In the Barrelhouse Television Workshop, writers look at the way we tell stories across media, the way those "writer moves" work, and why they may or may not work in certain situations. Here, we're discussing Riverdale, the bonkers and fascinating television adaptation of the Archie comics. Our conversation was moderated by Barrelhouse Editor Dave Housley.
Chris Gonzalez is a former Clevelander now living and writing in New York. His short stories appear in Third Point Press, X–R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, jmww and Pithead Chapel, among others. He serves as a fiction editor at Barrelhouse and a contributing editor at Split Lip. Visit him online at www.chris-gonzalez.com or on Twitter: @livesinpages.
Jaime Fountaine writes and tells stories. Her work has appeared in Paper Darts, JMWW, and Knee-Jerk Magzines. She lives in Philadelphia, where she hosts the Tire Fire reading series at Tattooed Mom and, Excuse My Dust, a "weirdo literature variety hour" at the Good Good Comedy Theater.
Marisa Siegel lives, writes, and edits near NYC. She is Editor-in-Chief and owner of TheRumpus.net. Follow her on Twitter @marisasaystweet.
Olivia Wolfgang-Smith’s writing has appeared in Ninth Letter, The Common, Flyway, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. Her fiction has been longlisted for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Brooklyn and is at work on a novel. @OWolfgangSmith
The Riverdale Television Workshop
Barrelhouse: So...what the fuck IS Riverdale? If you need more than that (I doubt that you do), how would you describe Riverdale to a skeptical friend?
JF: I often call it “Sex Archie,” but it’s really more “Over-the-Pants Stuff Archie.” I have never read Archie comics, so if they’re chock full of over the pants stuff, please correct me, folks.
MBT: God, it’s the best television joke that is never, ever, not even once once acknowledged. It is now a 3-season long gag and every moment it goes on, it gets funnier and funnier.
OWS: Riverdale is a show that will humble you by reminding you that no matter how cynical and/or evolved your tastes, you were once a teen and still have an id and you will never be in full control of what art you like and why. It has something for everyone, like some kind of psycho-sexual boggart that instead of your greatest fear can see what sophomore-year cafeteria clique you most wanted to be in, and if you think you’re too good or smart or mature for that hook to work on you, you’ll only suffer more in the end for your hubris. Once it has tricked you into being invested, it will keep you constantly unsure as to whether anyone is driving the bus. All you will know for certain is that it is not you. I don’t like the concept of “guilty pleasures,” but Riverdale is a snob-buster. Which makes it simultaneously trashcan popcorn AND vitamins.
MS: Riverdale is three sharks beyond the shark that got jumped, and somehow still manages to delight you in its absurdity.
What’s in the pop culture DNA of Riverdale?
MBT: In 1994, I was in my comic shop and I saw something that caught my eye. It was a one-shot comic called The Punisher Meets Archie. I was neither a Punisher fan nor into Archie, but that was quite obviously a comic I had to own. And it was totally insane; ½ Archie love story and ½ hard boiled murder fest. When the two stories merged, it was perfect.
Whoever created Riverdale must have read this comic. They also must have watched a lot of the CW. Maybe all of it. And probably Passions. God, I miss Passions. My college roomie Estelle and I would smoke a ton of pot and watch Passions. It was the best.
CG: While he is not directly involved in the show, I could probably connect some dots between Riverdale with Glee and Ryan Murphy. It’s got all the familiar camp and could exist in the same vein of a show like Popular, which Murphy created and aired on the WB back in 1999-2001 (two perfect seasons of television! A cliffhanger for the ages!). He was doing insane shit back then that the world of teenage dramedies wasn’t ready for, and I can see some influence in Riverdale (fewer murders and #hotdads, but still completely over the top, only with a sunnier filter over everything.) Part of that connection I’m seeing might be because of Riverdale writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who joined Glee at one point and wrote the crossover Archie comic, Archie Meets Glee. There’s also a lot that reminds me of Pretty Little Liars, because of the murder and and the fact that teens are never ever actually in class, and when they are in class it’s only so the cops can come and remove them for questioning. The difference between these two shows, though, is that Pretty Little Liars took its characters seriously, even if the resulting storylines were bonkers—Riverdale understands it’s a ridiculous work of beautiful art.
