Riverdale: A Meandering Review

Steven Harper PiziksI’ve been watching RIVERDALE.  I want to know how they managed to negotiate this with the owners of Archie Comics, really.  The show is dark and moody and focuses quite a lot on the sex lives of the characters, quite the opposite of the original comic, which pretended no one had heard of sex.  I’m trying to imagine how they got that past the licensor.  “So yeah–in this awesomely cool update for TV, Archie is a hot teen who’s sleeping with his music teacher.  One of his classmates is murdered over the summer, and Arch gets dragged into it because he was a sort-of witness, right?  Meanwhile, Betty is trying to please her perfectionist mom and Veronica gets into a queen bee bitch war with another girl at school.  And Moose is trying to get into Kevin’s pants.  Whattaya think?”

At any rate, the show is “shut your brain off” interesting.  The overarcing plot is that last summer, one of the Riverdale teens died in suspicious circumstances, and lots of people have Dark Secrets about it–and other things.  Like any CW show, this one displays generous eye candy of both sexes.  A sweaty, abbed-up Archie takes his shirt off at least once per episode, and cheerleaders bounce about like lingerie-covered rubber balls.  Something for everyone!  It’s kind of fun to watch the show, with a certain amount of self-awareness, wrestle cartoon characters into a semblance of reality, while at the same time it uses bright colors and garish sets to remind us that this =is= still an outlandish cartoon.  It’s a soap opera in the mold of DALLAS and FALCON CREST, but set in a high school.

I do have trouble watching chunks of it.  Hollywood just can’t bring itself to get high school right.  I know it’s a TV show and reality sometimes must be glossed over for the sake of the story, but so many details DON’T need to be glossed over, and when they’re wrong, they remind us we’re watching a TV show and yank us out of the story.  For example:

–The cheerleading squad tryouts. Where was the cheerleading coach?  Cheryl (Miss Queen Bee) runs the entire thing and railroads our poor Betty and Veronica, but this simply isn’t how it works.  Ever.  The coach runs the tryouts and decides who’s on the team, not the cheerleaders.

–Queen Bee Cheryl wears too much makeup.  I know she’s supposed to be a mega-bitch, and her mouth–the source of her power–is highlighted by four pounds of lipstick, but I’m gonna tell ya that any female who showed up to school wearing that much makeup would be ostracized by the very girls she’s trying to control.

–This one shows up in every TV show and movie: bells.  THERE ARE NO BELLS IN SCHOOL.  Schools use computer tones to dismiss class.  That brrrrrrrinnnnggg bell hasn’t been used in thirty years.  But Hollywood uses it in every single school setting ever.  I don’t know why.

–PA mics.  Schools these days have long, long ago dispensed with the microphone on a stand in the principal’s office to address the school.  The PA system is hooked through the phone system so that the secretaries and parapros can call for students, too.  Showing the principal making a PA announcement with a stand mic is like showing someone driving to school in a Model T.

–Blackboards and chalk.  These have vanished from all but the absolute destitute of schools.  They’ve been replaced with white boards and markers.  In many places, we have Smart Boards.  Chalk is as dead as carburetors.  Does Hollywood figure chalk, PA mics, and bells are some kind of setting shortcut that tell us we’re in school?  If so, they’re failing at it–the generation these shows aim at have never seen a chalkboard, heard a bell, or listened to a PA mic in their lives.

–Cheerleader moves.  Cheerleaders don’t bump and grind and move like pole dancers.  They also wear skirts long enough to cover their asses.  (At least the ones in RIVERDALE don’t show cleavage, like some shows I could mention.)  Put a sixteen-year-old into a Hollywood cheerleader outfit and have her grind her hips or look like she’s screwing her poms, and you’ll have five dozen screaming parents on the phone within ten minutes.

When I can shut my brain off long enough to ignore the above, however, RIVERDALE is an interesting watch.

And hey!  We have a gay-couple-in-training.  More on them later…

–Steven Harper Piziks

DANNY on sale now at Book View Cafe.

Danny Large



Riverdale: A Meandering Review — 11 Comments

    • That’s my take on the anachronisms, too: they are there to remind us of the early Archie comics.

  1. I hate to tell you, but schools do still use bells. There are plenty of places to spend money that has more benefits than replacing functioning bells. At least one of the local high schools (haven’t been to the others) definitely still has bells. I believe my old high school still has bells as well, but been a few years since I was there to confirm.

    The rest I’ll grant you (ESPECIALLY the try-outs), but the bells are still used in older buildings.

  2. From the pop culture references in the script this is really the 1980’s — the ages the writers were in h.s. — not the last quarter of the second decade of the 21st century.

    Bothering to name the characters with those of the Archie comic seems an unneeded complication for the show.

    • But, probably as zombies are FINALLY over, they thought this was equally clever.

      As one who despised that meme from the gitgo, gotta say, no that wasn’t clever either, just dumb.

  3. Chiming in, as it were: the San Francisco public schools I was in or around up until three years ago had chalkboards and bells. Some had whiteboards and chalkboards. I think they may have updated the PA systems. The more urban your school system is, the less likely–I suspect–to have upgraded the equipment, because the more likely it is to be underfunded for such niceties.

    On the other hand, the show sounds like everything I want not to watch. Thank you for the heads’ up.

    • Yeah, there are a few chalkboards and bells hanging around, just like there are a few cars with carburetors still on the road, but they’re the exception rather than the rule, and usually found in poor or urban districts, definitely not in what’s supposed to be a wealthy district like Riverdale presents.

  4. I want to know how they managed to negotiate this with the owners of Archie Comics, really.

    Actually, the series’ major writer/developer is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the current Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics (and also the writer for Afterlife With Archie, an ongoing comic featuring Archie and the gang in a zombie-apocalypse AU, as well as a new comics iteration of Sabrina, the Archie-verse’s teenage witch). The franchise has been doing a lot of updating and flexing of creative muscles over the last few years, and this is one of the results. There was also a limited series exploring alternative futures depending on whether Archie married Betty or Veronica, for instance.