Saturday, March 18, 2017

Riverdale: More than a Twin Peaks clone

The CW's Riverdale is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows currently on TV. This is not something I thought I'd ever be saying, let alone dedicating a blog post to, but I really believe this is something that needs to be said. In many ways, it's a show I should hate. At its worst, it's another Twin Peaks clone (complete with Twin Peaks alum M├Ądchen Amick) with heavy-handed pop music plugs and formulaic cinematography, all from the CW of all networks). But all of these potential criticisms fall by the wayside for the show's biggest strength: its characters.

A show about a small town rocked by the death of golden boy Jason Blossom, the premise sounds almost exactly like that of Twin Peaks. And while David Lynch and Mark Frost's shadows cast heavily on the show, Riverdale eschews the police procedural half of Twin Peaks and, to its advantage, sticks to high school drama instead. This moves the exploration of characters and family dynamics to the center of the show, where the parents are characterized by structuralism and their children by post-structuralism. Each of the parents are presented as a sort of archetype, especially evident in Alice Cooper's role as a controlling mother, Hermione Lodge as a wealthy woman with ulterior motives, and Fred Andrews as a caring but oblivious father. For the most part, what you see is what you get with these characters. Their children however, exist entirely to subvert the expectations set for them by their familial background, first impressions, and even their clothing and color schemes. Take, for instance, Veronica Lodge, the daughter of the wealthy Hermione and the recently incarcerated Hiram Lodge. Relocated from New York back to her family's hometown of Riverdale, she arrives on the scene with a strong will and stunning clothes. She arrives setting up the expectation that she will be entitled and catty, as all rich daughters in film are. And yet, she immediately works against this perception, being warm, friendly, and diplomatic in response to Sheryl Blossom's "stock character from a 90's teen movie". Veronica ends up being one of the most morally upstanding characters in the show, in stark contrast to the audience's expectations. Sheryl Blossom, on the other hand, begins the series as the Regina George of Riverdale, even more cutthroat after her twin brother's death. Yet as the series progresses, she shows vulnerability and desperation that makes her more endearing and human. Her actions are fully a product of the tragedy in her life and her horrifying family. The majority if not entirety of the main characters subvert the expectations created for them like this. And the wardrobe and color schemes of each character are consistent, extending this subversion throughout each and every episode.

The show is not without its faults, but these faults aren't unique to Riverdale. Good TV outside of HBO is rare, and even more rare coming from the CW. The flaws in Riverdale are the same flaws with other shows on cable. Good TV is rare on this side of HBO, so seeing a show that takes a risk and actively works against the archetypes set by Mean Girls and the like is a refreshing and welcome change.

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