The CW’s “Riverdale” – Season 1 Review (SPOILERS + LONG)

The incest was more surprising than the murder.

Despite so much potential, Riverdale is yet to become the grand teen mystery show that it could be. With so many great shows ending, Riverdale has big boots to fill. But, unfortunately, the incest was more surprising than the murder. Deciding to cement the tone through the dark monologues of Jughead, depicting the show in quite frankly an off-kilter misrepresentation, is probably where I take my biggest issue. While never having read the Archie Comics, it’s my understanding that they’re vast to say the least, from superheroes to horror to romance reprints. It makes sense to want to roll off the back of previous successes, like Pretty Little Liars, but more often than not Riverdale doesn’t ground itself in the murder mystery of Jason Blossom. It’s much more layered than a simple whodunit, which works. There’s heart and chemistry on-screen and well-thought out plotlines – not to mention the cinematography is outstanding. And to keep it fresh and innovating, I understand the necessity of the murder storyline. What I don’t understand is why Riverdale believes itself to be this grandiose noir narrative.

Let’s break it down character by character.

The Great Archiekins:

Archie Andrews was my biggest annoyance at the start of the series. I couldn’t get passed the two dimensions of his character. Why exactly are we supposed to root for Archie? He’s male, straight, white, popular, buff… need I go wrong? There wasn’t any tangible substance to him, all he had to offer was a pretty face and an overtly sexualised pair of abs (which I definitely appreciate: the change of sexual focus onto a male lead instead of a female one). There just wasn’t anything real about Archie as a teenager that I could relate to, in the slightest. His parents’ divorce was peaceful, his love life is questionable and his jock-musician story line I had already gotten enough of from High School Musical. Seriously. Episode 9 where Cheryl’s family begins taking a liking to Archie and offer him more opportunities was straight up Sharpay and Troy in HSM2. I began to ignore him, mostly, until he took his shirt off or left the scene. The only moment in all 13 episodes that made me actually like Archie was in the finale, when he made his hand bleed punching the ice to get to Cheryl. In that moment I saw more than the resident chick magnet of Riverdale. But, of course, it was brushed off in a later scene to highlight his impeccable goodness and selflessness. Even his inappropriate sexual relationship with Ms. Grundy, which sheds some light on Archie’s personal insecurities on his own songwriting capabilities, was harpooned away quicker than she was. They could have easily explored the depth of his depracating self-worth and his clear issue with validation (and authority figures, to a degree) but none of that is actually seen and his romantic indecision is shoehorned into the plot while making sure at least once per episode we’re reminded of his body or his looks.

Betty Dye-Your-Damn-Roots Cooper:

The overachieving literal embodiment of a girl-next-door (there was no subtlety in the way they wrote that: her window looks into Archie’s) with an ambiguous mental illness and controlling parents. Unlike Archie, I didn’t dislike Betty but I also didn’t love her. There’s more to her than Archie, that’s for sure, and her character arc does address a lot about her undiscovered self. She grows a spine, standing up to her mother, and even grows to be more confident in her writing, her romance and herself. I did find it interesting that The Fair Lady and The Dark Lady were subverted, revealing Betty (The Fair Lady) to be much darker than resigned mean girl Veronica (The Dark Lady). In the first episode, her scene with Cheryl, being passive in her cheerleading uniform, contrasts wildly to her scene in the last episode where she chastises the people of Riverdale for not realising how much the town has changed. Her most compelling quality as a character, for me, is the whole “Dark Betty” exploration. I understand why the writers chose to keep it ambiguous and not discern everything in the first season (it was obvious that it would garner enough attention and fans to get a second) but I hope they continue to delve deeper into her psyche. Mental illness is still a subject of taboo with a lot of stigma attached to it, seeing the typical Betty Cooper girl next door figure admit to being mentally ill, and then seeking out help for it would normalise the topic to a lot of impressionable viewers and finally connote the message that mental illness is something we shouldn’t be ashamed of.

