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Consider with us, if you will, the truly bad decisions made last season by Riverdale, the CW’s teen noir makeout show based—extremely loosely—on the Archie Comics of our youths. Allow me to recap—and know that, if you did not watch, I swear I’m not making any of this up: Archie started a gang of masked shirtless dudes that had an eerie resemblance to white supremacist types; the South Side Serpents, an actual gang, integrated into Riverdale High and it’s totally chill; Jughead carved a tattoo off of a lady, and Cheryl Blossom was committed to an institution by her mother as she turned their home into a bordello. Again: All stuff that actually happened on the show’s second season.
It was patently ridiculous television, the kind of stuff that, were Riverdale most other shows, be reason enough to abandon it. But Riverdale is not most shows, because Riverdale has never met an idea it didn’t want to immediately dial to 11 and send to the moon. And that’s how Riverdale got away with it, over and over again: It just kept going, introducing a new outrageous idea before you could fully process the outrageousness of the one you just saw. Riverdale dished out plot twists the way Donald Trump spouts lies—relentlessly, with five more at the ready before you can even get a question out about the first one.
This is something the show hilariously acknowledges when it returns Wednesday night for its third season by literally putting Archie Andrews on trial for season two. Following his arrest during last season’s finale, Archie is now on trial after being framed by his girlfriend Veronica’s father, the secret crime boss Hiram Lodge (). It’s best to leave the actual proceedings of the trial unspoiled, but season 2 of Riverdale does not make the best case for Archie, and the show’s penchant for lamp-shading its own absurdity—while making a hard left turn into something entirely different and weird in a way you don’t want to miss—is the reason why I live for a show ostensibly made for people ten years younger than me.
But also tucked away in the premiere is something far less outlandish and sensational, something that I suspect is the real reason we watch this show. Riverdale is ridiculous. We’ve known that from day one. But the trick, the secret of the whole show, I think, is a moment when the core quartet reminisce about summers they used to spend at a watering hole we’ve never seen them in. It’s a moment that explains why Riverdaleworks: it anchors all of its wild plotting with the notion that things were different once. Their world shouldn’t be this way. And that’s the tension of the show—because while we tune in to see what new crazy new twists are in store, we secretly hope for the town of Riverdale to somehow find a sense of normalcy again, even though we know you can’t ever get that back.
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