I set out this weekend to fill the gaping hole that Game of Thrones left in my life with a new show to binge. I stumbled upon the CW's Riverdale on Netflix, and all my hopes were answered. Based on the Archie comic series, which debuted in 1941, you may be surprised to find that it has all the necessities of a guilty pleasure: the backstabbing, secrets, girl fights and, of course, murder. The show also manages to address some hot-button topics in a unique way. While Riverdale is set in the present day, it brings the 50s era clothes, hairstyles and sets to today in the best way possible. The beauty of this mash is how it recognizes that while we have made great strides in American society, many of the same stigmas and prejudices are still being fought today.
*Light spoilers from here on out*
They cover everything from race to slut-shaming to gender stereotypes, as well as the stigmas surrounding mental health, teen pregnancy and classism. One star of the show, Ashleigh Murray, plays Josie of the famed "Josie and the Pussycats." She effortlessly puts Archie in his place whenever it's needed. As a sassy, strong, intelligent, African American young woman, she is my new hero.
Another star, Camila Mendes, plays Veronica, the daughter of a wealthy family that moved to Riverdale to escape the fallout of her father's arrest. Mendes is a Brazilian American actress and has spoken about how important it is that she has the opportunity to play a part of a Latina family that is intelligent, wealthy and powerful. Especially opposed to the more common stereotypical latina lower-class, drug-dealing families that populate T.V. shows and film.
The show also deals heavily in classism. While Archie's family represents a blue-collar middle class (he is literally the boy next door), Jughead Jones is the low-class offspring of a drug-dealing, Southside Serpents gang leader, but he is more than that. Played by Cole Sprouse (of Disney's Suite Life of Zach and Cody), Jughead is written in such a way that he remains dynamic and original even with a home life and history that we've seen a hundred times in a hundred different shows.
He, and really all the teenagers in the show, seem much more self-aware than teens are usually allowed to be in these types of dramas. His voice narrates each episode as he pens his novel surrounding the murder of Jason Blossom, and as you get further into the show, it becomes totally apparent that he has rejected his father's lifestyle wholeheartedly, while also rejecting the idea of the nuclear family all together (without spoiling too much, this is why Jughead and Betty are my new favorite ship!).
In Riverdale, the class warfare goes deeper than money and really takes more of an "everyone" vs. "everyone else" track instead of the more usual "rich vs. poor" dynamic. The matriarchs and patriarchs of houses Blossom, Lodge, Andrews, Jones and Cooper (I miss Game of Thrones so much!) are stuck in the past waging war over centuries old disputes and whose ancestors murdered each other in cold blood; their children decide who is worthy of trust and friendship as they attempt to solve Jason's murder.
I'm beyond excited for the second season, which starts October 11 on the CW, but I have a few hopes for the second season. One of Betty's best friends, Kevin Keller, is gay, and I have mixed feelings with how the character is treated. Kevin slides so perfectly into every "Gay Best Friend" stereotype, and one has to wonder if he's meant to be seen as a real person at all. The positive side is that no one in Riverdale cares that Kevin is gay, even his dad, which is great.
We need to see more gay characters being portrayed as people that are just part of society and life like everyone else. They need to be seen as normal because they are. However, having the only gay main character fulfill every negative stereotype without humanizing him in the same way that the rest of the gang are humanized and fully-fleshed out is a problem. My hope for season two of Riverdale is that it will more accurately represent the LBGTQ community and the vast variety of people that count themselves as part of it.
Overall Riverdale gives a face-lift to the teen drama genre and takes some of the guilt out of guilty-pleasure binge-watching. October can't come fast enough. (Jughead and Betty forever! Bettyhead? Jugetty? I'll work on it...)