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Maybe Riverdale Should Have Left Next to Normal Alone …

I don't need a show that's normal, that's way too far away ...

Betty Cooper and Alice Cooper crying together on Riverdale

So Riverdale decided to tackle the Pulitizer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal, and that might have been a bit of a mistake. I don’t think that I can separate my love of Next to Normal and my understanding of the mess that is Riverdale in order for me to actually like this, but let’s get into why maybe Riverdale season 5, episode 18 “Next to Normal” doing Next to Normal wasn’t the best choice for the show.

Riverdale currently has Alice Cooper (Mädchen Amick) dealing with the revelation that Polly Cooper (Tiera Skovbye) was murdered. In her grief, she’s imagining that both Polly and Charles are at their home and that they are the “perfect loving family,” which leads us into Alice’s dream life with all her kids alive and well and hanging out at home. In her grief, she’s imagining that Polly is fine, much like Diana Goodman does with her son Gabriel Goodman, who died as a baby.

Next to Normal follows a woman (Diana Goodman) with bipolar disorder, trying to cope with the loss of her son, who died as a baby, despite the years that have passed. She throws herself into this dream of her boy and what he would have been like, and she neglects her daughter, Natalie, who is alive and struggling. The show itself is all about the fractures in this family, so when Riverdale decided to tackle it with Alice Cooper, I was confused because Dan Goodman, Diana’s husband who also suffered the same loss, is a big part of the show, and Alice Cooper’s husband famously died after being revealed to be the Black Hood killer.

In the actual episode, though, Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) served the Dan Goodman role, and I will say that she is easily the best part of the entire mess that is their take on a Tony-winning musical. Again, I love Next to Normal very much. It’s easily in my top five favorite musicals, so watching Riverdale sort of half-ass attempt to honor it hurt me. Pair that with a lot of lyric changes to make it work with the show, and it just completely turned me off of whatever they were trying to do.

It was a good episode overall for these characters and the show, but as a fan of the musical, it made me angry. I wish that it could have just been Betty, Alice, and Polly coping (because the actor playing Charles literally took it as a joke and this musical is … not a joke).

Focusing on the grief of Alice Cooper vs. the mental health issues brought up in the musical meant that many of the songs were cut or just not performed, and because of how the show is formatted, the lyrics all shifted to fit for their story. Hearing “A Promise” on Riverdale is fun, but I hated that it was “A promise, your child says forever” because that’s not on a kid, but that’s also me nitpicking this show because I love Next to Normal so much. Not to mention that a lot of this show has swear words in it so the lyrics for a song like “Everything Else” changed from “Mozart was crazy, flat f*cking crazy, batshit I hear” to “Mozart was crazy, totally crazy, bonkers I hear,” and honestly, maybe don’t do the song “Everything Else” then!

All of this to say that some of this works. From “A Promise” through to “Light” works because the lyric changes are minimal and work with the original text because it is about a family coming together to cope, but the entire middle part of this episode is messy and a disaster of a musical episode for Next to Normal, which deserves so much better.

(image: The CW)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.