RIVERDALE: Dark TV is Good TV

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A poster advertising Riverdale. CW

If you were the kind that likes to navigate the darker side of every light and feel-good material, then “Riverdale” could be next in your binge-watch list.

Loosely based on the successful American comic book series “Archie”, “Riverdale” follows the chilling adventures of the core group of four teens – Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead – as they explore high school, young adulthood and the dark world surrounding them. But unlike the widely patronised comic series which focuses on the love triangle of Betty, Veronica and the beloved freckle-faced, redhead Archie Andrews, “Riverdale” goes to the dark side of every situation; mainly centered on the shady secrets of the sleepy little town of Riverdale. Even its characters are hard to catch, as each shows its wicked side capable of doing something depraved at some point of the series.

A scene from Riverdale. Photo: CW

In “Riverdale”, most characters are likely to commit something horrible. Of course, there are still those who keep up the ‘nice protagonist’ signature of characters but more often than not, a situation would always unleash their dark side. Archie Andrews (KJ Apa), for instance, is a happy-go-lucky chap in the comic book, who mostly got into series of awkward yet funny circumstances. But in “Riverdale”, Archie becomes the hot redhead high school quarterback, who is shown to be valiant in every season of the series. Archie is portrayed to be much more serious, frequently carrying and resolving conflicts involving him and his friends, though sometimes vengeful and would take the law into his own hands.

Betty (Lili Reinhart), on the other hand is the female version of Archie in this series, heroic, helpful but has a dark persona – borderline personality disorder. Different from the bubbly blonde Betty Cooper in the comics, Betty in “Riverdale” is considered to be the Nancy Drew of the group – always doubting and inquisitive, always down to investigate something.

K.J. Apa (left) and Camila Mendes in Riverdale. Photo: CW

But if in the comic book, Betty is head-over-heels in love with Archie, in “Riverdale”, Betty has quickly moved on from Archie and is dating Jughead (Cole Sprouse), who is less portrayed to be a slacker (as he was in the comics), but rather the stern yet sharp and revolutionary ring leader of the gang South Side Serpents. And I’m sorry to disappoint, but you will not see Jughead in “Riverdale” devouring several hamburgers at one sitting (as he normally does in the comic books), instead you’ll see a Jughead glued to his laptop writing about the state of the world around him while knocking back cup after cup of coffee. The crown beanie is still there but the Serpent leather jacket is on.

And of course, Veronica (Camila Mendes) is still crazy rich – crazy rich that his father in the series nearly bought all of Riverdale’s land. But unlike Veronica in the comic books, who is known to be enjoying the crazy rich life of her family and always on spending spree, Veronica in “Riverdale”, wants to deviate from his own father’s wealth – even calling it dirty money. So, in most undercover cases that these four teens get involved in, Veronica would flow the money, for she believes that she has to put her affluence in noble causes.

“Riverdale” debuted in CW on 2017 with high ratings and positive reviews; continually re-affirming that whodunit (colloquial term for ‘who has done it?’ or ‘who did it?’) plots are still saleable to most viewers, teens and adults alike. All three seasons of “Riverdale” are plaited with a death mystery and the course of solving who did the killing would develop the series’ storyline.

Riverdale goes to the dark side of every situation; mainly centered on the shady secrets of the sleepy little town. Photo: CW

In season one, the death of Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines), Cheryl’s (Madelaine Petsch) twin brother, engulfs the series’ episodes, with its sick revelation of the killer – the twins’ very own father, Clifford Blossom (Barclay Hope); and the reason is even darker – Clifford killed his son Jason, after knowing that the latter had an incestuous relationship with his own cousin and would not enter the family’s drug dealing business.

Season two goes darker, as the series digs deeper into the backstory of the masked serial killer, the “Black Hood”. But unlike any other serial killer, the “Black Hood” has become a sort of vigilante, as he would only kill the sinners: child predators, adulterers, drug dealers. In this season, Betty’s dark persona is also unleashed as she became the accomplice of the “Black Hood”, who would regularly call her to give warnings. And yes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as the season wrapped with a wicked revelation of the identity of the “Black Hood”, Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Munro), Betty’s father.

In the current third season of “Riverdale”, an even much darker, weird plot is introduced with a twist of a grim urban legend. While Archie was locked up in prison for murder, a scenario that was all framed by Veronica’s dad; Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of their friends are being haunted by the “Gargoyle King”, a character in the cursed game called “Gryphons and Gargoyles”. At least two of their school mates have died while playing the game, as the game would incur quests and role-playing scenarios that are specifically designed to induce delusion, paranoia, and sometimes violence. It was revealed that this mysterious game is only played in “Riverdale” (even long time ago by the teen’s parents), as the fantasy location of the game, “Eldervair” is an anagram of “Riverdale” – which means that everything that happens in the course of the game happens in real life. Who is the game master, then and now? Who is the Gargoyle King? – these will get you obsessed with the series.

Cole Sprouse (left) and Lili Reinhart in Riverdale. Photo: CW

The nail-biting thrill of not knowing and eventually knowing who died and who killed the dead would leave viewers crave for more. Then some may wonder: Why do we love these twisted, dark stories? And the answer is very simple yet difficult to agree on – these twisted, dark stories told in our favorite television series virtually mirror our present realities. There is something about the dark side that seduces one to bravely confront and understand, otherwise it will stay to overwhelm us with dubious fear. TV reflects realities although sometimes in broad and exaggerated spectrum, nonetheless, it still depicts what is happening around us. And in a world that is frequently confronted with random violence and cruelty, one cannot just swallow the sweat façade of fictional reality.

As viewers are becoming much more in touch with realism, they have stopped using TV as an escape from reality, but rather an outlet to see situations that mirror their own and recognise the characters gradually coping with darkness. Even though these dark-themed TV series don’t necessarily tie up into neat resolutions in the end, but at least they can provide hope to those who have seen themselves silently hiding in those dark characters – and that in itself is good TV.

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