Hispanic Caroline Channing Veronica Lodge

The embodiment of social awareness in the form of a seventeen-year-old. Sharp-tongued with masterful one-liner delivery, it’s not hard to imagine where Camila Mendes’ career will take her. The most interesting scenes with Veronica had to be the ones where she interacted with Betty – it was made clear that their friendship would be a driving force of the show, enforcing positive female friendships where they don’t fight for Archie’s attention. And while I not only condone but support this representation, there were extremely equivocal moments that left me slightly stooped. She is definitely the character with the most feminist undertones: She owns her sexuality and femininity without it defining her personality entirely and is simultaneously strong yet vulnerable. But the writers making her socially aware seemed to be used as an excuse to be… less than progressive. For example, she jokes about failing the Bechdel test when she brings up her relationship with Archie to Betty but I can’t remember the last conversation the two of them had that wasn’t driven by their respective love interests. Self-awareness is not an excuse to be able to avoid criticism for doing the exact things you’re making fun of. For the most part, Veronica’s subplot is related to her morality and guilt of being a Lodge and what her father has done in the past to land him in jail. But as progressive a character as Veronica is, I can’t help feel robbed of the full potential of having a character like Veronica be better in a sense. She calls Kevin her “best gay”, she kisses Betty for shock value at cheerleading tryouts (which was marketed way too much in trailers to not be considered queerbaiting), and while she tackles slut-shaming by getting revenge on Chuck it ultimately opens up a whole new can of worms about race. In the comics, Chuck was a sensitive artist but on the show he’s a sleazeball who lies about his sexual conquests and is taken down by Betty’s article. Despite not wanting to, I couldn’t help but see the authority a blonde woman has over an African-American man take precedence. Similarly, The Pussycats are “saved” by Archie with some words of advice and he continuously takes over their gigs with his better songs. Archie even dates Valerie, a Pussycats member, and yet we know nothing about Valerie. Veronica being a WOC and a main character is great, but it seems to come at the expense of her being the only real main character that’s not white. Veronica has depth and is a better role model than past feminist icon characters on teen shows but is arguably only one in the promised multiple fleshed-out non-white characters of the diverse cast.

Not Asexual Jughead Jones:

The casting of Cole Sprouse as Jughead instead of Ryan Potter irks me. Asian-American representation in the media is harder to spot than a leprechaun and Sprouse’s wooden acting only added to my frustrations as I continued to watch him play the part of Juggie. For the most part, these actors don’t get to decide what their characters do. Thus, I cannot hold them accountable for not bringing compelling characters to life when the source material is so sparsely thin. The creative decision to remove Jughead’s asexuality from the story will always agitate and confuse me but even from a logical POV it takes away rather than adds layers to his story arc. On a show with young attractive people, you needs ships (relationships). It’s simple enough: ships=attention. Fans will post on social media and talk about their endgame ships and get the show more attention. But this only goes to show the necessity of an asexual character. If they really had to, they could have made Jughead have a relationship with Betty that’s not sexual (in the comics he’s aromantic as well). A non-sexual relationship hasn’t been portrayed on modern day television since Sheldon and Amy had coitus on The Big Bang Theory and taking away Jughead’s asexuality only distances it from being the progressive awe-inspiring show it so desperately wants to be. Not only that, but the show’s obvious focus on Jughead (more so because of Cole Sprouse than anything) and their insistence on making him likeable does the opposite for me. Sure, he’s sympathetic and humanised so the audience understands him but the writers’ take on his character development consists solely on Betty changing or “fixing” him. Coming from a broken home, Jughead doesn’t need a girlfriend. He needs a stable environment with healthy parental figures. Taking away his opportunity to move and be adopted shouldn’t be a dramatic montage to save him before he’s separated from his friends. That’s not what Riverdale should be telling their younger viewers. Realistically, Betty can’t be the sole light of his life and the fact that he wished to only be with her on his birthday is already telling of the co-dependency that’s bound to occur because of Jughead’s lack of stable relationships. His and Archie’s relationship is one that I cannot fault. Mostly because all they do is sit in Archie’s room, eat pizza, play video games and talk about girls. Which is, for the most part, what teenage boys do and this sense of normalcy makes Jughead less annoying… until they throw a scene of Betty calling Jughead’s alcoholic father to surprise him for his birthday to prove how thoughtful she is and make Jughead look unreasonable during their argument when F.P. does nothing out of the ordinary. I would have appreciated it more if the Bughead relationship had been allowed to blossom into a detective-styled friendship, one where boys and girls can finally be shown to be platonic without sexual undertones, instead of throwing them together for the sake of shipping drama.

