‘Riverdale’ S2 thus far: Addictive self-parody that keeps viewers on their toes

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

The CW’s “Riverdale” seems nuance-averse. It operates in the land of stark drama, obvious dialogue and age-old tropes. In its second season, as in its first, the show is a murder-mystery with hints of romance that reel fans back in every week. This season, “Riverdale” is still finding its footing, but it’s hard not to follow it wherever it goes.

If you haven’t watched “Riverdale” since the season one finale, you’ve got a lot to catch up on. The teen drama based off of the famed “Archie Comics” has taken a turn — “darker” seems to be the buzzword surrounding its second season, and that’s quite apt.

For starters, the shooting of Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) in the finale was not a stand-alone crime, but the work of a serial killer called the Black Hood.

Ostensibly out to “cleanse” Riverdale of its “sinners,” the Black Hood manipulates Betty (Lili Reinhart) into cutting herself off from her friends and her boyfriend, Jughead (Cole Sprouse). But, by the end of episode six, Betty regains control and convinces the killer that she’s “breathing down (his) neck.”

Much of what went down in season one of “Riverdale” was downright predictable. It wasn’t the mystery that made season one so addictive, it was eye-rolling one-liners that were so bad they were delightful, the chemistry between the actors and even the predictability.

What season two has to offer is more suspense and more self-parody. “Riverdale” seems to be openly acknowledging its own artifice — with jokes that play on Jughead’s famous “I’m a weirdo” line, among others — in a way that, while clearly not complex or believable, is entertaining and endearing. Even the episodes’ titles are named after films whose plots foreshadow those of each episode — “Death Proof” featured a drag race (that left the male gaze fully unchallenged) and “When a Stranger Calls” saw a distressed Betty negotiating with a killer.

Season two also offers more of what “Riverdale” does well: highlighting supportive female friendships. Betty and Veronica (Camila Mendes) are no doubt the series’ stronghold, but Josie (Ashleigh Murray), Melody (Asha Bromfield), Valerie (Hayley Law) — also known by their band moniker, “The Pussycats” — and Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) form a tight-knit alliance as well. More often than not, the ladies of “Riverdale” save themselves — or at the very least, save each other.

In terms of suspense, “Riverdale” lets fans know that anything can change at any moment — which creates suspense, but also leads to inconsistencies. Characters’ motivations change at the drop of a hat, and their orientations to the plot aren’t always justified.

Each of the core four characters have gone through essential shifts this season already, and it’s only been six episodes.

Archie (K.J. Apa), for example, started off the season at almost Jughead-level brooding, driven by a desire for vengeance against his father’s attacker. But by episode six, he returns to his wholesome self, as if he was never lusting after the Black Hood’s blood. Archie started of the season as a vigilante, but by episode six, his first instinct is once again to call the police.

“Riverdale” broke hearts in episode five with Betty and Jughead’s break-up. The rift between them is quickly resolved in episode six, however, with a makeup conversation that viewers never get to see. In one scene, Jughead’s pissed at Betty for dumping him, but in the next, they’re cuddling on his couch.

The “Riverdale” writers have fans wrapped around their fingers as these characters flip-flop from hot to cold within and across episodes. And that’s to say nothing of the weather in Riverdale.

Emily Nussbaum, in a scathing review of the show’s first season, argued that “Riverdale” failed to be a fresh blend of the original comics’ charm and the “neo-noir” tone of David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” She was right to call the show campy, as star Cole Sprouse has also done, but “Riverdale” has upped its game in season two.

Granted, it’s no less campy, but it is much more edgy and much less risk-averse than the first season, which was somehow trying too hard and not trying hard enough at the same time. In other words, “Riverdale” seems to have found its sweet spot.

While “Riverdale” may not be a television game-changer, it’s doubled its viewership since its first season, and that’s likely due to its erratic plot. Season two constantly has us on our toes, even if we know that what we’re dying for is something silly or totally unbelievable.

Sophie-Marie Prime is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].