Riverdale is over — what did it all mean?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that someone who has seen every episode of Riverdale must want to tell you about it.

That’s me.

I was a loyal viewer from the beginning, and yes, I did go to the show’s wardrobe liquidation sale and have this shirt to prove it.

Riverdale has been a Vancouver film institution since 2017, ending with its 137th episode last month. So, I want to give the best show on TV a proper goodbye.

The epic highs and lows of CW teen dramas

Season one started off with a normal enough premise… for a CW show, at least. Imagine Archie Comics, but dark and moody, and the gang has to solve the murder of classmate Jason Blossom. Thus begins a truly unhinged series of murders, hookups, breakups and fuck-ups.

The show went from standard teen-drama fare to goofily gritty — like Betty’s serial killer nemesis the Trash Bag Killer — and ended up square in the supernatural.

Along the way, the teens go through high school and grow up to their mid-20s. For the last season, they end up magically stuck back as teenagers (but in the 1950s this time).

This might just be my TikTok-addled attention span, but I truly cannot remember what happened during most of Riverdale. I can piece together season six and seven, but if you ask me why Archie ended up in juvie in season three, only to utter one of the most infamous lines from the show, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

I’d argue that this quality was a feature, not a bug. It allowed the show to refresh itself constantly, without deference to previous plotlines. Who cares about the immense psychological damage these kids have undergone? If you don’t remember it, they don’t have to either.

While I could spend hundreds more words recapping the whole show, here’s a brief highlight reel of plotlines that I’d forgotten about instead:

  • Archie, Betty and Veronica help Jughead fake his own death, with Archie and Betty fake-dating to make it more believable.
  • Betty’s mom and some Riverdale High classmates join The Farm, an organ-harvesting cult.
  • Veronica becomes the ‘she-wolf of Wall Street,’ then kills her husband.
  • Archie fights a bear.

Another fantastic quirk of the show was its cultural references way out of its league, ranging from just lines of dialogue to entire episodes paying homage to classic movies and TV shows. These, alongside stilted dialogue, lead to lines like “I’m Breakfast at Tiffany’s but this place is strictly In Cold Blood” coming from a 16-year-old Veronica.

And I haven’t even mentioned the terrible, terrible musical episodes! These were once-a-season stalwarts, ranging from off-putting (an insensitive and autotuned handling of Next to Normal) to mind-boggling (performing American Psycho at a serial killer convention).

Why do I care?

Riverdale became self-referential in its final seasons — Riverdale High jock Reggie was recast in season two, but in season six, the original (Ross Butler) and the recast (Charles Melton) meet in Riverdale’s parallel universe ‘Rivervale.’

An excerpt from Reggie’s fan Wiki page.
An excerpt from Reggie’s fan Wiki page. Screenshot Wikipedia Commons

In the penultimate episode, the characters literally watch a Riverdale highlight reel to regain wiped memories.

I found myself weirdly excited by all these meta plotlines — as the only Riverdale-head among my friends, it felt like AI-generated content made just for me. But why did I stick around for all that time?

My initial draw to the show was the fact that my high school was a filming location, so instead of scrubbing through the episodes, I’d just watch them for the hopes it would show up.

Then came season two — it was nine episodes longer than the first season, which came with way more going on, and allowed the show to go into the silly-goofy territory I’ve already talked about. I needed to know what direction they’d take next.

For better or for worse, Riverdale is a relic of TV that can miraculously get away with packing 22 episodes into one season. In the streaming era where 12 seems to be the new normal, it’s nice to have a show that’s got room for filler and detours.

Give me an overlong teen drama! Give me a sitcom that has time to flesh out its ensemble cast! Make Doctor Who seasons long again!

Of course, not every show needs to be that length. Only Murders in the Building is a great comedy-mystery that doesn’t drag out its plot for more than what’s necessary, but I can think of plenty of other direct-to-streaming TV series that could benefit from more episodes.

I’m not sure if this article will do anything other than expose my questionable taste in TV. But if by some twist of fate David Zaslav is reading this, I just don’t want the end of Riverdale to mean the end of shows that have the time to do whatever the hell they want.