Some shows suffer from bad writing, whilst others fail because of wooden acting or poor character development. Riverdale contains all of the above, plus a generous sprinkling of batshit crazy. This show does not merely bore or disappoint, it is so shite that you are left questioning the nature of reality itself.
How did this show even get made?
Did anyone read the script?
Is there a script???
In season 3, for example, we find Archie ‘Ginger Stallion’ Andrews convicted of murder and sent to prison. Not normal prison, of course, but fantasy prison, where the rival gangs settle their beef by playing American Football.
Things are even worse at the RICE HQ, where a majority of the writers are not just fans, but Dalevotees. I won’t name-and-shame, but I am disturbed to learn that otherwise intelligent people could spend hours watching Cheryl Blossom pout her way through life, or use the word ‘love’ to describe how they feel about Riverfail.
Yes, they say, they too find the plot absurd, the dialogue cheesy and the acting overly dramatic. They concur that the show is cringeworthy and silly and terrible and so on… but they love it regardless, as a ‘guilty pleasure’ or ‘mindless entertainment’.
And that leads us to an interesting paradox worth considering: Why do we love ‘terrible’ shows like Riverdale.
Or for that matter, other trashy programs like say, Nicholas Cage’s National Treasure, Johnny Depp in Pirates of The Caribbean or anime’s High School Of The Dead.
The most obvious explanation is that we’re enjoying it ‘ironically’, in the same manner we ‘enjoy’ Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or Nicholas Cage in The Wicker Man.
The word most often used to describe Riverdale is ‘mindless’ and it is hard to deny the show’s low-brow/Basic charm. People love to gawk at sex, violence and melodrama, and Riverdale certainly does not deny them.
People don’t walk into rooms, but march into them with a sense of destiny. Characters don’t talk to one another like normal people. Instead, they DECLARE their innermost thoughts and feelings at maximum volume, complete with outstretched limbs — like Gandalf confronting a Balrog.
It’s all very gratuitous and slightly pornographic but somehow, nobody really holds it against Riverdale because the show is just so damn earnest.
Many find this lack of pretense endearing and it’s not hard to fathom why. In this age of Oscar-bait storylines and high-concept television, it’s refreshing to see a show that embraces its cheesy, low-brow origins. It feels nice to be indulged and humored, once in a long while.
And everything’’s incredibly watchable to boot. The show uses very short scenes of no more than 3 or 4 minutes each, with dialogue that’s simple to the point of patronizing. You can never get lost because a) there isn’t much of a plot and b) the characters will remind you of their intentions every few seconds. In any case, no character in Riverdale has a motive that needs more than 2 words. It’s either ‘Kill X’, ‘Save Y’ or ‘Fuck Z’, with few exceptions.
The TVB supernatural murder drama was the opposite of ‘good television’. It was one of those cheesy 90s dramas where 2 rival suitors backstab each other about 79 times in before realising that they were brothers all along.
It was oh so shit but oh so good. For 1.5 hours, my friends and I laughed, speculated, picked sides, screamed, and then laughed some more when the villain was revealed as the father’s wronged ex-lover’s love-child’s secret boyfriend.
That, I think, is the essence of why we enjoy trashy shows. Good shows are lonely affairs. They are Serious Conversations between you and the artist, with the artist doing most of the talking. Terrible shows, on the other hand, are like communities and carnivals — they invite you in and encourage participation.
They make you feel like you matter.
Think about it. In a ‘serious’ drama, you are but a strapped-in spectator. The hand of the auteur is always visible and it keeps you at a distance. When the season ends, you are encouraged to applaud politely, mumble appreciation and nothing more.
You either enjoy it or you didn’t understand it.
Not so for Riverdale. The Verge claims that Riverdale ‘is built for online fandom’ because ‘anything can happen’ and I agree. The show doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a soap opera and therein lies its strength. This incoherence gives the audience free license to take sides, ship certain characters or weep tears of joy at the Dark-Betty and/or Griffin Queen. Whether you’re on Team Varchie or Team Bughead, whether you laugh at them or fantasize about them, you feel included, because who is to say that your sentiments are invalid?
How can your opinion be ‘wrong’ when there’s a high-school senior running her own illegal casino under Pop’s Diner?
This is the same impulse that compels us to write Harry Potter fanfiction. It is the reason why reality shows like RuPaul have such lasting appeal. Sometimes, we don’t want to be entertained by the characters. We want to take the Barbies out of the box, smash them together and entertain ourselves.
Most good shows can only be interpreted, and thus enjoyed, in one way. A terrible show, as most r/prequelmemes would know, is a choose-your-own adventure book. You are free to make of it what you wish. Whether you want to laugh at it, feel emotionally invested in it, ship certain characters, or hate their guts, it’s all up to you. You can ignore the drama and love the hot actors, or laugh at dialogue but love the mystery, nobody can stop you because all choices are equally valid. This is liberating; perhaps even empowering, because the show becomes your Riverdale as much as the network’s.
It may be trash, to be sure, but sometimes, only the trash can set you free.