Glee, in Riverdale, Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica return to more typical teen problems: dating, school, family problems, and murder. The first season revolves around the mysterious death of Jason Blossom, a local high-school student, football player, and heir to a sizable family legacy. If you’ve never read an Archie comic in your life, don’t worry. Riverdale likes to wink playfully at its source material with characters’ clothes or food preferences, but it doesn’t require familiarity to enjoy.
The only thing to know about Riverdale before you get started is that it’s ri-dic-ulous. None of the characters, kids or parents, makes rational choices. Everyone somehow knows each other, and everyone’s fodder for eager gossip. Characters regurgitate pop-culture references so rapidly that they start to sound like they’ve swallowed a TV Guide dusted with cocaine. “I’m already the Blue Jasmine of Riverdale High,” a New York City expat declares dramatically. Archie’s love of music and his signature red hair earns him the burn “Justin Gingerlake.” Betty is frequently compared to the Mad Men character of the same name. And in an especially cringey moment, a character seductively refers to himself as being “too fast, too furious.” Bro.
The kids in Riverdale act like a modern Scooby Doo gang, and the show handles their antics with the same wacky hand. One episode balances part of the cast preparing for a talent show, while the rest investigate a murder. Another sees the squad rushing into a local criminal hangout, tough-guy style, in search of answers. The place looks like the stereotype of “biker bar from the 1990s,” but it’s also inexplicably filled with cages full of live snakes. Sure, the criminal gang that occupies the place is called the Southside Serpents, but why is one gang function “corner the local market on exotic pets”? Is someone in charge of the snakes’ nutritional needs? I don’t think bar fumes and all that yelling are good for those snakes.
But if I had to describe the show in just a few words, I’d cheat and choose just these four: the “I’m weird” meme. Parsed out, the joke is about Jughead, played by Cole Sprouse, launching into a breathy monologue about how he’s weird. He’s a weirdo. Have you ever seen him without his hat? That’s weird.
The meme captures the show’s spirit perfectly. That speech is absolutely trying too hard, but it also acts as a perfect parody of what a teen might perceive as being a deep commentary on themselves. It’s over-the-top while also being sort of endearing, probably because Cole Sprouse has exactly the sort of beautiful, sad TV presence that guarantees he’ll be beloved by fans.
That’s Riverdale in a nutshell: dramatic, campy but fun, and full of very good-looking people. It parodies the real world without actually recreating it, like a snow globe of your favorite city. It’s a warm, safe show that even in its most intense episode, can still end with Archie and his pals crowding around milkshakes at the diner.