Saturday, 4 March 2017

Riverdale Review 1x01-06 // dark and intriguing vs. problematic and sensationalised

After seeing a lot of media popularity surrounding Riverdale (and hearing my friend's passionate recommendation) I thought I'd give this show a shot. It was The CW after all, and my experiences with their shows, although a little too teen-angsty, have generally been more positive than negative.

The series is a darker adaptation of the characters from Archie Comics, but that and the setting is just about all the inspiration that Riverdale takes from its source material. Episode 1 opens on a birds eye view on an innocent seeming town. But as our narrator tells us, 'get closer... and you will start seeing the shadows underneath.' We are soon told that on the fourth of July, the Blossom twins take a boat ride on the river, and that only one returned, and the other is yet to be found. 

What starts off as a not wholly original yet still intriguing set up, we are then taken through our protagonist's lives one by one. Cheryl, the spiteful head cheerleader mourning her missing and presumed dead brother; Jughead, our elusive narrator and crime fiction writer; Veronica, the new rich girl who's family had fallen from grace; Betty, a soft spoken girl with a crush on the boy next door; Archie, said boy next door who aspires to be a musician. 

I found the concept of the series to be quite similar to that of Pretty Little Liars - pretty people in a pretty town with pretty secrets. One can clearly see the appeal, but for me PLL lost my engagement when season 4 rolled around and the girls were still hunting for A (yes, I looked up who it was, and no, I'm not impressed). And with the undeniable similarities, I wasn't keen on going through the whole agonising angsty-teen-murder-mystery story again. Yet here I still am.

What I think sets Riverdale marginally apart from other reality-based teen shows is its beautiful aesthetic. The cinematography, whilst not revolutionary, truly sets up the mood for this series, and it has a colour palette to die for (I'm a sucker for any good colour scheme). 

The show is highly character driven, which is no surprise, but what I didn't anticipate was the obsession with social hierarchies... in high school. It's a common yet weak driving factor that I've seen time and time again, and in this day and age I just can't see it being feasible anymore. I feel like shows like this blow high school drama far out of proportion. But saying this, I've never been to an American high school. Maybe life there is really like that, in which case I'm so glad I went to a somewhat chill school.

But drama aside, there is a dark tone to this show that I really enjoy. The narrator really sets up a dark and gloomy mood, which when juxtaposed with the idyllic forest scenery is really quite wonderful, and the composition of the music only adds to this.

However, I still find myself unable to escape the drama. A lot of the issues the show has hinted at already have been really progressive (Josie totally shutting down Archie for thinking he could write the experiences of black women was brilliant) and although I have no doubt that a lot of the things characters go through are genuine struggles of the everyday teen (I myself have faced a few of them), the show feels highly sensationalised. Archie has romance problems, sure. But to have 4 ongoing love interests at once - one of them being his music teacher? And Betty living with abusive parents is an important storyline, but the whole is she/is she not crazy? I can't help but feel uncomfortable by how her life is dramatised over receiving focus for how this is a genuine issue kids are faced with.

None of this is to mention the show's excessive queerbaiting. Two heterosexual girls had a huge kiss scene in the very first episode, with no comprehensible purpose to the storyline. The only purpose I'm seeing is to gain the viewership of boys and young queer females whilst not really providing any genuine representation, which is quite troublesome.

And of course there's the issue of Jughead's characters in the comic books openly identifying as asexual (with other aspects of his character suggesting he is also aromantic). Yet that representation is nowhere to be seen. Cole Sprouse has spoken excellently on this matter and appears to be advocating that his character receive a coming out storyline, but although the show's team have said something along the lines of this being an 'origin story' I have my doubts. Of course, not all asexuals are aromantic, and experimentation is often how people work these things out, but we definitely aren't getting an ace storyline this season.

Ultimately, I give Riverdale a low 3 stars. There are aspects of the show that are overwhelmingly problematic, but the reason it's not getting a 2 just yet is because, despite my better judgement, I see potential in it. I can see it increasing the dark tone and aesthetic, and becoming more twisted and engaging. I can see myself sticking around for the remainder of this season, but if season 2 doesn't match my hopes, I'm out.

EDIT: After watching the following 2 episodes of Riverdale I realised my review may have been overly generous (I often am when it comes to new series). There's minimal story or mystery and I find Archie bland and Veronica bratty and annyoing, so there's not much compelling me to continue. I was going to watch the full season and post another review for the latter half, but I got bored and didn't even miss the show in the 3 week break. With Riverdale I believe the bad aspects outweigh the good, and I can't see myself coming back to finish watching.

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