OWS: I know there are real and specific answers to this question, most of which I have little to no familiarity with. (Actually, in my purely anecdotal experience, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of overlap between people who really love Archie Comics or Twin Peaks and also really [“really”] love [“love”] Riverdale.) But I feel like the DNA of this show is also…all of television? The internet? The teenager as a concept? …America? It’s a pastiche of so many whole-cloth genres and wildly, hysterically ambitious concepts that it’s somehow both formulaic and post-modern. It’s like all of American pop culture, especially the too-flattering self-portraits, thrown into a blender and made into an accidentally Dadaist slurry. (Served in a giant milkshake glass with a whole strawberry on top, consumed at 10:00pm, between narrowly survived murder attempts.)
JF: They say Twin Peaks, and I believe that they want it to be like Twin Peaks, and I love Twin Peaks, but it’s much more like if they based it off someone’s grandma describing what she remembered about Twin Peaks without having seen it since it was first on television. The references to film noir and 1950’s tropes -- all those weird big Lynch things have been filtered through enough eyes that I don’t think the people writing it totally know what they’re referencing. It’s like seeing kids today dressing in the contemporary versions of outfits from the 1990’s that were referencing outfits from the 1970’s that were referencing other specific moments in time.
MS: Every teen show that has aired on television since 1992. More specifically, every time Betty calls Veronica “V” a gossip girl gets her wings. And yes, Twin Peaks, in that Twin Peaks is in the DNA of all television, but moreover it would not be unusual if FP found a fish in his percolator. Last, shout out to Pretty Little Liars, although I think Riverdale does it better because they know we know they are in on it.
Is Riverdale “good?” Does it matter?
MBT: Good, bad: don’t know. But it is purposeful.
CG: God, no, but also yes, that’s why it’s so great. Which is to say fucking terrible—yet perfect. I think Riverdale is always on its bullshit. Any attempts the show made to color within the lines were tossed out into a dumpster fire the second Betty threw on that black bob wig and became Dark Betty Cooper, an icon and queen.
OWS: I think it could run for a thousand years and I’d still be saying I don’t know.
MBT: That right there (above) is exactly right. Not that taste matters in the slightest in an existential sort of way. But if there is an objective barometer of taste, it just spins like magnets at magnetic north when it lands on Riverdale.
JF: A carefully prepared risotto is good, but so are flamin’ hot cheetos. Riverdale is cheetos.
MS: It doesn’t matter. Riverdale is fun, and fun is good.
Whether it’s “good” or not, we’re all here because we love this confounding, wonderful, completely bonkers show. What is the special sauce that makes Riverdale all of these things and a hundred more?
MBT: It works for me because it’s a total joke being played 100% straight (i.e. the best kind of joke). There’s no winking from the actors, no hints from the music or sound effects, but it is predicated on a prank. The very concept of putting Archie and the gang, whose antics were all screwball and wholesome, into a land filled with incest and murder and drug dealers had to be the result of some executives and writers doing a bunch of cocaine. From the first episode, realizing that Mrs. Grundy had gone from being a septuagenarian to some weird sociopathic sexpot in a relationship with Archie? That’s funny, man. Because it’s also right in the wheelhouse of shows like this to include a creepy teacher-student relationship (Dawson’s Creek, Pretty Little Liars, etc.). So it’s an homage to what they’re absolutely definitely maybe possibly satirizing and a sendup of the comic, but without a hint that it’s a joke. Those without familiarity of the comic will never catch it.
And there’s stuff like that all over the place, burned into the foundation. It’s like Passions and Soap! but without the obvious buffoonery. And it’s a classic kind of humor, almost anti-humor: keep on piling on more and more until you take it past the point where it’s funny and to the place where it’s just stupid, and then you pile on more until it’s funny again. Everytime I think of Riverdale, I giggle. I appreciate the long con and they are pulling the longest one.
And of course, as with any satire/joke/whatever, it’s also a super effective homage. It’s earnest and into the excess and outrageousness. I can respect that total lack of adherence to sense or reality that soaps get into. This cult that’s coming is right in that vein: “who cares, let's write about cults. That’d be aces!”
