Riverdale: exciting teen drama or over-the-top spectacle?

graphic by Avery Hom

Pro: Riverdale is a dramatic and engaging show

By Valeria Torres-Olivares

Every year TV networks need to find new ways of targeting and captivating teenage audiences. As more and more teenagers prefer Netflix, Hulu, and network apps, it gets increasingly harder for networks to gain a strong long-lasting audience hooked into their latest show. This past year,  the CW hit the jackpot with their new show, Riverdale.

Garnering 2.3 million same day viewers on its season two premiere, Riverdale proved it was not just a one season wonder. Adapted from the Archie comics, Riverdale took on a darker more melodramatic spin of the series.

Throughout the history of the Archie comics, there have been several spinoffs and adaptations of the original that began in the 1940s.  The show has been able to change a plethora of the material and show the viewer that anything is possible in the small town of Riverdale. In the first season, the show lacked much of an arc and overall a traditional narrative. While this lack of direction may not work well with most TV shows, the viewers of Riverdale seem to have taken a licking to the style. Much like a Mexican telenovela, every episode comes with a jampacked amount of drama, making up for the lack of an arc characteristic of typical shows. With this over-the-top amount of drama throughout the season, it is hard for viewers to get bored of the weekly content.

This season, a singular murder mystery from season one has turned into a serial killer murdering the residents of Riverdale. This crazy escalation seems to not have scared many viewers away. The escalation, will allow for more of a structured narrative throughout the season, with there still being a boatload of drama in every episode.

The best part of the show is that the writers have been given the freedom to be able to incorporate whatever they want into the show. This has also allowed for the show to change several aspects of the original comic. With the original being centered around an all white set of characters, Riverdale includes a set of more diverse characters. One of the main characters, Veronica Lodge, and her family are all Latinos. The mayor and the entire set of actresses playing the Pussy Cats, a band in the show, are African-American. Casey Scott plays Kevin Keller, a gay supporting character on the show, who deals with the myriad of problems Riverdale faces, as well as  dealing with the dilemma of being one of the few gay members of the Riverdale community.

The way the show is written and filmed seems to resonate with large amounts of viewers. Weekly, the show has been able to keep an increasing amount of viewers, proving the shows capability to hold an audience, regardless of it’s telenovela-like style.

Con: Riverdale is overblown and unrealistic

By Katie Stewart

In all great TV shows there’s an element of dramatization. The programs reel you in with heightened tensions, plot twists, and cliffhangers, giving an escape from the drudgery of everyday life. However, even the most fantastical TV shows need to be grounded in realism in order to win over an audience. As counterintuitive as it sounds, if people cannot relate to characters or situations at a fundamental level, they either just won’t think their problems are plausible, or they won’t care about them.

When Riverdale first premiered, it maintained this element of believability. A small town shaken with a murder mystery, the plot was dramatic but conceivable, and the interactions between characters seemed natural. The plot was enticing and any improbability was easily ignored — in other words, I was hooked.

It appears many others were as drawn to the show as I was, since the CW rushed production for season 2 to make sure the show premiered again in the fall rather than the spring. It was clear from this year’s premiere that Riverdale producers wanted to raise the stakes, the murder mystery was replaced with serial killings, tensions between the North and South side of town escalated to spontaneous brawls, and the teenage drama that grounded the show devolved into teenagers running rampant around town, breaking laws, openly defying their parents, the school, and the police.

The absurdity that comes from this sudden shift in mood and severity in action is only compounded by the actions of the characters. Rather than making realistic choices, characters clearly make silly decisions for the sake of plot advancement. Even when wrapped up with a serial killer, the teenagers at the center of the show refuse to consult the adults in their community and prefer to follow whatever the killer tells them to do. The implausibility only furthers when the main character decides to create an aggressive watch group of teenagers bent on attacking the serial killer. All this culminates to the point where it is no longer possible to suspend disbelief. The things that I had no trouble ignoring before — the character’s ages, the location, the ambiguous time period—all became increasingly hard to overlook. The illusion of reality that Riverdale had created was shattered and the escapism that makes TV shows enjoyable morphed into incredulity.

The fact is, Riverdale crossed a line this season that made it impossible for me to watch the show without questioning every event (how does this town have a hospital with candy striper outfits and yet also have a plot line about a Bachelorette watching party?). Going forward, as my anger at the characters increase, my sympathy decreases — and so does the probability that I tune in next week.

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