Cheryl Bombshell Blossom

Cheryl was actually one of the more nuanced characters. Often times, she was able to be the show’s self-critic. I was expecting her to be welcomed into the fold by the end of the season, especially with how her story ended, like Jughead was. We see Cheryl’s perfect life crumble behind the walls she has built, which is a reoccurring theme throughout the show with heavily featured lineage and family. Cheryl’s especially is under a magnifying glass since her brother’s murder. Her, at times, abusive family life leads her to attempt to reach out to the core four, sans Jughead, on multiple occasions only to be neglected and lash out. We see this mostly with Archie and Veronica, who each have a roller coaster of a relationship with Cheryl respectively. She has public meltdowns, anxiety attacks and is cracking under the pressure of being the perfect Blossom child now that there’s only one left. Veronica is there for her until the story needs to add frenemy banter and then she’s back to hating Cheryl for what her parents did to her father. Cheryl doesn’t seem to be in control of many things. Even her Vixen cheerleaders are masterminded by her mother and so when she burns the Thornhill Mansion down, after attempting to kill herself at Sweet Water River, she finally takes action and stops asking for help all together. No one bothered to look beneath the surface of her life, and even when Veronica did all that came from it was her realising she’s lucky for having Hermione and not Mrs. Blossom as a mother. In theory, she and Jughead should have had some kind of reconciliation together. Veronica attempts to connect with Jughead when his father goes to jail, but the sentiment is hollow and short-lived. Cheryl’s support system died when her brother did. She could learn a thing or two about self-sustenance and -preservation from Jughead, but the only times she even addresses him is when she slaps him or uses a homeless slur toward him. Upon burning down her house, it’s a physical manifestation of her being free of the Blossom family (completely ignoring her mother wailing behind her as she stares at the flames engulfing the house) and in a way embracing being independent. She was forced to be by herself when Jason died but taking action against the house where she lived, where her brother, his murderer and their mother lived, depicts a gruelling decision of liberty that probably won’t be explored next season. Cheryl will be shoehorned as the occasional villainess of the show, again, or the damsel in distress and continue to never be allowed to be part of the group despite it probably being beneficial for the drama of the show.

Kevin Keller:

It’s clear the writers don’t know what to do with Kevin. He’s in some very important scenes (like the discovery of Clifford Blossom as Jason’s killer) and the next minute he’s suspiciously missing. The writers attempted to tie him up to the Jason Blossom murder, with Southside Snake Joaquin as his boyfriend and even having regular updates from his Sheriff father to give to the gang. There were many times I suspected him to be the killer because of this very reason. He had one foot in, one foot out. He seemed important but didn’t get the promotional posters that Josie got, despite being in more episodes than her. As for Jason, I had theories about Ms. Grundy coming back and Polly’s babies not actually being his only to be trivially disappointed upon the anti-climactic resolution of Clifford having shot his son. I kept waiting for the twist to come, that Kevin had staged the whole thing. Having a gay character as a villain is difficult. It can be challenging to navigate, but when done well it can actually help to normalise homosexuality and people’s understanding that gays, lesbians, bisexual people, trans people are people and everyone is different. Revenge managed to use an exhausted trope of a gay guy falling for a straight guy with Tyler and Daniel and turn it into his villainous motivation but contrasted it with positive representation later on with Nolan’s exploration of his bisexuality. I wouldn’t have been angry if Kevin was the killer as it would have added to his character and completely thrown the dynamics with the other characters for a loop, something I was expecting to happen but since Clifford didn’t really have a tangible relationship with many characters, the reveal fell flat.

At this point I don’t trust the Riverdale writers to take any risk that could potentially pay-off later. Even with Fred Andrews being shot in the finale, I have no doubt that he’ll make a full recovery for season two and allow the Fred-Hermione-Hiram love triangle to come to fruition. I’m only this cynical because I was promised a show that does not live up to all of its statements. We cannot keep sitting idly by, passively consuming media and pretending it doesn’t have an effect on society. Employing a diverse cast is one thing. Not using a third of those actors in the actual episodes is another. Claiming to be the epitome of progressive teen shows only to have an underwhelming representation of anything we haven’t already seen, and expecting to be praised for it, is bullshit for lack of another word. With a fanbase as big as it already is, wanting more from a show that also wants to be more isn’t a lot to ask.

Sweet/Vicious: A Show Directly Criticising Rape Culture In American Colleges

Jules: I know how to do things most people don’t. There is stuff happening out there and no one is doing anything about it. People are just getting away with awful things. I’m trying to make some of that right.

Ophelia: That’s the plot of Batman.