OWS: I think Riverdale is one answer to a weird aging-millennial koan of a general question I have about Gen Z: “what must it be like to grow up with the internet??!” There are things about the show that are timeless: for instance, it is simultaneously not even trying and trying the hardest anyone has ever tried at anything. (Adolescence!) But it also seems to be uniquely about being a teenager now, in a way that’s largely meta-textual. It does affect the plot, in both inspiring and depressing ways—what teen drama of my own youth would have engaged this deeply (if often ham-fistedly) with social justice issues? But also, what was the closest thing we had to endure to Betty Cyrano de Bergerac-ing an unwilling Kevin in having cybersex with her maybe-brother? What show made this kind of depressingly matter-of-fact use of the fact that today’s teens have to learn to sweep a room for active shooters? But also, what show had this kind of casual queer representation, where characters can come out without being tokenized or simplified, and next thing you know are off on cross-country motorcycle trips with their partners, RSVPing with regrets to their friends’ murder trials? (There are still plenty of strange and disappointing writing decisions around non-straight characters; what I am giving out here is an award for Least Worst.)
But more fundamentally, it feels sometimes as though Riverdale is being generated by its own Tumblr fandom. Or even by a weird teen-drama AI that is learning as it goes—getting smarter, more efficient, more powerful. (But, like, stupid-powerful.) The characters’ styling and general aesthetics get tweaked every season, I’m assuming in response to audience analysis. It’s filmed, I am utterly convinced, with gifs in mind—framing reaction shots that resonate more out of context than in it, lingering on slow-motion gestures from fan-favorite characters, planning for the ultra-saturation of colors. (Remember when they made a meal, a Thanksgiving dinner, out of Jughead ceremonially anointing Cheryl with a cherry-red Serpents jacket? Literally nothing about that scene made sense—except, of course, that we were all living for it. And the teen singularity that is Riverdale knew.) It’s getting faster, too—the season gap before Kevin mocked Jughead’s “I’m weird” speech was a sign that Riverdale didn’t know that we as viewers would make fun of it until we did; but this season, I’d no sooner made a joke from my couch about them ripping off True Detective than Cheryl threw the same shade onscreen. I’m assuming that in Season 4 FP is going to look directly into the camera and tell me my pasta water is boiling. Anyway, I think there’s something terrifying and beautiful going on between Riverdale and the teens who are its lifeblood—and though I’m mostly a weird old spectator to the symbiosis, it’s still resplendent to observe.
MBT: Oh God. I forgot that Cheryl was a serpent now and dating a Serpent lady. How crazy is this show that that didn’t even find that unusual?
MS: I don’t know what’s in the special sauce, but I’m certain it tastes as good as those strawberry milkshakes Betty is always drinking. I love Riverdale because it’s easy without being cheap, earnest without being serious, and about teenagers without alienating this 35-year-old.
Is there anything that just seems like a little too much for you, even for Riverdale? Anything that actually manages to break the weird fever dream of the show for you?
MBT: If I didn’t want to punch Archie in the face every time I watch the show, I’d say him going to jail for manslaughter was too far. But the writers get it. Of course we hate Archie and want to see him go to jail. Fuck Archie.
CG: I think I’m pretty much game for whatever this show will throw at us. I do wonder why not one has been introduced to the concept of talk therapy, or why hasn’t a trauma specialist been brought in to talk to these students when murder is so rampant in this town. After Archie’s dad was shot in Pop’s diner, I hollered when Pop’s still had to serve up food to Archie and Veronica. Like, I get life has to go on and all that, but can the guy take maybe 6 hours off to do some deep breathing exercises? Take a shower, wash the blood off? No one is taking care of their mental health!
OWS: At this point I have given Riverdale license to be what it is and there are only a few ways it can seriously weird me out. I used to facilitate a creative writing workshop for sixth-graders, and sometimes the world-building on Riverdale reminds me of their perspective—especially regarding what adults and teenagers even are, and what they do and don’t have the power to do. (Defend your own son in a murder trial! Solve the prison-industrial complex with a football game! Open and run two businesses, even though you are a minor and emphatically do not have the support of your parents! Join a high-school extracurricular club, even though you are like forty-something and in no way affiliated with the school!) My other big problem is when Riverdale violates its own rules of weirdness—just when I’ve accepted that this show is going to jump sharks for a solid hour a week, it jumps a saguaro cactus or something. There are too many examples of this to name, but the one I will never get over is Betty’s striptease to “Mad World.” In addition to every other crazy thing going on there—WHAT WAS SHE DANCING TO. WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SINGING. IT WAS KARAOKE.
