(Spoilers ahead for the Season 2 premiere of “Riverdale.”)
I’m a connoisseur of trash entertainment (read this for reference), so it’s surprising to exactly no one who knows me that I love “Riverdale.” My trash affinity makes it tough sometimes to separate “things I like” from “things that are good” — I wouldn’t argue that “Fifty Shades Darker” or “Transformers: The Last Knight” are Good Movies, but they’re among my favorites of this year anyway.
I don’t usually worry that much about that distinction, content to enjoy what I enjoy without needing validation from others.
“Riverdale” was like that for me during Season 1. I didn’t care if it was “good.” I just knew I had a great time watching it. But as I watched the premiere of Season 2, it clicked in my brain that actually “Riverdale” is actually a great show, not just one that hits all the right notes for me personally.
It starts with the way the main cast interacts with each other — the big four of Archie (K.J. Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart), Veronica (Camila Mendes) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) in particular — interact with each other at this point in the show. It took them a while in season 1 for everybody to fall into their current, family-like dynamic. When it began Archie and Betty were best friends and Betty secretly wanted to bang Archie; Veronica was new in town and seemed pretty sketchy; Jughead was just doing his own thing and nobody paid much attention to him.
But the tumultuous events of season 1 forged them into a unit, and they’re all best friends with each other in a very dedicated, “Fast and Furious” kind of way. They love each other! They’re family!
I’m sure they’ll have their issues with each other this year, “Riverdale” being a melodrama and all that — but it’s so good at avoiding the sort of cheap contrivances that usually causes rifts in a group like this on TV. It’s a small thing, but it’s the reason the show works on a number of levels.
The Season 2 premiere gave a great example of that when Archie and Veronica left the hospital so Archie could change out of his bloodstained clothes and get his dad (Luke Perry) something to wear if/when he survived the gunshot that so dramatically punctuated season 1.
Veronica comforts Archie by hopping in the shower with him — solid trash material — but afterward all is not well. Archie gets mad at Veronica because he’s generally in a bad mood because, you know, his dad got shot a few hours earlier. He tells her to leave and that he’ll see her at the hospital when he gets back.
Veronica starts to do just that, and a lesser show would have her walk out the door just to add a little extra drama. But instead she stops, turns around and gives a big speech about how she’s not going to let him be alone in his time of distress and they have a real tear jerker of a moment. It’s great, and it’s real.
Likewise, Betty and Jughead have a big conversation about his tenuous relationship with the Serpeants. Betty really doesn’t want Jug involved with them, but she acknowledges that circumstances are far from ideal and that she can help him navigate these treacherous personal waters. There’s tension, but not a falling out. The way “Riverdale” so deftly handles these relationship dynamics feels so damn good.
In place of the personal melodrama among those four, the show wisely puts the drama were it belongs: on rich people, overbearing parents and corporate criminals, all of whom keep trying to keep our heroes down. And that’s where “Riverdale” delivers the thrills. I don’t know who’s out to murder everybody that Archie loves, but I do know that I’m absolutely terrified of the guy in the hood and whatever vindictive force, whether it be the Searpents or the Blossoms or the Lodges or whoever else, that he represents. Fred Andrews’s messed up dreams, in which he witnesses momentous occasions in Archie’s life only to have those occasions interrupted by the hooded gunman left me legitimately unsettled. And when he showed up at the end to murder Ms. Grundy, I actually screamed out loud. Speaking as an emotionally repressed dude, it takes a lot for, well, anything to make me scream.
I could go on, discussing the show’s lush visual palette and technical craft (ooh, how I love those smoky interiors), but you get the point. This show is as good as TV melodrama gets, achieves maximum bang for it buck in delivering that melodrama without betraying the characters, and also it looks great.
“Riverdale” is no joke, and deserves to be in the discussion when we talk about what the best shows on TV are in 2017.