By Joseph Coffey-Slattery
“Riverdale,” the CW’s take on the Archie Comics, was an unassuming show that appeared last fall and quickly developed the rapt attention of a teen following.
A familiar face in the form of Cole Sprouse lured in many millennial viewers who remembered him from his turn as a child actor on the Disney Channel sitcom “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” He made his return from has-been obscurity to serve as a supporting character on a dark, brooding soap opera, along with a cast of similarly attractive people.
“Riverdale” arguably built up much of its base from the casting – a collection of stereotypically perfect teens who all date one another while trying to solve the mystery of a local football hero’s murder. In the end of the first season, after an interesting display of cat and mouse until the killer was finally revealed, a new antagonist was introduced in the finale episode. The character is a mysterious figure known only as “the black hood,” a somewhat unimaginative name for a one-dimensional villain. Here is where the second season takes a swan dive off the high board into a pool that maintenance neglected to fill with water.
Much of the show’s first iteration focused specifically on character development, going deeply into the protagonists’ daily lives and trials as high school students in a bizarre town where the parents have the maturity level of students and the youth go wildly unsupervised.
Each character was given a variety of memorable moments, with fan favorites Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) and Archie (KJ Apa) developing unique personas that had interesting personal interactions with their peers. The second season, now at its mid-season episode, runs into trouble by focusing the attention on the pursuit of this black hood character.
The plot becomes so thoroughly absorbed with this device that characters abandon their previously outlined natures to act bizarrely in increasingly silly ways. For instance, to “protect” the community at large, high school teen Archie creates a YouTube video in which a plethora of hunky men sit around in their underwear while wearing red hoods over their heads. In childish seriousness, Archie proclaims that they are the “red circle,” and they are going to find the black hood. The suspension of disbelief has been effectively reached – no high schooler could calmly sit about their borderline nude peers and not be overcome with anxiety about what that would do to them socially.
The dialogue of the show, once somewhat witty and biting, now resorts to idle threats and declarations of intent that make one feel as if the directors and writers told the actors to run about and mess around until they had 45 minutes of content. Bad acting runs rampant in this season, with moments of actual competency coming as a welcome reprieve to the otherwise slow drudge of raised eyebrows, mock fright and inhuman iteration of spoken lines. Cole Sprouse, if nothing else, has been consistently poor over two seasons so one can’t fault him for giving us more of the same. The blame then falls on the rest of the cast, who seem to be content to have their directors walk them off a cliff.
The most recent episode of the show hinted at a possible upswing in events, as the narrative once again focused on the personal lives of the main characters. One can only hope that this trend continues, lest we be treated to more half naked high-schoolers having a pow-wow in their parents’ garage.