JF: I hope you’ll all still be my friends when I say I have almost no patience for the musical numbers. This is a problem I have across most musical tv/film, which is incredibly rude for a person who so regularly sings songs to herself about what she’s doing while she does it. My exception for this is [spoiler] the recent “Jailhouse Rock” number because it was SO ABSURD, that I couldn’t help but love it.
MS: I like “too much.” I’ve been told my whole I’m “too much.” Bring it on, Riverdale. (Although like Jaime, I am not super into the musical numbers, and like Olivia, that Betty striptease left me with questions.)
OWS: Addendum, which I only mention because it so often drives the plot: it doesn't make sense to me that Archie is so manipulably desperate for ersatz father figures when he already has the most supportively present dad in town. (Say what you will about Fred; it’s true.) In a different show, I’d accept the fact that the human heart and mind are complicated and people don’t always develop yearnings according to their objective needs. But in Riverdale’s case I don't think this is a problem of too much emotional realism.
Characters! Who do you love? Hate? Hate to love, love to hate? Who is underrated? Who deserves more/better/different? We should probably break that up into two categories: kids and adults.
MBT: Honestly, I hate that parents get so much screen time in ostensibly teenager shows. Pretty Little Liars, for all its flaws, understood that no one cares what the parents are up to and thus we rarely saw them except when the Liars were in the room. Riverdale gives too much valuable space to the parents. Look, I love Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald and Skeet Ulrich and Robin Givens as much as the rest of you, but adults are basic boring bitches.
I want more Josie and the goddamned Pussycats. I happen to be a fan of the underrated movie and I love the version in Riverdale. This “Veronica and the Pussycats” is a travesty that needs to be destroyed, though I did appreciate that their concert was interrupted by a street gang’s protest. Because of course it was.
CG: Kevin deserves a fucking A plot. And decent friends? And to graduate high school and go to college in NYC. And I’m obsessed with Cheryl. Sure, I was convinced she had an incestuous relationship with her dead brother in season one, but once the show swept that under the rug, I leaned extra hard into the Cheryl love. In fact, after she set the family barn aflame and pushed her mother into the fire, I was 100% invested in her character thriving. Squeezing your own mother’s breathing tubes and telling her “You breathe when I say you can” is exactly what I want from my teenage maniacs. Admittedly, I’m still in the middle of season two, so it’s possible there are good (?) things to come for the characters I love, though I have huge doubts.
I’m here for the parents, but in a very specific way. Giving Hermione and Fred scenes together at Andrews Construction is very boring and I cared so little about it. But give me Alice Cooper busting up into the high school newspaper office and I’m sold. Parents on teen shows should either be in the shadows, pouring black coffee into a thermos before leaving for work at some job we are not told about because it’s a pointless detail OR they should be 100% intertwined with the plotlines involving their kids. Alice Cooper is given the space to scheme and lie and be just as messy as the kids (and sometimes more so). So, I guess, more Alice Cooper.
OWS: ADULTS: I live for FP. And not just because they gave Skeet Ulrich reading glasses this season, which is my kryptonite. (Also not just because of how he looked in the Pop’s uniform, which is my fiancée’s kryptonite.) Grabbing your son’s head and saying “you broke my heart,” then maintaining eye contact while ending your hard-won sobriety with a tequila shot, remains in my opinion the most majestically extra thing anyone has done on this show—and it’s a crowded field. And while FP is not exactly realistic, every other adult character seems like literally two tweens in a trench coat in comparison--even the “dangerous” ones. FP is not just a #hotdad, he’s a MAN.
KIDS: I think Jughead is the breakout star of this show for a reason, and not just because he’s the easiest to commodify in Hot Topic merch. (Though I mean, that is part of it.) He’s a gender- and sexuality-spanning icon of both fashion and grumpiness—there seems to be something fundamentally queer about his relationship with Betty, not in a way I can pin down, but it trips a switch of recognition. (Whatever format think pieces exist in in the year 2035, I look forward to hearing from all the folks who somehow realized they weren’t straight via watching Jughead and Betty find each other. You mark my words.) Also Jughead has done maybe the most realistic thing featured on the show so far: go out of town to “work on his novel” and then just drink bad margaritas, gossip about which of his friends have made out, and fail to finish a game of Monopoly.
