Televisual clickbait: Simon Fern reviews Netflix original Riverdale

The unwanted child of Stranger Things and One Tree Hill, Riverdale recently came to our screens via Netflix. Continuing in the timeless and damaging tradition of casting 25 year-old models as teenagers, Riverdale’s cast are assembly clichés, tropes and stock characters: the ‘gay best friend’, the artistic and emotionally vulnerable jock, the narcissistic and malicious cheerleader, the sighing and relatable ‘normal girl’.

The dialogue sounds as though it has been written by an emotionally stunted and dangerously precocious teenager and brings cringe to any moment when the characters are interacting for longer than a smile. Riverdale is televisual clickbait.

Prepare to weep when the austere mother forbids relatable protagonist from being on the cheerleading squad, melt as the tortured musician-cum-quarterback reveals his muscular torso through a gap in the curtains, and listen closely as the beer sipping construction worker dad dispenses frown driven life advice. A murder has rocked the quaint and paradisiacal mid—Western town of Riverdale and we’re going to experience its fractures through many a two dimensional world character. Look forward to the emotional confession, the slow dance at the prom, the acoustic guitar tugging at your heartstrings, and the frequent “I just can’t even”. Clearly following Kristen Stewart’s methods Riverdale is a masterclass in acting using only your eyebrows.

It’s easy to tear into a show like Riverdale, but maybe I’m not the intended audience and maybe I’m wiring this review too much like an angsty literature student. Disparaging something that maybe was not meant for you is a bit of a power trip, I could just as easily blame a pink sequined leotard for failing to flatter me.

Visually Riverdale looks fantastic, the palate has a subdued suburban gothic quality, the sets evoke a nostalgia for an American high-school experience you never had, the streetlamps in the mist and the neon signs at the diner punctuate the deep and meaningful teenage conversations. The soundtrack is up there with Stranger Things, and even the moments when the surprisingly talented high-school band play their latest hit are enjoyable. Developer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa worked on Glee, executive producer Greg Berlanti was a writer and producer on Dawson’s Creek, Mädchen Amick acted in Twin Peaks – the cast and crew are no strangers great productions and are clearly a talented bunch.

The melodrama is delicious and a guilty indulgence to unwind to after a day spent studying global atrocities in George Square’s concrete monstrosity.  If you are looking for something easy to watch, when you’re wasting the hours before nightly unconsciousness, Riverdale is entertainment and your inner fourteen year old self will love it. You will love Riverdale secretly and disparage it anywhere but the confines of your duvet.

Image:  Mauricio Pastor @ Flickr

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