The CW’s Riverdale may seem like your average teen drama, but the story of Archie and friends is far from average. While your teen experience was full of heartbreak and frenemies, the students of Riverdale High had spent the first season searching for Jason Blossom’s killer, only to spend their second season being hunted by the murderous Black Hood. As we prepare for Season 3, here are five ways that Riverdale is different from other teen dramas.
It Starts with the Casting
Often teen dramas will cast incredibly attractive yet relatively unknown “teenage” actors to lead their series, launching their blossoming careers, while providing a few parents that are equally as attractive, but more recognizable. Pretty Little Liars starred four up-and-comers with parents played by Holly Marie Combs and Chad Lowe. The OC introduced the world to Ben McKenzie but made sure we had Peter Gallagher, and Smallville even brought out Bo Duke (John Schneider) alongside Tom Welling. Riverdale took this to a whole new level with casting almost entirely famous parents from Mädchen Amick to Luke Perry to Skeet Ulrich and Mark Consuelos. They even went as far as bringing in the iconic Molly Ringwald to play Archie’s mom.
Representation & Diversity
Archie Comics may go back over nearly 80 years, but in 2018 high schools in the US can be quite diverse. Hit teen dramas from the early aughts, like One Tree Hill, The OC, and Gossip Girl, were predominantly white. When Glee rolled around, Ryan Murphy attempted to present a more modern school in the Midwest with students of all shades, orientations, and sizes. Riverdale showcases some beloved, and traditionally white, characters, but has also welcomed diversity, giving audiences a Latinx Veronica, a proudly out Kevin, and a Black Josie.
Generally, in teen dramas, the parents stand in the periphery and rarely interfere with their children’s lives, unless it turns out they’re having affairs (we’re looking at you Pretty Little Liars). But on Riverdale, the parents are directly creating drama, from the Lodge’s attempt to turn the South Side high school into a Prison to Betty’s dad murdering people he deems as sinners under the guise of the Black Hood.
Like in Arrow and Shadowhunters, some of the mothers of Riverdale may not be around, but at least they’re still alive (RIP Moira Queen and Jocelyn Fairchild). Archie’s Mom, like Jughead’s, doesn’t live in town. Betty’s mom, Alice, is a journalist with a shady past that we’ll be uncovering in Season 3. Veronica’s mother Hermione has a shady present that we’re loving to watch unfold. And Cheryl’s evil mother, Penelope, seems to just be greedy and evil.
Of course, there are also plenty of parental affairs and secret romances in Riverdale, like Fred and Hermione, Sheriff Keller and Mayer McCoy, and the most anticipated rekindling: Alice Cooper and FP Jones. But that’s not all these parents are up to. According to executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, in season three, viewers may get a “bizarro episode where we follow the parents, and the kids are on the fringes”.
Love Triangles are Unnecessary
After seasons of “Which brother with Elena chose” in The Vampire Diaries, it’s almost unheard of for a romantic triangle to be put aside for the sake of character development, furthering plot, and mysterious storylines. Although Riverdale launched with a Archie-Betty-Veronica triangle, the creative team pledged to keep the overused trope to a minimum. It’s still sometimes mentioned that Betty used to have feelings for Archie, but unlike Angel and Spike’s never-ending rivalry over Buffy Summers, Betty and Veronica are more than capable of becoming besties and not allowing a boy to come between them.
It’s not just Betty and Veronica’s friendship that subverts the common romance tropes. The women in this series are there for each other when it matters most, including coming to the rescue of a classmate when an attempted rapist makes his move. The women on this show are strong, supportive, and often leading the charge — just look at Betty’s investigations or Veronica buying Pop’s and freeing it from her father’s clutches.
Not Afraid to Take Risks
Yes, Switched at Birth did some groundbreaking stuff with an episode that was almost completely in American Sign Language, as well as an arc that deeply discussed sexual assault. Similarly, The Fosters tackled serious issues like drug use and trans teens. While Riverdale may not be going that serious (the drug of choice in this town is Jingle Jangle), they’re not shying away from going dark, and we don’t just mean Dark Betty. Season one saw a student murdered, a teacher having an affair with her pupil, incest. Season two had a murderer cleansing the town of sinners, a mafioso attempting to turn a high school into a prison, and all-out gang wars.
In another risky move, the writers of Riverdale embrace any flaws that become apparent, allowing the story to adapt. By acknowledging the silly, calling out the tropes, and sometimes dipping into the meta, Riverdale solidifies a place in teen drama history.
And we’re just getting started! With season three on the horizon, there is still so much more of Riverdale to explore. Coming up this year, audiences are promised a flashback episode of the Riverdale parents which is said to page homage to The Breakfast Club, “Obviously the ‘Riverdale’-much-darker version of that.”
Riverdale Season 3 premieres to The CW with on October 10th, 2018