We Need To Talk About Riverdale, Or Why We Love Trashy Shows
Spoiler alert. Rant alert. Vixen alert.

Riverdale Sucks

Riverdale is a Marvel-style reboot of the old Archie comics on Netflix. It features a beautiful cast, stellar cinematography, and is probably the worst television show ever made.

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.

* Sucks *
Who decided it was a good idea to turn Miss Grundy into a pedophile-milf?

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.

Unfortunately, the evil warden decides to be evil and kidnaps Archie, forcing him to fight in a illegal teenage fight club, until Archie gets tired of MMA and escapes through a sewer with the help of Veronica, who throws smoke bombs whilst dressed as Lady GAGA.

Say what.

If this premise sounds like an opiate-fuelled fever-dream, just wait till you arrive in Riverdale proper. There, you will find a 16-year-old girl running a speakeasy with no alcohol in defiance of her drug kingpin dad, an investigative journalist who inherited his father’s biker gang, an underground sex bunker, a lesbian cheerleader who continues to attend school after setting her mom on fire, and a mysterious suicide-inducing board game, which was invented by a) a sisterhood of psycho nuns or b) the sexy drug kingpin dad or c) an actual gargoyle because HONESTLY WHO THE FUCK KNOWS ANYMORE THIS IS BATSHIT FUCKING INSANE.

The Official Riverdale Sex Bunker
I wish I could do justice to Riverdale’s absurdity, but it needs to be experienced in order to be believed. This is a world where people go to high school during the day and waterboard their parents with Maple Syrup by night, where teenagers say things like ‘I’ve seen real darkness’ and ‘I am cuckoo-bananas for you’ without any trace of irony. Every week, a dozen ridiculous melodramas are introduced, but are promptly forgotten when the teenagers decide to hook up in the aforementioned Fuckbunker(™), or get murdered, or find themselves chased through the woods Scooby-doo style by a discount Babadook.

In short, this is a world that has no right to exist. If there was ever an incoherent mess in need of pruning shears or an argument for euthanasia, it would be Riverdale, a drama bereft of plot, logic, or any resemblance to normal human behaviour.

But Why Tho

There are a thousand reasons — wooden acting, silly plot, moronic music, etc —  to cancel Riverdale and yet it survives, growing more popular every day. Its D-list actors/actresses are now superstars and barely a week goes by without some friend recommending it to me because *in hushed tones* it is soooo gud.

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.

Give me a 'Y'
Normally, I would just chalk it down to my colleagues’ shit taste and leave it at that, but not in this case. I can’t let it go because most fans are in complete agreement with my verdict of ‘shit’.

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.

I don’t buy this explanation one bit. If Riverdale was meant as a joke, it is surely a joke that has gone on for far too long. The fact that we are now knee-deep in Season 3 suggests that our enjoyment is more than just Hipster Irony, and therefore, we must look elsewhere to understand the show’s appeal.

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.

Hay there
KJ Apa’s shirt flies off for the flimsiest of excuses, exposing a midriff worthy of UNESCO heritage status. While Archie-kins and Veronica (Varchie) have toilet-sex (and it is always toilet sex for some reason), a small battalion of equally beautiful side characters are tortured/killed off a la Game Of Thrones.

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.

"Can I finish my pancakes first?"
Unlike other shows which use blood and sex in pursuit of ‘serious realism’ (True Detective) or ‘philosophical depth’ (Westworld), Riverdale does not harbour ideas above its station, or try to be anything it’s not. The show is self-aware. It knows how terrible it is and has no idea how to create a compelling plot or character, but it tries so hard to entertain us anyway.

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.

This bite-size sequences and beautiful people make for a program that’s basically the televisual equivalent of an Instagram Story — easily digestible and requiring little emotional commitment whilst delivering instant gratification. In other words, the perfect show for shortened attention spans and tired millennials who are just looking to zone out.

Srsly Why

After 2 hours of catching up to the latest episode, something inside me clicked, and I found myself sucked into Riverdale. The show suddenly became good. I wanted to know who’s the Gargoyle King. I wanted to know if Veronica will cheat on her Red Paladin.

At the same time, I found myself reminded of another show: A TVB Hong kong crime drama which I watched earlier this year, when I was on holiday.

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.

Railing against the evil of say, Breaking Bad’s Gustavo Fring or criticising his behavior is pointless because, duh, that’s what the creators/narrative wanted.

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.

I am a Southside Serpent. AMA at community@ricemedia.co.

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