Creator: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
On paper season 1 of Riverdale shouldn’t have worked. A Twin Peaks like take on America’s most beloved wholesome teen comics should have been a disaster. Yet it surprisingly wasn’t, and in fact worked well. In part due to the cast and creative team behind the project, and in part due to Archie comics themselves having morphed to be different and richer than many of us remember (including the remarkably decent take on the zombie apocalypse Afterlife with Archie). With a dramatic season ending cliff hanger involving a shooting in Pop Tate’s Chock’lit Shoppe it was clear that season 2 would bring more turmoil into the lives of Archie (K.J. Apa), Veronica (Camila Mendes), Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Jughead (Cole Sprouse).
Despite a strong opening, season 2 stumbles often, as Riverdale works out the direction it wishes to go as a show. Moving on from the neatly contained Jason Blossom murder mystery of season one, we’re thrown into the shooting of Fred Andrews by the murderous vigilante styled serial killer, the Black Hood. However, where season 1 used lulls in the plot to expand the world, season 2 seems to attempt to weave a more complicated plot, by threading in other elements and story arcs. The result is mixed, with the focus of the show shifting often, and a number of those elements reaching weak or unsatisfactory conclusions.
Regardless of this apparent lack of direction, the show’s “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” philosophy is paying off. Although this season is messy and fails to land a couple of its story arcs, it does demonstrate what will work in the show going forward. Those large dramatic and emotional beats, played at an almost soap opera level of intensity are where Riverdale seems to be most successful as a show – from Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) turning the tables on her attacker, to Betty tormented by the Black Hood, to Jughead’s confrontation with The Ghoulies.
This season has also worked at the dynamics and character relationships between the main for protagonists (Archie, Veronica, Jughead, Betty), positioning them as important members in their own communities. Going forward, it’s easy to see the opportunities for drama in the coming season.
Riverdale’s strength continues to lie in two major factors. Firstly the cast is perfectly chosen for their respective roles, and all of them grew into it. Even the rather traditionally stymied K.J. Apa managed to handle numerous story arcs, and gave Archie Andrews some shade and nuance beyond the rather traditional upright small town hero.
The second is a strong understanding of the source material. Even the Black Hood was a vigilante superhero dating back to the Golden Age MLJ Comics, who in turn would later morph into Archie Comics. Riverdale is filled with such deep delves into Archie lore. From this strong basis of knowledge, the series is not afraid to branch out, and adapt to the comic to make it their own. It’s respectful and intelligent to the fans of the original, while being original in its own right.
It should also be mentioned that film lore also plays a big part of Riverdale, with many homages paid in both the title and style of the series. From Cheryl’s obvious tribute to Carrie, to Betty’s Silence of the Lambs inspired confrontation with the Black Hood, this season has certainly nodded more than once to the numerous horror films that have influenced it. As well as political thrillers, film noir, gangster, and teen gang films. It’s a cavalcade for cinemaphiles.
In all, a mixed season, that despite some great moments and episodes, ends up a bit muddled overall. However in its world building and character development, Riverdale should set up the foundations for better to follow.