My Latest Binge? Riverdale!
I know what you’re thinking. You come to the Attic Light for the dark and spooky, and Archie and his gang don’t exactly scream horror. I, like you, had the same reservations about starting a CW show starring a hunky do-gooder (KJ Apa) with dyed ginger hair. But it was one of those Netflix moments where I was desperately scrolling through somber documentaries, in search of some lighter fare. The irony is that Riverdale is anything but dainty. It is not the hyper positive comics of our youth, but rather a hypnotic amalgam of murder, nostalgia, and shockingly adept suspense.
When I was about eight, a good friend of my parents told me she had a surprise for me. Aunt Delma pulled out a floppy cardboard box from the closet under her stairs. It was brimming with Archie comic books, each one missing its glossy cover. I’m not sure where she acquired this stash, but I was immediately giddy with excitement. As a bookworm who had never taken the plunge into comic books there seemed no better start than Archie and his perpetual love triangle with Veronica, the girl we all want to be, and Betty, the girl we all are.
I kept those comics for years, re-reading them, hoping high school was as colorful and fun as Archie promised. Spoiler alert: it isn’t.
Cut to me now, a few decades older and quite pleasantly surprised by Riverdale. Right away, in what feels like an homage to Twin Peaks (complete with actress Madchen Amick who played Shelly in TP, and plays Alice Cooper, Betty’s mom) there is a murder in our titular small town. The aesthetic of Riverdale is established early, a sort of lush mix of future and past. While it takes place in present day; the costumes, settings, and rejection of technology, cement it in a sort of hyper-vintage reality that I just plain love. While Riverdale is much darker than its source material, it continues to evoke the feelings of the comics. There is Pop’s Chock Lit Shoppe, and Betty (Lili Reinhart) rarely let’s her blonde ponytail loose.
And since this is the Attic Light, I must tell you there are dead bodies, rural intrigue, and blood galore. In fact many of the episode titles give me giddy chills, like “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” and “The Tell Tale Heart”. Also, points to anyone who finds the handful of The Shining references. Oh, and horror icon Tony Todd lends his talents, while Scream alum Skeet Ulrich is Jughead Jones’ ner’er-do-well father F.P. (Yeah, I said father. We’re all really old now, sorry!)
This brings me to the best part of Riverdale. The character who has been curated for all goth girls like myself to lose our dark minds over. Let’s just say if I was sixteen again, I would have to make room between my Fox Mulder posters for a shrine devoted to Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse). Jughead, inevitably from the wrong side of the tracks, broods in Pop’s over his laptop, writing eloquent missives about small town murder. He wears a crown-like cap atop his thick, black hair, never missing a moment to reference serial killers or horror movies. When Jughead finds Archie, lying in wait with a baseball bat for the town baddie, the Black Hood, to show up, Jughead sarcastically points out that Archie looks like “a dream warrior from A Nightmare on Elm Street: 3.” If he’s not a dream boat, I don’t know who is. He also spends time in shadowy libraries reading about Ted Bundy and gives his girlfriend a signed first edition of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. So, yeah, you won’t be surprised to know there is a load of Jughead merchandise at your local Hot Topic.
Riverdale is not perfect. It slips into a soap opera sometimes, but it is damn good. It is woke, exploring sexuality, class, consent, and all matter of important themes while still maintaining a rural gothic mien. And the next episode (Apr 18th) centers around Riverdale High’s production of Carrie the Musical.
I suggest giving Archie and the gang a try. The horror references and the mysteries are solid. And, I promise, I won’t judge you when we bump into each other at Hot Topic.