Various forms of media become classics when they can stand the test of time. The Archie comics have been widely read and appreciated for decades. Everyone can relate to first love lost and wanting to find one’s place in the social hierarchy of high school. Yet the Riverdale television show series and accompanying comics present a modern-day, subversive take on a beloved tale that touch on such relevant issues as diversity, identity, and equality. The show is not only entertaining, but also progressive in its portrayal of diverse characters and current social issues. Here are just a few reasons to love a TV show that I believe will become a classic.
A progressive portrayal of LGBTQ Characters: The life of Kevin Keller in Riverdale versus Jack in Dawson’s Creek, a popular show of my teen years, shows how attitudes toward sexuality have changed over time. In the late 90s, it was more nuanced for the show to have a gay central character, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer serving as one of the few other exceptions, with the relationship of Willow and Tara. In Dawson’s Creek, Jack’s “coming out” was the basis for at least one whole episode, and Jen and Grams both have to debate with a religious extremist about what Jack’s sexuality meant and how best to move forward. In Riverdale, Kevin faces challenges of being gay in a small town like Riverdale, mainly a very limited number of people to date. Yet his father knows that Kevin is gay and seems to fully accept his son, and Kevin’s friends talk about it in a matter of fact way. To me, this shows how much attitudes toward sexuality have evolved since I was a teenager. Toni Topaz is portrayed as bisexual, and Cheryl Blossom prefers women. I personally would love to see a plot line in which these two women get together. 🙂 It would make for yet another intense merge between the Northside and the Southside, among other plot twists.
Powerful and Intelligent Women of Color: Mayor Sierra McCoy, also known as “Madame Mayor,” is a Black woman, which is intriguing and impressive, given the small town setting. Until her recent resignation, she called many of the shots in the town, more so than Sheriff Keller, who is well-meaning, but often clueless. Veronica being portrayed as a Latinx woman also shows forward thinking of the show, as Camila Mendes plays Veronica as a powerful and intelligent woman in her own right. In this blog, Camila Mendes discusses why she’s glad the show’s portrayal of a Latinx family defies stereotypes of Hollywood.
The Social Justice and Socioeconomic Issues Are Timely: The merging of Southside High and Riverdale High is interesting because it deals with socioeconomic, sociopolitical issues and learning to see common ground, which are definitely timely issues in today’s political climate. In a recent episode of the show, the characters are celebrating “Pickens Day” in honor of the town’s founder. Many aspects of Pickens Day mimic Columbus Day: schools and communities celebrate it widely and convey Pickens as a great man, yet the story has a dark side to it. As Jughead Jones’s article reveals, Pickens slaughtered thousands of innocent native people upon claiming the town. As Toni Topaz questioned Jughead, “do you think Jason Blossom was the first person to be murdered in this town?” The foundational story of the town is therefore is whitewashed, and the march of the Southside Serpents to the Pickens statue is symbolic of an untold and silenced stories.
As the writer of the newspaper story, Jughead played the role of the well-intentioned, but perhaps misguided White Savior. Toni told him that she understood why he was angry at the more affluent northsiders, but “this wasn’t your story to tell.” As is the case in the children’s and YA literature community, this episode begs the question as to who should tell whose stories and when White people should pick up the pen versus when we should be supportive allies. It’s interesting that Hiram Lodge, Veronica’s father, is the person who smoothes over the protest of the Serpents. He has a vested interest in the land, but as a Latinx man, he has a positionality that is neither White nor native, perhaps helping him to see the situation more objectively.
The Portrayal of Mental Health Issues: I hope the show continues to delve into this issue in more depth, but I’m glad they are addressing it. Lili Reinhart was very open about her own mental health issues in this V Magazine article and discussed decreasing the stigma. It’ll be interesting to see how her darkness continues to surface as the show goes on, and how much the mental health issue will be explored.
And Finally, Love Can Transcend Boundaries: My middle school students love this show, yet part of why I can appreciate the show in my thirties is because the love between “Bughead” aka Jughead and Betty seems so sincere. They truly are a Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story narrative of the modern day, and in part because of the chemistry between the actors, I believe it, and I’m rooting for them in spite of the obstacles they face. I personally think that Archie and Veronica’s relationship has a shelf life, in part because of the tension between the families. Still, there’s something refreshing about a pure hearted “All-American” boy with a self-proclaimed “working man” father who falls for a woman from a sophisticated, wealthy Latinx family and who tries to make it work, even though her father appears to be…well, a high-class mobster. In a sometimes cynical world, young love can be rejuvenating.
The show is just the right mix between realism, social justice, and romance, which is why I, and many other viewers, will continue to tune in.
Contributor Margaret A. Robbins has a PhD in Language and Literacy Education from The University of Georgia. She is a National Writing Project Teacher-Consultant and a Teacher-Scholar at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta, Georgia, and has published peer-reviewed journal articles as well as chapters in edited books. She has been a panelist at DragonCon and CONjuration in Atlanta, Georgia, and is passionate about comics, Young Adult literature, and fandom.