MISC: I cannot wait to meet Jellybean, and the fact that they have not yet deployed her is the single proof I have that they have any self-control whatsoever.
MBT: JELLYBEAN. Oh my stars, how did I forget about Jellybean?
JF: ADULTS (the true draw of Riverdale for me): First of all, I would just like to say, for the record, how amazing it is that Luke Perry has been exactly the same age my entire life. That age is 50. Unfortunately, his character is almost as boring as his character’s son, the true dead weight of the show. Alice Cooper is my favorite. The writing for her is totally erratic, and she’s gone through, like, 100 different personalities, but Mädchen Amick sells every single one of them perfectly. The writers have clearly just started coming up with speeches they’d like to hear her give with no regard to what she was doing in other episodes. You can see how much fun she’s having, and because she’s done so many different kinds of work since Twin Peaks, you know she’s making these choices. It’s like watching Gina Gershon in Showgirls. Honorable Mention goes to Kelly Ripa’s husband and whoever decided to cast Skeet Ulrich, so that I get to say his name out loud for an actual reason again.
KIDS: Well, whenever I take a buzzfeed quiz about which character on Riverdale I am, the five fall outfits I have to build to find out always say I’m Jughead. Unlike all the other teens, Jughead has been written to be almost self-aware, so between that and Cole Sprouse’s performance, he almost seems like a person instead of an archetype. I am, however, concerned that he’s not getting enough hamburgers. Cheryl Blossom is a close second, because, like Alice Cooper, her character's been a million things, but Madalaine Petch has a knack for keeping the role firmly between her teeth.
MS: KIDS: I live for Cheryl. Everything about Cheryl is perfect; Cheryl encapsulates what is wonderful about Riverdale. And I have a soft spot for Betty, and especially for evil Betty. More evil Betty, please. Veronica annoys me—she can’t decide if she wants her daddy’s money or not. Pick a side, V. And yeah, Archie is the worst.
ADULTS: The adults are amazing: Mädchen Amick is brilliant and insane as Alice Cooper, and kind of outshines everyone on the show except Cheryl. Yes, Luke Perry’s character is boring, but I’d rather watch Luke Perry being a boring dad than anyone else being a boring dad, and I wouldn’t have believed it if Archie’s dad was less boring. Skeet Ulrich as FP might be my favorite, though. He’s aged well, and no longer terrifies me like he did in 1996.
MBT: Skeet Ulrich will never not be terrifying. I watched like 30 minutes of Jericho and i never believed him as a savior of anything, except maybe murder.
OWS: I’m really interested in what this spread of answers shows about what we’re variously responding to. Cheryl and Alice seem to me to be the chaotic-neutral hearts of a chaotic-neutral show—so it makes sense that they’re so beloved, and with such joyful-nihilist abandon. This probably makes me a scaredy-cat with one foot out of the Riverdale jalopy, but I don’t feel quite safe with those characters. I think I’m more drawn to folks who seem to be trying to pick their way across stepping-stones of linear development, and not just fully embracing the fifth-dimensional narrative-emotional quicksand—though it gets them, sometimes. This is Riverdale. The quicksand comes for us all.
It’s also interesting that inconsistency is coming up as something sublime and dazzling in Cheryl and Alice, and as annoying flaw in Veronica. I’ve felt this too, as a viewer. Maybe it’s the burden of being a member of the “core four”—when you’re central to the A plot, there just isn’t as much room to buck your archetype? Or if there is, they can’t figure out the right push-back for Veronica—whereas Betty can frustrate and play against her trope just by being a “bad girl,” Veronica’s equivalently clean turn would be…what, Communism? Her populist motivations are there, but by having her trying to beat her parents at their own game rather than seizing the means of production, they’ve muddied her arc a bit--or else made it too subtle for them to pull off, something that would have to be played on a piccolo when they’ve got a writer’s room full of didgeridoos. Cheryl and Alice are from outer space, but at least we can count on them for it.
