Is it just me, or is Riverdale more about the parents than the actual Archie comics teenagers?
Sure, the teens are all over the promotional materials and the show spends the majority of its time following their days, decisions, drama, etc. But does the show really focus on them? Are they really front and center on the CW’s newest show?
Not really. At least, not as much as the network, promotional materials, or even show premise would lead us to believe.
While we’re getting to know the teenage residents of Riverdale relatively well, we’re not actually following their stories. The whole season so far has felt like it’s the stories of the adults, parents, and other older generations of Riverdale occupants that are motivating everything. That it’s their stories that matter the most.
Just think about it for a second.
Except for the plot line involving slut shaming that happened early on in the season (#JusticeForEthel), basically every episode of Riverdale so far has been heavily dependent on the actions of the town’s adults/parents rather than the teens themselves. Instead of being active in their own lives and creating their own issues that they need to solve, the teens are constantly having to be reactive. It’s gotten so apparent lately that it’s a wonder that the show took the entire history of Archie comics as its basis at all.
The majority of the tension featured in the show stems from a parental issue. Betty’s relationship with her closest friends? It’s framed in terms of her parents’ disapproval. Jughead’s current living and economic situation (not to mention his relationship with Archie’s dad)? He has his dad to thank for that. Veronica’s current relationship with Archie? It’s strained because of their parents’ dalliance.
But those are just the small fish, so to speak. When you take a step back and look at the show’s larger mystery and overarching plot point, the parents are completely entangled.
Unlike other shows where adults are simply affected by these larger themes and plots, the adults are, in this case, almost completely to blame for what’s going on. Not only do all of the parents have an intimate and contentious relationship with one another, but they also serve as the catalysts for most of the awful things that happen on the show.
The Blossoms and the Coopers have a Hatfields/McCoys relationship going on that skews their views on pretty much everything. That’s what has made the parents (rather than any of the kids) the prime suspects in Jason Blossom’s murder. After all, it’s his relationship with Polly has been the strongest and most explored reason for motive so far.
Then there’s the land deals Veronica’s mom (and, by extension, dad) is making. They’re getting an awfully large amount of screentime and emphasis, so much so that they’re bleeding into the lives of practically every character. They affect Mr. Andrews’ livelihood, Mayor McCoy’s politics, and Jughead’s living situation, not to mention the safety of the entire town (thanks to the fact that the Lodges have pissed off a gang from the wrong side of the tracks). The land development plotline has become almost as important to the show as Archie’s artistic endeavors.
Above all of this is the small-town trope where everybody knows everybody and all of the teens parents grew up together. But because the show explores the parents’ lives and shady actions so often, the mystery of the ties that bind all of the adults is sometimes more appealing than the main mysteries the teens are facing. I mean, I don’t know about you, but two episodes in I was already hoping for an adults-only flashback episode (a la the failed young Lily van der Woodsen Gossip Girl backdoor pilot).
The adults’ complicated relationships with each other make us, the audience, want to know more about them. There isn’t nearly the same sort of build-up going on with the Archie teens. And when there was a little bit of it in the form of Archie and Jughead’s strained relationship, it was explained away implicitly (Archie was a jerk over the summer and cancelled his trip with Jughead) and never brought up again.
When Betty questioned her own sanity after questioning the sanity of each of her family members, Jughead assures her “We’re not our parents, Betty. We’re not our families.” While that may be true, they sure are constantly affected by their parents’ actions and decisions. They practically watch their parents like hawks and see every little indiscretion and shady act. Yes, that’s pretty standard for a TV show, but not to the degree that it happens in Riverdale. Especially since the show is supposed to be about the teenagers.
In fact, if you think back to some of the most popular CW TV dramas of the last 15 years or so, the adults have never been this heavily involved. Yes, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, and Veronica Mars all featured parents that were a little over-involved in their communities as well as their kids’ lives. And were their lives affected by their kids’ decisions? Of course.
But were the kids constantly playing defense against numerous decisions and actions the adults were making? Not nearly as much as the teens in Riverdale. Even when adults were murderers on Veronica Mars, for example, their presence wasn’t nearly as strong as the adults’ in Riverdale.
Honestly, it’s really strange to have a teen drama so focused on the actions of adults (as well as the ensuing consequences). For a show that’s supposed to be about everyone’s favorite Archie comics characters, the beloved teens’ personalities and plotlines practically pale in comparison to that of their parents. If it weren’t for the Riverdale adults and all of their missteps and misdeeds, Riverdale would probably be pretty boring.
‘Riverdale’ airs on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET only on The CW