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A teen sci-fi drama just became the best cult show on TV

From cults to satanic panic to musical numbers, this show deserves more love.

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When Riverdale was first announced by the CW, it was a laughable premise.

A moody, bisexual-lit Archie Comics show? It was the height of the "gritty reboot" phenomenon that would give rise to movies like Joker and Cruella. But the modernization of the squeaky clean characters pulled no punches in its first season, tackling a gothic murder mystery and predatory grooming, all punctuated with never-ending pop culture references. Though it's still looked down upon as soapy teen fluff, now's the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon, even if you think it's not your thing.

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I know what you're thinking: there's no way Riverdale is a comic-book show at the same caliber as, say, the Arrowverse. Sure, Riverdale doesn't have superhero action, but it does have what so many genre shows are missing nowadays — cheese. In a world where Marvel movies can be nominated for best picture, genre media is missing the shamelessly ridiculous element from older shows like the Adam West Batman or Battlestar Galactica.

Riverdale may not be science fiction, but it is definitely surreal. There's no way of knowing exactly when the show takes place. A glance at a file shows Jughead's birth year, and therefore the birth year of his classmates, was 2001, but the entire show seems to exist out of time. Much like its source material, it exists in a world that's half 1950s and half the present.

Why You Should Watch Riverdale Now

Seven years in the future, veteran Archie makes his return to Riverdale.

The CW

Over the past two episodes of Season 5, Riverdale has doubled down on this timelessness by skipping from graduation to seven years in the future. What results after seven years apart is a microcosm of what Riverdale does best — taking familiar stories and tropes and breathing new life into them through its patented use of unabashed campiness.

In the new seven-years-ahead future (which is still 2021...don't try to make it make sense) Archie is an injured Army sergeant, sent back to Riverdale to start an ROTC program at his old high school. Betty is a Yale graduate and FBI agent, shown running through the Quantico forest in a white turtleneck and FBI sweatshirt...just like Agent Clarice Starling in the opening shots of Silence of the Lambs.

Veronica is married to Chad Gekko, a Wall Street businessman who thinks she has a part-time job at a friend's boutique, but she's actually living her Uncut Gems dreams working in an underground diamond shop. Jughead is a bestselling author, but is struggling with inspiration and is increasingly in debt. His whole storyline echoes the beat poets he loved to reference so often in seasons past.

Genre-Bending Like None Other

The Riverdale cast portrays their characters' parents in a combination D&D and flashback episode.

The CW

You can start from the time jump, Chapter 80, with only a cursory knowledge of Riverdale's past and not miss out on any huge background. But if you do want a deeper dive into the back catalogue, boy do you have a treat in store for you.

There's no genre Riverdale hasn't adopted and nailed.

  • Cults - Season 3 was all about The Farm, a commune led by Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray) that quickly sweeps through town and indoctrinates Betty's family, leading to the FBI, hypnotism, and a rocketship.
  • Gangs - Gangs are a constant presence in Riverdale. The Southside Serpents rule for a while before the drug-farming Ghoulies roll into town.
  • Alter Egos - Betty's genetics are for some reason a favorite topic of the plot, and in a frankly hilarious scene it's revealed she inherited a "serial killer gene." That may explain why she has a propensity to put on a brunette wig and become "Dark Betty."
  • Murder Mystery - Whether it's the murder of Jason Blossom or the Black Hood serial killer, there's constant funerals. That may explain why the cheerleaders have mourning uniforms.
  • Satanic Panic - The real-life uproar against Dungeons & Dragons is echoed in a game called Gryphons & Gargoyles. A drug called Jingle Jangle is involved.
  • Musicals - Yes, there are musical episodes. In three separate seasons, they perform the hits of three movie-to-stage musicals: Heathers, Carrie, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The Benefits of Cheese

If you search "Riverdale straight face" on Twitter, you'll find a cavalcade of people all expressing the same sentiment — all the actors on Riverdale deserve awards for being able to deliver their lines 100 percent seriously.

In one notorious scene, Archie tries to start a pickup football game with other prisoners at Shankshaw Prison (I know, I know) when one man pipes up that he "I dropped out in fourth grade to run drugs to support my nana" to which Archie replies "That means you haven't known the trials and defeats, the epic highs and lows of high-school football."

It's terrible, but it knows it's terrible. Riverdale has progressed beyond "weird pop culture references made for teens" and has morphed into its own style and its own genre, one that could sit alongside sci-fi as "realistic hypercultural melodrama."

Besides, the show is streaming for free for U.S. residents, so what do you have to lose?

Riverdale is now streaming on the CW.

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