MBT: I feel like they wrote Veronica into a bit of a corner. You’d think this wouldn’t be a problem in a world like Riverdale and I suspect it won’t be for too much longer. Maybe she’ll just straight up usurp Hiram and become the CEO. That would create some insane tension. If we start getting any plots where she’s studying law next season, it’s coming.
In Season 3, for those of you who aren’t there yet, there’s going to be a cult plotline (we’re not there yet but come on! A cult! On Riverdale! It’s going to be great!) with a group led by a charismatic leader named Edgar Evernever. Given that the casting of the grown-ups on Riverdale has verged on stunt casting, who would you like to see playing our friendly neighborhood charismatic cult leader?
JF: ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL. [SPOILER -- HE SHOWED UP! Not as the cult leader, but still! Olivia, we did it!]
OWS: Matthew Broderick (but honestly I co-sign on Anthony Michael Hall, with bonus points for get-ability)
CG: Mark-Paul Gosselaar. I would say Mario Lopez, whose dimples I would follow into the abyss. But, realistically, Mark-Paul is the right vibe.
MBT: I want to see Alfonso Ribiero in this role. He’d slay.
MS: Dawson Leery, because JvB is awesome and hilarious (if you haven’t seen Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, you aren’t living your best life), and because my love for Dawson’s Creek springs eternal.
Riverdale takes place in a world that’s mostly like ours, with some notable differences. What’s your favorite Riverdale-ism?
OWS: “Bean & Beluga” was an actual point of transition in my relationship to the show. That was when I lost the ability to even pretend the Lodges were from actual New York, and it stopped taking place in any version of the real world for me. Straw that broke the camel’s suspension of disbelief.
CG: Hard to choose just one! But I’ll hand it to them for “Grind’em” instead of “Grindr.” Upon first listen, you might think Betty is just a very basic straight person who doesn’t know what the app is called (very real possibility!), but when compared to the fuller lexicon of the show, you realize, OH, no that was intentional. (OK, close second is “Vanity Flair”—the Lodges are scammers anyway, and probably fake-socialites; anytime Veronica flaunts and name-drops something that sounds like a cheap knock-off, my heart is filled with joy.
JF: I know this isn’t a pun-based answer, but I still can’t get over the idea that a bunch of teens would open a Cabaret-inspired mocktails-only speakeasy, let alone patronize one. When I was their age, we hung out in the 24-hour-grocery store.
MBT: When I was a teen, you couldn’t get me to open a can of soup. So yeah, that’s a damned good point.
MS: I mean, there are so many. The Five Seasons, Sharebnb, Spiffany’s, American Excess… this is a rabbit hole I’d happily fall into.
CG: Jaime’s response makes me wonder: do we think the Riverdale gang are in Sheetz or Wawa country? Though I suppose, they’d be called Sleetz and Wuwu.
MBT: Honestly, a lot of that cleverness is wasted on me, like The Good Place and all its store names. I think there’s a hole in my soul where “liking puns” should be.
JF: SLEETZ! WUWU! Chris you are a treasure.
Musical numbers! So Archie is a terribly earnest teenage songwriter. Josie and the Pussycats are very much a part of the show. Veronica is a Pussycat (sometimes?) and sometimes has a musical number. What role do you think music plays in the show? Thoughts about the way they’ve incorporated music and these performances so far?
MBT: There’s a history of musical numbers and ending sequence montages in these stupid, wonderful, inane teenage shows. Even the first few seasons of Buffy had guest musical acts (Cibo Matto!). And I can’t tell you how many angtsy montages of blandly attractive people I’ve seen whilst half-wtaching The OC, One Tree Hill, Pretty Little Liars, etc etc etc has been playing. And they’ve all functioned the same: hit-over-the-head tonal signalling. Riverdale has done it pretty seamless as far as these things go; having Josie and the Pussycats in the “lore” was a freebie to introducing it.
