Teenage Wasteland: ‘Riverdale’ tries to pay homage to every pop culture reference in past 2 decades

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Wednesday’s episode is an homage to “The Breakfast Club,” and Molly Ringwald didn’t even guest star in it.

Come on, “Riverdale.” You had one job.

From Pixy Stix-esque drugs to fatal role-playing games, “Riverdale” sure knows how to corrupt wholesome activities. The “deadly mutating virus” of a game, Gryphons and Gargoyles, has infected Riverdale High, so much so that Hermione Lodge lays down a mayoral decree stating that the game is banned.

That doesn’t stop Betty (Lili Reinhart) from investigating the game’s history. After learning that there was another corpse that died with blue lips way back in the olden days (1992), Betty confronts Alice (Mädchen Amick) about what she knows about G&G. Since there is a lot to explain in the flashback and “Riverdale” is only a 40-minute show, they skip the hesitation and Alice readily agrees to give Betty the ominous game’s backstory.

The show takes us back to when the Hot Parents of Riverdale™ were juniors in high school, a confusing time in the early ‘90s when “everything smelled like teen spirit.” For some reason, only ‘80s music is playing. Perhaps the writers think that their millennial audience can’t differentiate the two decades from each other.

We don’t mind “Dancing With Myself” and “Take on Me” playing, but where is the more accurate “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby”?

In this flashback, all of the Riverdale gang are playing their parents — Betty plays Alice the Badass Serpent just learning about her pregnancy, Veronica (Camila Mendes) is Hermione the Catholic Schoolgirl, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) is Big Man on Campus FP Jones, and so it goes. After various stints land Alice, Hermione, Sierra (Ashleigh Murray), Penelope (Madelaine Petsch), Jughead, and Fred (K.J. Apa) in Saturday detention, “The Breakfast Club” tribute begins. They even got Anthony Michael Hall to play the principal in charge of detention! But still no Molly Ringwald!

Despite everyone having their own high school archetypes, the group bonds only in a way those in unsupervised detention can do: by sharing their deepest, darkest secrets. Penelope essentially wins the game by stating that she was adopted from the Sisters of Quiet Mercy by the Blossoms to be groomed as Clifford Blossom’s sister and eventual “life partner.”

Um, what?

But before we can all linger on this bombshell, some more petty fighting breaks out, and the gang is given more detention, leading to a totally unexpected bond that’s definitely not a complete copy of the “The Breakfast Club.”

Another fateful unsupervised detention afternoon, the group stumbles upon the infamous “Gryphons and Gargoyles.” They get really into the game. Like really, really into it. So much so that they sneak into the school at night to dress up as their medieval characters, dubbing themselves the subtly named “Midnight Club.”

One night when playing the game, the group runs into another group of Renaissance fair-dressed high schoolers. It turns out teenage Tom Keller (Casey Cott), Marty Mantle (Charles Melton), Daryl Doiley (Major Curda), and Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) have also been dipping their toes in the role-playing game. In a convenient way to add more “Riverdale” parents to the storyline, the two groups join forces and play together.

They receive mysterious invitations in their lockers from the Gargoyle King to play and “ascend to the third level.” That night, they have an “Ascension Party” with cookies and licorice and a fresh new drug called “fizzle rocks” — aka Pop Rocks, because the writers are too self-aware for their own good.

Are these ingestible candy drugs a euphemism for needles because watching Archie Andrew inject himself would be too hardcore for the CW? Maybe. Are we waiting for the day the Ghoulies introduce their new drug, the Tootsie Pop, so we can see gang members ferociously lick a red ball to get high? Most definitely.

Alice is the only one who doesn’t partake in the pop candy partying because of her pregnancy, watching everyone get crazy high. In the bathroom, she sees the two chalices with the words “Flip For Your Fate” scrawled everywhere in lipstick and/or blood. Outside the bathroom, she spots the Gargoyle King, or just someone in a very bad twig costume. Before getting out of there, she see Principal Featherhead entering the school to investigate all the commotion.

The next day, Alice learns that Principal Featherhead is absent and Fred’s dad passed away while Fred was high on Pop Rocks the night before. Even after the funeral, Principal Featherhead is still MIA. It doesn’t take long for the flies, and the janitor, to find him stuffed in a closet with blue lips.

The gang make a vow to keep their involvement with the game secret, which is, of course, made official with a spit pact. After the vow, the group breaks up and they go back to their individual lives. Alice remakes herself into a preppy Heather and pursues a pre-serial killer Hal. FP dramatically puts on a Southside Serpent jacket. Penelope begins dating her brother-husband Clifford. Just a normal day in retro-Riverdale!

After finishing her story, Alice begs Betty not to investigate. But of course, Betty must investigate. She begins by finding the original chalices that the Midnight Club oh-so-cleverly hid in the high school trophy case. She runs to the bunker to tell Jughead of her mom’s crazy story but to her shock she sees Jughead rapturously playing the game with his friends.

Just to clarify, are we supposed to stop caring that Hiram is still out there corruptly controlling the entire city? Are we over that now?

Julie Lim covers television. Contact her at [email protected].