riverdale

Riverdale: A Feminist Show With Strong Potential

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Jonathan G

Writer. Feminist. Eater of most things.

For the past few months, The CW has been airing their newly TV-adapted series based on the Archie comic series. The series, Riverdale, places the Archie characters in a gritty town, fraught with mystery and teenage melodrama. In other words, The CW has created another binge-worthy guilty pleasure.

I approached the show reluctantly, knowing that I’d likely be obsessed. Sitting through the first episode, the aesthetics entranced me. The show’s plot followed the usual setup for an angsty teen drama, but it also fought its constraints as well. In its first few episodes, Riverdale has become one of my favorite shows.

Beneath the show’s main arcs, many feminist themes emerge. Here are some of my favorite feminist moments so far.

People of Color With Actual Storylines

As mentioned before, the show bases itself off the familiar characters from the Archie comic universe. One of the most well-known groups from this universe is the titular Josie and the Pussycats. The group has been reimagined by a group of three black women and they’re absolutely kickass.

Riverdale
The Original Josie and The Pussycats (left) and their reimagined counterparts (right)

The new group has been a focal point for a few episodes so far. Their storylines have centered around their own ambitions and conflicts (Wow, what a concept!), rather than acting as extensions of main characters. In one of the most recent episodes, team-leader Josie’s (played by Ashleigh Murray) storyline illustrated the tension between parental expectations and their child’s actual goals.

The group’s goals, according to Josie, are to create and perform empowering music.  Josie’s father, however, demeans her group for their interest in performing music by pop icons. What he fails to see is the group’s dedication to honoring pop icons of color, an often undervalued group of talented individuals. And these covers are absolute bops — just take a listen to their cover of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.”

Feminist Storylines

In the show’s third episode, Riverdale already tackles heavy feminist themes. In this episode, Ethel (played by Shannon Purser AKA Barb from Stranger Things) and Veronica (played by Camilla Mendes) fight the perils of slut shaming. They find out that the Riverdale High football players keep a journal about their alleged sexual exploits and also shame the girls on social media. When the football players refuse to apologize or take down their posts, the girls decide to take matters in their own hands.

http://doona-baes.tumblr.com/post/157050420461/fight-back

The episode features a slew of feminist monologues and conversations that comment on the objectification of women and the oppressive forces of a patriarchal society.

Furthermore, the show explores issues of privilege. When the show’s main character (Archie) offers unsolicited help to Josie and The Pussycats, Josie breaks down the truth:

http://kevinkeller.tumblr.com/post/157046236357/so-you-feel-qualified-to-write-songs-for-the

These moments may not be at the forefront of the show, but the acknowledgement is still powerful.

Statutory Rape and Teen Dramas

Lots of teen shows feature some type of relationship between a student and a teacher. Riverdale takes on this trope a little differently. In the beginning of the season, Archie enters a relationship with his music teacher, Ms. Grundy. For a while, the plot is nothing new: they meet in secret despite their age difference.

Whats ends up making the difference is the other characters’ disapproval of the relationship. It’s denounced as not only inappropriate, but also mentally damaging to Archie. While Archie tries to ignore his friends pleas, he can’t rebuke their stance. Most teen dramas glamorize these types of relationships, so it was refreshing to see it portrayed differently.

Queer Representation

The show is not without its flaws. While exploring the main crux of the story, Riverdale sometimes walks the line of stereotypical portrayals. For example, the character Casey (played by Kevin Keller) often times becomes the “gay best friend.” It will be interesting to see his character fleshed out a little more. In addition to this, introduction (or expansion) of more queer characters would be cool.

It’s interesting to note the portrayal of Jughead’s (played by Cole Sprouse) sexuality has disappointed some of the show’s audience. In the comic, Jughead was revealed to be asexual. This asexuality lacks any kind of representation on the show, at least so far. This type of representation would be pivotal for this often forgotten community.

The show’s most obvious problematic tendency revolves around Archie–the typical heterosexual, white male archetype that everyone and their mother (honestly, I am using this phrase literally) wants. I wish the show would reorient its lens to showcase other characters a little more.

I can cut Riverdale some slack, as it is only in its first season. The show already set the foundation for being one of TV’s most feminist shows, but more can be done. I have hope in the show’s potential, and my eyes will still be glued to the screen.