Riverdale Is the Best Guilty Pleasure on TV Today
A murdered high school student in a small town exposes the dark secrets under the perfection of the American Dream. A quaint diner is the hangout of choice for local teens. There’s a faded sign showing two mountains and the words: “Welcome to Riverdale. The town with PEP!” For many aesthetic reasons—along with the ‘90s show’s looming return after 25 years—Riverdale got a lot of natural comparisons to Twin Peaks when it debuted on The CW in January.
And Riverdale—thematically, visually, and even with the casting of Mädchen Amick—is undoubtedly inspired by David Lynch’s classic, surreal soap. But, while Twin Peaks acted as a meta-commentary of a guilty pleasure, Riverdale fully embraces it.
On paper, it’s kind of a hard show to defend: A CW teen drama based on the Archie comics. But Roberto Aguirre-Sacsa took that idea and developed it into one of the most fun shows on TV. The Archie comics serve as more of a skin: The perfect small town, the jock, the girl next door, the intelligent weirdo, the mysterious new girl in town. They have the familiar names—Archie, Betty, Jughead, Veronica—and of course live in the titular town. But watching Riverdale doesn’t require even a vague understanding of the comics to enjoy it—although Archie superfans might get a kick out of the subversive Easter Eggs.
Instead, Riverdale is darker than the Archie comics ever were. It’s darker than any teen drama on TV today, for that matter—and most that came before it. This being a CW show, it’s certainly less raunchy than shows like Skins, but it still has a bit of an edge, with murders, gang warfare, drug overdoses, and lots of sex. (This Archie fucks.)
The first season revolves around the murder of Jason Blossom, the star football player who is found in the woods with a bullet in his head. Archie (who fucks), Betty (the girl next door), and Veronica (the rich one who you'd think would suck but is actually awesome), and Jughead (the outcast Holden Caulfield type) work to solve the crime between all of the high school dances, house parties, and so much drama. They're all kids living in the shadow of their parents failures, skeletons, and secrets. And they find themselves in the center of local business intrigue involving the powerful and rich Blossom Maple Farms and the neighborhood gang Southside Serpents. (Of course, they're all also fucking each other.)
Riverdale works because it's so self-aware. It sometimes takes itself too seriously and fully embraces tired tropes, but it perfectly balances its flaws with pulpy themes, heavy ambiance, and being fashionable as hell.
Riverdale works because it's so self-aware. Sure, it sometimes takes itself too seriously and fully embraces tired tropes, but it perfectly balances its flaws with pulpy themes, heavy ambiance, and being fashionable as hell. From costumes, to sets, and even a handful of fantastic performances—KJ Apa as the perfect jock dunderhead, Archie; Lili Reinhart as the smart and wholesome girl next door, Betty; Camila Mendes as the sophisticated and sexy Veronica; Cole Sprouse as the misunderstood outcast, Jughead—the show outdoes any preconceived notions.
I will fully admit: I love it because teen dramas are my guilty pleasure—but this is a really good one. Riverdale is up there with The O.C., Freaks and Geeks, Veronica Mars, Skins—all shows that brought a darker, more subversive nature to the teen TV canon. Of course, some of the plot is basic as hell, the mystery, once it was solved, was kinda lame, and the finale was disappointing, but it was about the ride. And, honestly, at a time when everyone in this country needs to escape from our IRL dystopia, Riverdale is the perfect way to just tune the hell out.
It's easy to forget this in a time of prestige TV. We can get home from school and work and occupy our brain with something symbolically dense (The Leftovers), a near-future horror parallel to our current reality (The Handmaid's Tale), or anything that's just too on the nose (Colbert, House of Cards, Veep). But this is an era when everything on TV is elevated—even guilty pleasures like Riverdale. And we need those as much as anything else.
Riverdale's second season premieres on Netflix today, October 12.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.