Much like the teens who find themselves hooked on narcotics such as Jingle Jangle or the hallucinogenic Fizzle Rock, I have found myself addicted to the drug that is Riverdale. As a fan of the comics growing up, and someone who still recalls the awful Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again movie, I was initially skeptical of this new “darker” incarnation of the Archie gang. However, while experiencing the post-turkey coma of the holidays, I decided to hop on Netflix and peek into the twisted rabbit hole that is the show.
What I discovered was a gloriously ridiculous town where literally everyone is hiding some sort of dark or deadly secret.
Gone was the colourful Riverdale of the comics which housed innocent love triangles, Scooby-Doo style mysteries and overly simplistic moral lessons. In its place was a community so corrupted by crime, politics and violence that it would make the folks in Gotham City blush.
Take for example the central arc of the current, and best, season which focuses on a seemingly innocent Dungeons and Dragons style board game called Gryphons and Gargoyles. As the G&G craze sweeps through the town’s teens faster than Archie can take off his shirt (we get it he’s ripped) a convoluted dastardly plot begins to unfold. One whose tentacles reach shady redevelopment plans; a juvenile prison that houses an illegal fight club; a cult like therapy institution known as The Farm; and a sinister nun lead all-girls school that is using its students as guinea pigs for a new street drug.
The individuals who are thriving most from this chaos are recurring villain Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) and a mysterious being known as the Gargoyle King. In regards of the latter, no one is quite sure who the king is or if it even exists. Up until now, the Gargoyle King has only appeared as horrific dreamlike hallucination, with its branches for arms and the head of a dead animal, to those who have been unfortunate enough to cross its path. The one thing that both Mr. Lodge and the Gargoyle King have in common is that their plans all hinge on the elimination of 16-year-old Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa).
At the center of every immoral hurricane that blows through Riverdale, Archie is easily, and I say this lovingly, the most reckless individual on the show.
Characters in Riverdale constantly try to paint a portrait of Archie as the consummate do-gooder, or “Red Paladin” as he is referred to in G&G speak; a just knight who valiantly risks it all to help those in need. His actions often prove otherwise though. Whether it was his affair with his much older teacher, starting not one but TWO vigilantly gangs, or pledging loyalty to Hiram Lodge, Archie is the poster boy for bad decisions.
Like a black hole that uncontrollably pulls everything into its sphere, Archie is always fixing problems that he has directly or indirectly made worse. His lack of patience causes him to make rash decisions that always comeback to haunt him and those he loves.
This is one of the reasons why season three has stood out so far. The G&G arc has placed Archie on the backburner for the first eight episodes and lets his pals Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) and Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes), arguably the three most interesting characters on the show, guide the ship for a while. We get to revel in the dangerous hunt for the Gargoyle King that amateur sleuths Betty and Jughead are conducting; and take glee in the various ways Veronica attempts to undermine her father. All of this while Archie channels his inner Richard Kimble as a fugitive on the run.
Although this season is much darker in tone, flirting with straight horror at times, the series still knows how to lighten the mood when needed. Take for example episodes like “The Midnight Club”, which uses The Breakfast Club to explain the sins of the parents in Riverdale, or the numerous Easter Eggs, like the “Jingle Jangle” song from the 60s cartoon which plays in the “As Below, So Below” episode, that are scattered throughout the series.
Confidently finding its groove in storylines more outlandish than anything you will find in the comics, Riverdale is still going strong three seasons in.