5 Times RIVERDALE Thrived While Jumping the Shark

The Serpent Code obliges us to tell you that there are most certainly spoilers for the first three seasons of Riverdale below.

There’s a lot of eye-rolling that comes with a term like “jumping the shark.” But there’s a reason why the term exists to begin with. Sometimes, as an audience, we love to see it happen. Sometime’s it’s actually fun to see a jort and leather-clad greaser hop over a big fish. Sometimes we are that fish, and we swim in circles under our favorite shows hoping for that figurative chance at blood in the water. That’s why we’re so thankful to have Riverdale, a show that not only seemingly jumps the shark with every single episode but actually thrives on existing in the moment that the skis crest the air.

The very premise of Riverdale feels like a jumping of the shark. The series is a dark broody noir that tied up the Archie Comics universe and keeps it for its own twisted pleasures. So it’s hard to really say which moment of the show most went off the rails. There are honorable mentions like the city under siege riot in season 2, the big reveal of the Farm’s true motivations as organ harvesters in season 3, and of course, Cheryl Blossom’s occasional functional cosplay as Speedy from the Arrowverse. But, in anticipation of the new season, here is an in-depth look at some of our favorites.

Archie’s entire history on the show.
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Even the most basic summary of Archie’s storylines on the show sounds completely absurd. Sometimes Archie’s plots go so off the rails it feels like he’s not even on the same show as the rest of his classmates. Quite literally so in season three when he actually left Riverdale to start a new life in the wilderness. He’s been a football player, a wannabe musician, and was sleeping with his teacher. He abandoned music to instead focus on fronting a proto-fascist vigilante organization to avenge his almost-murdered father. He tried to join his girlfriends’ father’s criminal organization, only to turn against him and eventually fight him during a school wrestling practice.

Then he was framed for murder by that same man and became a boxer in an underground prison ring. After escaping from jail, went on the lam to that aforementioned wilderness where he was mauled by a bear. He returned to Riverdale where he started a boxing gym, killed a man in the ring (okay that guy was on drugs though), and he fought his girlfriend’s father again in the boxing ring. Plus, get this, he scandalously walked out of the SATs. Apparently, he didn’t have time to study for them while getting mauled by a bear but there are no exceptions in the high stakes world of standardized testing. He did find time to star in two musicals though.

The Carrie the Musical episode
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Musical episodes are almost required of all drama TV shows these days. That went double for Riverdale which is a covers album disguised as an angsty teen drama most of the time anyway. But rather than compose original tunes apropos for Riverdale, the show instead mined the 1988 stage musical adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie. Likely a nod to Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s prior work on the 2013 Carrie film remake, the episode totally shouldn’t have worked. The musical itself was considered the biggest flop in Broadway history in its time.

But “shouldn’t have worked” is Riverdale’s bread and butter. The lyrics were written for a show that bombed before most of Riverdale’s stars were even born. Yet somehow, they married themselves perfectly to the text of the season. The earnest depiction of the musical as an in-universe production at Riverdale High School helped make the musical interludes feel only partially fourth wall breaking. We were almost lulled into believing it was just a fun diversion episode of the show right up until the murderous shocker of an ending. With the third season usage of Heathers, it seems that musicals may be an annual tradition for the show now but none will likely ever pack as much sublime delight as the Carrie episode.

Cheryl Blossom’s Victorian Novel Life
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The first season of Riverdale really teetered on the edge of wanting us to love or hate Cheryl Blossom. At first glance, Cheryl could seem like the stereotypical manipulative teenage queen bee of Riverdale High, or as a pure agent of chaos. Cheryl Blossom’s life eventually stops feeling like it was adapted from Archie comics and more as if it came from a Victorian Gothic novel. She’s gaslit into mental instability by her emotionally abusive parents. There’s implied incestual love between Cheryl and her dead brother, or at least obsession with the idea on her part. She lives in a big spooky house with her grandmother. Even her “conversion therapy” plot in season 2 involves a convent full of abusive nuns, the Sisters of Quiet Mercy. And she’s rescued from it by her dashing leady lady, Toni Topaz, a sapphic love story in the vein of the Gothic lesbian vampire classic, Carmilla.

Griffons & Gargoyles
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Giving sister series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the run for its dark horror money in season 3 was this plot. The easiest way to describe it is “what if all the fears and panic from Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s were real.” The hardest way to describe it would be to actually try to summarize the plot. There were poisoned chalices, kids losing the ability to discern the difference between reality and game, hallucinogenic drugs, and even someone running around in a giant Goblin King costume. Or maybe there really was a Goblin King, we really still aren’t sure. What we do know is that this plot allowed for the fantastic Breakfast Club-inspired “Midnight Club,” episode where the Riverdale stars all played as their characters’ parents. And the ending reveal that Cheryl’s mother was the mastermind behind it all allowed the aforementioned gothic horror of Cheryl’s life to completely spill over into the main characters’ plots as well. 

Dark Betty
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Betty Cooper of Riverdale is a far cry from her comic book origins. Written on the show to be a David Lynchian twisting of the girl next door, we first see glimpses of Betty’s dark side early in the first season. There’s no subtlety to it, she actually puts on a black wig and lingerie and goes to a dark place while getting torturous revenge. While the show wisely dropped the Dark Betty persona, largely at the request of actress Lili Reinhart, it still teased that side of her in season 3.

As part of their attempts to get her initiated into The Farm, Betty’s mother and sister both tell her their long-kept secret. Betty as a child tested positive for “the serial killer gene,” the only one in her family to do do. Polly adds “not even dad” had the gene, an extra bizarre twist of this show’s knife considering that their father, Hal Cooper, was unmasked as the Black Hood, an actual serial killer, in the finale season two. Black hoods, black wigs, they’re almost the same thing. 

Images: The CW

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