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What on Earth Is Riverdale Even About Anymore?


You look away from Riverdale for one season and suddenly the Gargoyle King is running around a town that hosts zombies, cults, and some kind of speakeasy for teenagers.

From the start, Riverdale was over the top, with a campy edge that some of us hoped in season one might turn the Archie Comics-inspired show into a sort of teenage Twin Peaks. But its first season was relatively mundane, save the murder mystery running in the background, with an eventual resolution that was cribbed from the pages of Veronica Mars.

Beyond Cheryl’s gothic mansion and bizarre family, and a whole lot about maple syrup dynasties, there was nothing that weird about Riverdale in the beginning. Archie Andrews struggled to choose between playing football or following his passion for music. Veronica showed up as the new girl in town. Betty and Jughead grew closer while investigating mysteries, and their chemistry effectively made them into the show’s main focus.

Yet this was still pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. The kids had teenage crushes on each other. The adults had crushes on each other, and business schemes. There were cheerleader practices and school dances. Sure, the Southside Serpent gang was biking around, but the show sometimes actually seemed to have interesting things to say about the town’s social divisions.

Fast forward to Riverdale‘s third season, and it feels like we should have been careful wishing for a Twin Peaks turn on that monkey’s paw. The show has gone completely off the rails, not jumping the shark so much as leaping over many, many sharks in order to reach yet more sharks. It’s given up any semblance of being a show about teenagers in high school (except when something at school can be turned into a big set piece or stage upon which to be murdered).

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here’s the Wikipedia summary for the season three episode “Fire Walk With Me,” if you’re new here and want a small taste of what Riverdale is up to do these days:

Alice attempts to sell the house, only to be continuously sabotaged by Betty. Archie finds a little boy named Ricky branded with the Sacrifice Symbol in the boxing gym. He starts taking care of him, until Ricky runs away to hide from the Gargoyles. Meanwhile, the Serpents, Gargoyles, and Pretty Poisons begin clashing at school, and chemistry equipment is stolen to make drugs. Betty finds Kevin going deep into the Farm, and stumbles across a ceremony where he walks across fire. She threatens to expose the Farm, but Evelyn and Kevin respond by threatening to expose all of Alice’s secret coverups and killings. Veronica opens a casino and uses it to lower her debt, leading to Hiram’s associates clashing at a showcase. Veronica recruits the Pretty Poisons to work at the speakeasy, who end up barring Hiram and Gladys from entering. The Gargoyles and the Serpents begin working with the police, causing Kurtz to walk out. Archie having found Ricky, finds out Ricky is Joaquain’s little brother. Ricky reveals he is working with the Gargoyles and faked everything, and tries to kill Archie to complete the Red Paladin quest. Jughead tells Archie that it is time for them to end it (along with Betty). Alice sells the house, and comes home to find it in flames.

Yeah so … all of that happened. On a single episode of Riverdale. Drugs, gangs, sacrifices, a junior in high school who runs a speakeasy opening a casino, firewalking at a cult—and this is all pretty tame stuff compared to some of season two’s emphasis on a violent serial killer terrorizing the town. Whatever it is the Riverdale writers are smoking these days, however, I would like to try some.

Riverdale babies at the Farm gif

My current favorite way to visit Riverdale is through the hilarious analysis of YouTuber Alex Meyers, who shows how utterly bonkers the show has become with the help of his trusty animated figures. Meyers makes this all palatable by breaking down the chaos until it becomes fun again.

If you fell off the Riverdale bandwagon but are still curious about the Gargoyle King, let Meyers guide you. And if you’re just joining us, reading the above, softly mouthing “What the hell,” and can’t stop yourself from wanting to learn more, Meyers’ “Riverdale is a Mess” video is a great place to start. He also has a number of funny videos that tear other movies and shows apart with pointed humor and helpful animated friends.

Are you watching Riverdale this season? How can we help?

(via Alex Meyers on YouTube, images: The CW)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.