Having already axed female-led comedies Loosely Exactly Nicole and Mary + Jane, it seems as if the crime-fighting duo of Ophelia and Jules is next. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s Sweet/Vicious is the kind of earnest portrayal of rape culture in colleges that deserves a second season. However, due to ratings and MTV (understandably) wanting to make maximum profit from their scripted series it looks as if that might not be the case. Teen Wolf, one of MTV’s biggest scripted successes, is finishing its last season this year and The Shannara Chronicles and Scream have both been renewed for a respective second and third season. But if there might be a place for Sweet/Vicious on the network for a sophomore run, here’s why you should watch it.

The series chronicles Jules, a sorority girl who is raped one drunken night by her best friend’s boyfriend. In realising that if she reports the sexual assault it won’t be taken seriously, she takes matters into her own hands as a vigilante. Ophelia, a weed enthusiast and hacker, crosses paths with her and the two begin an unlikely comradeship. The show tackles rape culture on American campuses, sexual assault committed by females (although not female-on-male rape or male-on-male rape) and dealing with being a survivor. Jules feels alive when she becomes the duo vigilante team Sweet/Vicious with Ophelia, but otherwise feels empty since her traumatic experience.

It’s an honest, unflinching portrayal of something that has scarcely been shown on a mainstream network like MTV. While it acknowledges that the law may not always be on the victim’s side, due to victim-blaming and, in Jules’ case, an athlete committing the crime – it does encourage seeking help. Group therapy didn’t work for Jules but it certainly helps a lot of victims to be able to talk about their experiences in a comfortable space without stigmatising the topic.

One critic described the show as “Arrow” meets “Geek”. Sweet/Vicious features a bisexual lead character, a WOC as the head of a sorority and men who understand and comfort . It does not hate on men or use sexual assault as an insensitive plotline to accumulate attention. The scripts are embedded with humour and heart, blended seamlessly by the chemistry of the lead actresses Eliza Bennett and Taylor Dearden. There’s a certain satisfaction in watching their takedowns when justice has been denied by bigotry and the finale brings me back to watching Emily VanCamp on Revenge. If Sweet/Vicious manages to convince MTV to have a second run, I hope Jules and Ophelia come back with bigger, badder and better takedowns. There’s definitely strong potential for the series to deliver an equally- if not even grander – captivating season.

The Gay Superhero Love Story You Didn’t Know You Needed

It’s pretty much a smutty Superman/Batman fanfiction, only Batman kills and Superman glows.

A 6-part miniseries called Midnighter & Apollo was published by DC Comics last year in October, finishing up in March of this year. It has been critically acclaimed, even earning a nomination for Outstanding Comic Book in the 28th GLAAD Media Awards. The comic book features titular superheroes, Midnighter A.K.A. Lucas Trent, and Apollo, A.K.A. Andrew Pulaski, who have recently rekindled their relationship. It’s pretty much a smutty Superman/Batman fanfiction, only Batman kills and Superman glows.

Midnighter is a gritty, violence-loving superhuman with a computer-like brain when it comes to fighting and no qualms when it comes to killing. Apollo is a sun-powered, laser-eyed, super-strong symbol of hope to the people of Opal City who could give Superman himself a run for his money. They juxtapose in more ways than one, which seems to be the whole point of their relationship. In the 6th and final issue of the story, after Midnighter goes to hell and back (literally) to bring Apollo back from the dead, Apollo says that while his tormentor in hell, the demon Neron, believed his chosen superhero name to be named after a god because of his pride and narcissism in his own power – it’s actually because of the myth of Hyacinth. Hyacinth was Apollo’s lover whom, when he was killed, refused to let Hades takes his soul and turned his spilled blood into a flower instead. Apollo in the comics uses the analogy to explain that even though Midnighter believes he’s doomed, Apollo will always pull him, and anyone else who thinks they’ve fallen, back into the light.

In the same conversation, Midnighter explains why he kills and why he will continue to kill despite Apollo being uneasy about it in the beginning. Apollo does not try to change Midnighter, he understands and accepts him and that’s why their relationship is so balanced. Steve Orlando, the writer, believed a comic book focusing on a same-sex relationship was necessary and in exploring their relationship I believe it to also be necessary for the cinematic screen. There’s a lot of history to the Midnighter/Apollo relationship, some of which is touched upon in this mini-series, but it could be fully fleshed-out in a film (or possibly a franchise). The inclusivity and normalisation of LGBT+ relationships hasn’t hit the big screen in the superhero genre yet, despite the #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend trending on Twitter. Let’s also not forget both Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds and ex-Spiderman star Andrew Garfield made it clear they believed their superheroes should have same-sex partners (even sharing a kiss at the Golden Globes).

