Alright. I’ll admit it. I love Riverdale. And I don’t mean that I love Riverdalein an “oh, this is fun. I’ll watch one episode with a healthy restraint” kind of way, either. I love it in a devouring, hilariously incongruent for a woman nearing thirty who is fully aware that she is not part of the target demographic kind of way; an obsessive, binge-watching, spoiler-avoiding, merchandise-buying, deeply invested in a deeply flawed storytelling kind of way. I discuss it in the overly serious and reverential tones that people usually reserve solely for prestige television. I am a woman unironically obsessed with the Southside Serpents, in all their ripped flannel glory, looking like extras from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders.
Archie comic books have been published since 1941, a staple of quaint mid-century Americana, and have basically followed the same formula for much of that time. I remember reading the comics for a brief time as a child and the stories usually fell along the same lines; that of Archie and his unresolved love triangle, Jughead and his unresolved hunger, and Betty and Veronica and their dueling animosity and friendship. The show, however, takes a decidedly different route. Riverdaleoperates from the basic premise that every moment must shock. Everything else, with the exception of aesthetics, is irrelevant. Basic cause and effect and linear narrative is abandoned, but in the most glamourous and endearing way possible. What is often left are a series of shocking moments and carefully curated pop culture references all set amidst a backdrop of perpetually misty landscapes and a world of lurid neon that would make Douglas Sirk jealous.
Riverdale includes copious references to themes or characters developed within the comics, including Jughead’s insatiable love of food and his dog, aptly named Hot Dog. These are sprinkled liberally throughout the show as an homage to the source material while also leaning the show towards the mid-century aesthetic of the comic books. Many scenes in the show serve to further assert this. Think, a traditional neon-lit diner, a Rebel Without a Cause-style drag race, and a performance of “Jailhouse Rock” by the high school cheerleaders. But there the similarities end. The sensibility of this iteration is more indebted to Twin Peaksin that an investigation into an ostensibly innocent, all-American town exposes the depravity existing just under the surface. Aesthetically, it’s a mishmash of glaring neon, noirishly complimented by excessive fog and Jughead’s somber narration, highlighted by gothic grandmothers reminiscent of some kind of deranged Tennessee Williams matriarch. The show’s writers pick its pop culture references with as much or more care than it’s plotlines, where a constellation of references serve as a shorthand for the relative hipness of a character in a deeply superficial universe. For example, a thing, such as “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by the Verve is referred to as “the song from Cruel Intentions” in order to insert the show into a long history of campy, overwrought teenage cultural touchstones as well as offering the character, in this case Veronica, a kind of cultural cachet, a fashionable pseudo-awareness of the world that is equally hilarious and thrillingly relatable to the audience. The writers strive to infuse each moment with these seemingly endless cultural references, including all the songs the characters sing, the books they read, the episode titles themselves, which all have significance to the characters and their development. One striking example exists in an episode entitled Bizzarodale. Cheryl Blossom, an out lesbian dating a young woman named Toni Topaz, talks eagerly of going to Highsmith College after high school, a place clearly named for the suspense pulp writer, Patricia Highsmith, also a lesbian. Throughout the episode, characters casually mention the titles of her more famous novels, namely The Talented Mr. Ripleyand, more importantly, The Price of Salt, a lesbian pulp novel notable for its positive depiction of a lesbian relationship that ends happily (contrary to other lesbian pulp of the era, generally more exploitative and, ultimately, moralistic in tone). Additionally, characters in this episode can also be seen carrying Valerie Taylor pulp novels, The Girls in 3-Band A World Without Men, which are important for much the same reason as Highsmith’s Price of Salt. These are not insignificant or flippant references, they bolster the characters, give them depth, and clearly appeal to nerds like me.
I am aware, as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the teen drama genre, that here is something totally unique and truly bizarre. A world where teenagers run speakeasies, go to war with mob bosses, and form masked vigilante groups in an effort to expose serial killers. A world where all disbelief must be more than suspended, must be boxed up and hidden on the shelf to gather dust for the duration of the series. In a way rare to any form of narrative storytelling that I have so far encountered, Riverdale’s faults seem to also serve as it’s strengths: storylines that are dropped when they become an inconvenience, plot points with increasing levels of absurdity and irreverence, manic pacing, all of which somehow contribute to the sheer joy of watching this show.
In 1981, J.P. Linde co-wrote and appeared in a one-man comedy show titled “Casually Insane.” Shortly after, he joined the ranks of stand-up comedy and performed in clubs and colleges throughout the United States and Canada. In 1989, he made his national television debut on “Showtime’s Comedy Club Network.” He wrote the libretto for the musical comedy “Wild Space A Go Go” and co-wrote and co-produced the feature motion picture, “Axe to Grind.” “Son of Ravage” is his second novel.