Yesterday, I finished Season 2 of the CW’s Riverdale. The more I think about it, the more I think that the CW’s Riverdale is the most frustrating television program on the air right now. It might even be in the running for most frustrating television program of all time. Note that I did not say “worse” because that’s not accurate. I said frustrating. That’s because Riverdale is not really a BAD show it just comes so close to being a good show that when it fails, it fails big.
I’ve always found that this is some of the hardest type of tv to watch; not the stuff that is just straight up bad, but the stuff that is just good enough to show you all the potential it failed to reach. Look at these components. Riverdale has all the makings of quality entertainment and then some:
- Sexual Tension
- Political corruption
- Musical numbers
- A leather-clad biker gang
- Drug trafficking
- Cole Sprouse
- A saucy redhead
- Vigilante justice
- Evil nuns
- More murder
Personally, I would be stoked if I was assigned that list as a writing prompt. So much potential! But the problem is that Riverdale oftentimes feels like just that: a laundry list of element that the writers are trying to include simply because they can. In Season 2 especially, it didn’t feel like there was a deliberate vision driving the story forward from Episode 1 to Episode 22. It felt very haphazard, like the writers were just making crap up as they went.
It reminds me of a game I’ve played in creative writing classes where everyone starts writing a story and then every few minutes, everyone passes their story to the right and then has to pick up where the last writer left off. Every new Riverdale episode feels like a new group of writers saying “okay, but what haven’t we done yet? Date rape? An underage strip tease? Carrie the Musical? Let’s roll with that!”
This sometimes results in entire episodes where it feels like absolutely nothing is happening. We’re not learning anything new about the mysteries of the last episode. The new mysteries that are revealed are only vaguely related to the mysteries we actually care about. However, in such an episode I can pretty much guarantee that within the last two minutes a Jughead voiceover is going to come on and say “but that was nothing compared to what went down that night. It would haunt Riverdale forever.” Insert shocking image of dead body here.
This is one of the main reasons I gave up on watching Riverdale each week as it came out. I was just straight up bored through most of the early episodes. At the time I wasn’t too mad about it though. “Whatever,” I thought. “The show just works better as a binging show than as a single-episode show. No shame in that, as it’s true of a lot of modern tv.”
But it turns out the season long arc has issues too. The main mystery of Season 2 is figuring out who the “Black Hood” is. Said Black Hood is a serial killer who wears a black hood. There’s never really any conclusive evidence that all the various murders of Season 2 were committed by the same killer, save for the Black Hood’s claim that they are.
Archie Andrews, a 16-year-old boy, takes it upon himself to solve this whodunnit. This leads Archie to cross the line from “courageous” into “recklessly stupid” numerous times. It’s alright to have stupid characters, but I strongly recommend against writing a stupid character in a crime-fighting capacity unless you are intentionally trying to write a terrible crime-fighter for comedic effect, a la Get Smart or Johnny English. Riverdale wants to be dramatic and suspenseful, but gives us a protagonist who chases after and yells at any character that could potentially be the Black Hood, never remembering that the Black Hood is a fucking murderer and he could die trying to apprehend him on his own. It gets to the point where if Archie were to die, I would probably just say “Welp. Dumbass deserved it.”
I am also not convinced that the writers knew who they wanted the Black Hood to be when they first conceived of the character in earlier episodes. When it is finally revealed who the Black Hood is, I could not make my eyes roll as dramatically as they needed to. I was unsatisfied and still felt like if this was the truth, there was no reason why Archie and the gang wouldn’t have figured it out way sooner, even with Archie being as stupid as he is. It’s unlike the grand reveal at the end of Season 1, which was shocking but still made sense in its own bizarre way.
I want to like Riverdale. I love the ballsiness of putting a murder mystery fanfic of a children’s comic on television. But anytime I actually try to watch the show, I’m disappointed in the subpar storytelling.
Riverdale is a toxic fuckboy that makes you laugh and smile and love him but his fear of commitment constantly leaves you confused and pissed off. Watching Riverdale is like watching your football team play a close game through three quarters only to fumble it away in the fourth. Riverdale is that significant other that can’t decide where to eat but rejects every place you suggest. It has so many things going for it but is just plain frustrating.