What’s going on in old Riverdale? Murder? Attempted suicides? Secret engagements? Teen pregnancies? Almost everything, to be honest. This dark and gritty adaptation of old comic books has swept us all up with its gruesome story and we are enthralled.
Riverdale seems, at first sight, too similar to any other dark gritty television series airing at the moment. Except, of course, for the fact that it isn’t. There’s a number of things that’s setting Riverdale apart from other TV shows, perhaps the best of it being its abundant female cast, of all types and personalities.
From the overbearing Mrs. Cooper to bright-eyed Valerie, this show has some of the most interesting female dynamics that I’ve seen. There is something oddly refreshing about seeing a corrupt female mayor, to be honest. Maybe we’ve been deprived of three-dimensional female characters for so long that we’ll take anything we get at this point. To have a casting that celebrates these women and portrays them in various different lights is almost too much for my heart.
Mayor McCoy, Josie and her Pussycats, Cheryl Blossom and her mother, Polly Cooper and Mrs. Cooper, Hermione Lodge, Ethel and Ms. Grundy (as begrudging I am, I must add her to the list) are all intense women with complex –even though in most cases, extremely misguided- ideologies about the world. They are driven by greed, envy, neurosis, vanity, insanity, and the need to survive. They are, in very twisted ways, such intense but exact representations of the need to be alive that it’s unnerving and alarming to see them so unfiltered. The women in Riverdale are not hiding from themselves, clearly.
Take for example, the ambitious and unapologetic Josie McCoy, daughter of the town’s mayor and lead singer of Josie and the Pussycats, an all-women-of-colour pop band, built on that very brand. Or Hermione Lodge, Veronica’s mom, who took the family fall from grace in the most graceful way imaginable –and while definitely up to some shady things, what with her weird plot-line with the Southside Snakes and double crossing her husband, Hermione’s got this charm and emotion that makes her unbelievably real. Cheryl Blossom, is one of those female characters that I can’t get enough of, however diabolical and spoiled she sometimes comes off as. Maybe it’s the acting, or those moments where she falters and seems to reach out to any warmth she can get to.
On the other more twisted hand, though, are Mrs. Cooper, Mrs. Blossom and Mayor McCoy, who I can’t understand, no matter how much I try. But, still, there’s something about their take-charge, cut-throat intensity and psychotic insanity that makes them so interesting (albeit, TERRIFYING) to see on screen. All three of these women have not-so-subtle dark pasts that are hinted at through their every move giving them this inexplicable magnetic draw. You don’t like them, but you feel less safe if they’re not right in front of you.
I saved best for last. Betty and Veronica are the soul of this show. As individuals, both of them have depth and intensity of character that makes them absolutely indispensable to the plot of the show. Unlike a lot of unfortunate female characters who have things done to them as the plot moves, Betty and Veronica are pushing the plot through their actions. While currently, Veronica is preoccupied with finding out what her mother is up to, Betty has –with Jughead’s help- visited Polly, faced her parents and found the car Jason had planned to escape in.
Veronica’s character is a refreshing change from what I expected based on what I had seen in the comic books. At glance, it’s easy to assume that she’s cold-hearted, but her genuine concern for the people she loves and her unwavering loyalty, the constant struggle to become a better and kinder person lend themselves to adding a depth to her that could have easily gone awry, and we appreciate her for the strength she is trying to have. Betty, too, is more than the girl-next-door. Her curiosity and ambitions are not over-ridden by the kindness and goodness that she’s known for, and that’s what makes her one of the best female leads I have seen on television.
Betty and Veronica as a pair, though, is where my heart is at. Their friendship warms “the cockles of my heart.” They balance each other out, as complimentary as the double chocolate and vanilla milkshakes they share in that tiny booth at Pop’s, or their unwavering loyalty to one another, even when their ideas are crazy. (“Let’s torture a football player so he stops slut-shaming!” “Sure, but right after that, let’s raid this teacher’s car!”) Riverdale put away that needless catty fight for Archie’s affections and replaced it with a friendship that transcends fights over boys, that goes into the very core of what both girls are and brings it to light.
In the light of International Women’s Day having just past us, after seeing the creative and political power that women wield in the world we live in today, why shouldn’t we hold our television shows to a higher standard in their representation of women?
The ladies of Riverdale represent the best and the worst of us: women who are ambitious, clever and kind, women who are manipulative, troubled and worn; and in them, there is a true lesson on the powers of inclusivity and true representation.
Riverdale returns March 30th at 9/8c on The CW.