Riverdale – A Review in Retrospect


Of late, I’ve been very into murder mystery TV series.  I just finished binge watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries  and Murdoch Mysteries on Netflix, so I didn’t imagine that I had room for another anachronistic mystery series in my life.  Growing up, I had a passing knowledge of Archie comics, but they weren’t really my thing.  I hadn’t felt an overwhelming need to check it out until I saw the early positive reviews for the show and I decided to give it a shot.  These are my thoughts after seeing Riverdale:

If TV Tropes was a show, this would be it.

From the start, the show makes tongue-in-cheek references to TV teen drama tropes as characters make jokes about how everyone had magically transformed into hot teenagers over the summer, unrequited teenage love is explored via spin the bottle, and that girls kissing was last controversial in 1994.   Riverdale clearly knows it’s in charted territory and is willing to embrace it, which is kind of refreshing.

The first scenes are a throwback to that of Twin Peaks, opening with the mysterious death of a prominent citizen’s teenage son in a small town full of dark secrets.  The mystery is reminiscent of Lois Duncan novels, where the teenagers know more than they’re willing to let the adults know, and the shenanigans are about to commence.

The major players are laid out plainly from the start – Archie is the tortured jock/musician, Betty is the classic girl next door and her gay best friend is Kevin, with Veronica as the new girl in town causing a stir.  While none were close to the deceased, his death is a stand in for the end of their lives as they were.  Betty takes a risk to tell Archie that she’s in love with him, but he’s too caught up on the arrival of Veronica and trying to figure out his life choices to return the sentiment, splitting the lifelong friends apart.  At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that the lurking background character Jughead was once Archie’s best friend as well, but for some reason they’re no longer close.  Usually, it takes at least a dozen episodes for a teen drama to play out to this point of big reveals.  The pilot manages to have the whole tangled mess unfold in less than 45 minutes.  This sort of plot pacing works for a feature film, but the show will likely spend its entire first season trying to overcompensate for it.

Overall, the series is off to a fairly strong start.  The actors have good chemistry and there’s enough room to build in plot twists that could undermine the seemingly straightforward whodunit aspect of the murder.  It’s enough to make me tune in for next week’s edition anyway.

Photo credit: IMDb

And the Fangs Come Out

While doing my daily perusing of Slate.com I decided to stumble on over to Double X, the “female” off-shoot of the popular online magazine. I found yet another article raving at the anti-feminism of the rebooted vampire genre focusing on Twilight and True Blood. Being the sci-fi/fantasy geek that I am, it is eye-rolling when someone not into the genre attempts to combat the forces of misogyny. The writer couldn’t seem to make up her mind about True Blood‘s stand on the vampire misogyny, but Twilight was clearly hardcore Mormon. The two works are then held against the vampire feminist icon of the 90s, Buffy. I too have ranted that Bella is the absolute anti-Buffy, and nearly choked on my coffee when a commenter called Bella a “strong female character.” Yes, my strict, traditional parents taught me that tripping over myself and crying for someone to come and save me was a hallmark of a strong person… (Actually, it was more like ‘Get your ass off the ground and give back twice what you got.’)

Buffy and Twilight are easy to compare because they’re both in the teenage fare. They share the girl loves vampire scenario common to this subsect of the vampire genre. The major difference is that Buffy slays vampires and demonstrates that even if you love someone, bending to their will is not in your best interest. Buffy made her own rules, not only feuding with the Watchers but coming back from the dead. Bella on the other hand is subject to the whims of the vampire she’s in love with and waits for him to come and save her. Twilight‘s mores make me cringe, and I come from a marriage based, wife cooks and cleans and raises the kids ethnic background. Bella just lives to pleasure Edward, and has childish fits when he leaves her. She doesn’t fight or assert herself. At least keep some garlic handy if your boyfriend needs help (or wants to suck all of your blood out)!

True Blood/The Southern Vampire books should be set apart in 1) they are adult fare and 2) it’s less along the lines of female/male dynamic than it is a sort of satire of minority vs. majority. I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of the characters, but it’s this intrinsic difference of what vampirism stands for that puts it away from Buffy and Twilight, more towards Anne Rice’s vampires and social commentary.

Now here’s where I take offense. The idea that the vampire subjugation fantasies are “bad for women.” The title is too provacative for a fluff piece that was featured. While I would like nothing better than to Fahrenheit 451 all of Stephanie Meyer’s works (which are cheap knock offs of actually good books), I wouldn’t go so far as to start calling them “bad for women” (bad for literature and a butchery of the English language, by all means yes). I tend to leave people and their sexual fantasies alone. To say these books are “bad for women” is crossing into the territory of “violence in music, TV, movies and video games caused Columbine.”

I will now refer back to the Aristotle’s idea of “catharsis.” Unlike Plato who thought that everything should be publicly censored (please tell me they haven’t swapped out Republic for Twilight just yet), Aristotle believed that exposure to our darker natures through entertainment would sate our need to act on them. In other words, we get off on seeing someone being shot rather than getting off on actually being Deerhunter ourselves. Slasher movies are a big part of American movie fare, but how often do we hear in the news that someone took a hacksaw and went on a killing spree? Some of the people who I’ve found enjoy reading Twilight novels are actually really assertive women. I just chalk the subjugation up to another kink fetish, like feet. Not really that harmful until it moves into reality.

I abhor the model of waiting for a guy coming in to save the day rather than saving yourself, and the free fall of “girl power” in the late 90s to the “lying, cheating backstabbing best friends” business that we’re currently in is a altogether disconcerting. But all in all, it’s just a phase that one can only hope passes quickly before it really does set the feminist movement back. If you want to be that tough chick who gets the job done, you’ll find a way. If you’re that girl who drops her keys to bend over so you can catch a guy’s attention and wallet, you too will find a way. There isn’t just one female archetype running around. I’d say the scary part is the fans who’ve lost touch with reality and mistake the books for some kind of psychotic bible instead of enjoying it for the entertainment value it holds.

Image Credit to Fanpop.com