CG: In general, all the music on Riverdale sounds like it’s been cranked through a Lana Del Rey Instagram filter. It’s usually airy and dreamlike and if you close your eyes and listen to it you see the neon reds and blues flashing. You feel that beat about to drop. And you know that whatever is happening on screen would be way less intense without it. I guess the reality is the days of teen shows featuring acoustic-guitar heavy tracks have been long gone and we’re in this new world where teens have sex! and do jingle jangle! But as for actual performances, it sure as hell isn’t anything Archie performs solo or with Valerie/Veronica. He’s soggy bread in everything he does and the biggest drag of season one was the show trying to make us care about his singing/music abilities. We’ve seen this trope of star football player trying to balance sports with singing or performing in everything from Popular and High School Musical to Glee and now Riverdale. I’m glad they dropped the arc in season two. I’m gonna give it to Veronica and the Pussycats singing Rent’s “Out Tonight”—a perfectly appropriate and normal song to sing when stripped from its context—while beating up the guy who drugged and attempted to rape Cheryl. The fact that they leave the stage and kick his ass while their vocals continue over the scene really makes it *chef kiss*.
OWS: I actually think Riverdale’s non-diegetic music is the standout. I think smarter and less cheesecake decisions are being made there, and whenever I have a moment of “oh my god…is this episode of Riverdale GOOD??” it tends to involve an excellent choice in background music direction. Of the in-universe performances, my favorite was probably when Archie and Veronica covered “Kids in America,” and I own and accept that disappointing fact about myself. It’s just that it’s a song I actually knew as a teen, and heard in situations similar to the way it’s staged in the show. The song’s age also helped me project Feelings further back into the history of American adolescence and its dramatization. Look at Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald get down, but as chaperones now! My heart! We are all Kids in America! I formally apologize for this trash opinion. I think the larger preference it speaks to is that I demand some modicum of believability in my diegetic music. Homecoming dance, yes; improvised striptease ghost-karaoke, no. Speakeasy grand opening, sure; unhinged performance in an empty field outside a juvenile detention center that is somehow not interrupted by a lead singer running off for a minute to talk to her dad…mega-no. True musicals are one thing--one wonderful, wonderful thing. But if you’re going to ask me to believe a performance is really happening, you need to meet me halfway. Or even like, a quarter of the way. At least walk to the end of your driveway, Riverdale, I’m begging you.
MS: I’m not a big fan of the music on Riverdale. It makes me feel old in a way the rest of the show doesn’t. Archie is not a rock star, and never will be. But I do have love for Josie and her Pussycats, sans Veronica.
CG: Personally attacked by each and every one of you who have shown disdain for the very necessary, important and plot-driving musical numbers. Smh, the disrespect.
MBT: Thank you, soul brother. Musical numbers are a staple of teen melodrama. It’s like, you might not like Cheese Whiz, but that’s what goes on a Philly Cheesesteak. QED
JF: Chris and Michael, I refrained from participating in this question so as not to double down on my disinterest like a jerk, but I hope you know that I love you very much, and I would never hurt you on purpose.
MBT: Apology not accepted. I hope you burn in Hell. Much like what’s happening in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina AND WHEN IS THE CROSSOVER HAPPENING? God, can you imagine the pure batshit insane joy when that happens?
What conventions do you want to see next in Riverdale?
MBT: I want to see a real evil long-lost twin really, really badly. Yeah, we had Chic but was that enough? He was an imposter after all. Whereas Pretty Little Liars had TWO long-lost-siblings and Jane the Virgin has the long-running, sociopathic, wonderfully Russian Anezka. She might be dead though. Hmmm…
OWS: I am academically curious about this, since Dylan Sprouse appearing on the show (O subject of infinite clickbaity non-articles) would be a point of no return for Riverdale’s fanservice ouroboros. I can only imagine that that ultimate wink would turn into a seizure that the show would not survive. (I also suspect Cole Sprouse has some kind of rider in his contract against it—I mean, he was clearly the only one with an agent good enough to get him out of singing in the musical episode.) Thinking about it the way Michael brings it up, though, as a time-honored soapy trope rather than a cheap Sprouse reunion stunt, I am suddenly and deeply interested in the hypothetical meta-joke of giving someone ELSE an evil twin. (Like The Good Cop giving Tony Danza an arc as an aspiring singer while his costar Josh Groban sat deadpan in the audience.) Let Riverdale look us square in the eye and pan past its single Sprouse twin to reveal a split-screen of two KJ Apas. Delectable.
JF: Oh, man, yeah, give everybody but Jughead a twin! Just make sure they all have that fun (gross) “will they or won’t they” tension that they gave Cheryl and the late Jason Blossom in the first season.