While the focus of the 6-part series may have been more on Midnighter than it was on Apollo, the characterisation and illustration of both characters has been praised. Midnighter is seen doused in blood for most of the series, as his fighting is mercilessly brutal, while Apollo glows during his time in hell, and the symbolism behind their shared kiss, the light engulfing both of them to pure-white, is beautiful. The religious connotations of hell are traded out for magical realism, and even though it could have been very easy for Apollo to go to hell simply because he’s gay writer Steve Orlando chose to avoid that and make his storytelling central to the characters flaws – Apollo’s pride, lust, anger and even murder are what Neron, the demon, believe to be characteristics that make Apollo’s soul tainted.

From their crime-fighting, to their mundane tasks, the couple come across as vibrantly real characters with an organic relationship that has you rooting for them to triumphantly kiss at the end (they have sex instead) after kicking the bad guy’s ass. Midnighter & Apollo is a depiction of two very masculine men being together, something that doesn’t get much light, and in one of their sex scenes (and even suggested by Apollo himself in a blink-and-you-miss-it quip) it’s made clear that Midnighter – the tougher, rougher, butcher one of the two – is the bottom. In depicting this character as a bottom, it broadens the once-narrow view of homosexuality and masculinity. Orlando himself said, in a panel on sexuality and race at Comic Con, “It feels audacious because of the drought of representation and depiction of queer romance and queer sex acts in fiction… Honestly, from my own mindset, Midnighter & Apollo is actually pretty tame, but it’s interesting because people have not seen this and have not been given what they deserve in so long.”

Hopefully, Midnighter & Apollo‘s success means more comic books portraying positive LGBT+ relationships are due. We can only hope that it also means that they’ll land on the big screen sooner rather than later.

13 Reasons Why – Netflix Review (SPOILERS)

“It is very likely that there are, and unfortunately will continue to be, Hannah Bakers living through harassment and abuse. Similarly, it is also very likely that not far behind them are Bryce Walkers, Justin Foleys, Jessica Davises, Alex Standalls.”

Adapted from Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, 13 Reasons Why is a much-needed fresh spin on the over-saturated teen drama genre. Centred on the suicide of Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford, Clay Jensen, her classmate, co-worker and longtime crush, portrayed by Dylan Minnette, embarks on a slow-burn journey to discover her truth through pre-recorded cassette tapes she leaves him.

Unlike most of its predecessors, 13 Reasons tackles far more than just popularity and the quest for dates before winter formal. It opens up conversations about the stigmatised social issues of sexual assault and consent, oppressed feminine sexuality and encouraged hegemonic masculinity. The depictions of rape are uncomfortably real, almost unbearably so, as is the final scene in which we witness Hannah slicing her wrists with the razors she stole. The importance of authenticity is expressed through the gore of that bathroom scene, the underlying message clear that suicide isn’t a romanticised notion of revenge—but a last resort.

“Suicide is for the weak.” Skye, Clay’s estranged friend with scars on her wrists, says.

Hannah’s alienation, her escalated situation from school pariah to broken rape victim, is well-written and well-acted out. While the characters she condemns in her tapes scramble to excuse and defend their actions, by the end of her 13th tape we’re left with nothing but sympathy for her. The self-preservation we see in the other characters that are called-out by Hannah’s tapes is perhaps the scariest part of the whole narrative. It is very likely that there are, and unfortunately will continue to be, Hannah Bakers living through harassment and abuse. Similarly, it is also very likely that not far behind them are Bryce Walkers, Justin Foleys, Jessica Davises, Alex Standalls. The characters, even the typecast ‘baddies’, are complex, diverse and so flawed they’re as three-dimensional as Hannah.

As for a second season, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Jay Asher states, “I’d just like a continuation of all those characters.” He goes on to elaborate, asking, “What happens to Clay? How do people react to what Alex did at the very end? What’s going to happen to Mr. Porter?”

Originally, Jay Asher planned on having Hannah revealed to be alive in the end. Not only does the reality of Hannah’s suicide reflect just that—reality—it also highlights Clay’s speech to Mr. Porter about how we treat each other, consequences to actions and all the other philosophically moral questions the show imposes which would have all been undermined if Hannah was alive. A second season would, additionally, undermine the great strides taken as it would focus less on Hannah as a human and more of her as an afterthought. As a standalone series, 13 Reasons Why is a sensitive portrayal of a girl who couldn’t ask for help when she needed it and serves almost as a forewarning to teenagers and adults alike to never act when you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life.