Why 'Riverdale' is the Most Subtly Progressive Show on Primetime TV

Why 'Riverdale' is the Most Subtly Progressive Show on Primetime TV

Primetime television gets a lot of things wrong, especially when series try to boil characters down to easily understandable tropes, but not Riverdale. The CW's take on the beloved Archie comics is refreshingly nuanced and progressive. Here are just a few of those moments so far.

Primetime television gets a lot of things wrong, especially when series try to boil characters down to easily understandable tropes, but not Riverdale. The CW's take on the beloved Archie comics is refreshingly nuanced and progressive. Here are just a few of those moments so far.

Styling: Ian David Monroe

Josie and the Pussycats: To kick things off, and to rewrite history, Riverdale show runners picked an all black ensemble to play Josie and the Pussycats. Fortunately, their race isn't the root of their plot line, and they're normally high schoolers just trying to make it in music. Imagine that.

The Mayor: Continuing in that theme of diverse casting, the mayor of Riverdale is also black, and female—Josie's mom, in fact. Similarly, her race and gender have nothing to do with her ability to get shit done.

Slut Shaming: Episode 3 is all about a “burn book” where the jocks keep a list of their sexual conquests (most of them fabricated) and awarded points for each. “New girl? Is that what I'm reduced to? Nine points?” balks Veronica. “Better than ‘Big girl.’” says Ethel Muggs, played by Shannon Purser (Barb from Stranger Things!). Pissed, the girls exact their revenge—by (problematically) getting a jock to confess he never actually hooked up with Veronica, and also by writing a lengthy article in the school newspaper. The latter was probably the most appropriate, but teenagers make mistakes.

Paternity Leave: There is a very subtle moment of progressiveness that comes as an off-the-cuff statement by Fred Andrews, Archie’s dad, who runs a construction company. When trying to get Veronica’s mom, Hermione Lodge, to come work as his accountant, Andrews says that his former guy is on paternity leave. What? A father taking time off work to take care of his newborn?

Gay Okay: Kevin Keller is the series’s resident gay, and fortunately, his representation is far more nuanced than contemporary stereotypes. Even more refreshing, his dad is completely okay with it. While we don’t know the backstory of Keller’s coming out, we can assume the dad isn’t having to “come to terms” or threatening to disown his son. In fact, in one episode when Keller asks for money to go to the movies with Veronica, his dad even asks, “I mean, is there not a nice gay kid at your school?” Oh, dad, if only it were ever that easy.

Lesbian Bating: Veronica and Beatty’s close friendship has always had a history of queer subtext, but Riverdale nips that all in the bud early on—episode one, in fact. As the two girls try out for the cheerleading team, they share a steamy kiss in hopes of intriguing the cheer captain, Cheryl Blossom. Blossom wasn’t having it, though: “Check your sell-by date, ladies. Faux-lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.” While it’s commendable that Riverdale won’t use this longstanding trope of two ladies in love as a crutch, showrunners aren’t completely off the hook. The series trailer shows that same kiss, out of context, which effectively does the complete opposite.

Existential Jughead: Jughead keeps to himself a lot, so when we learn anything about him, it seems important. Specifically, when the audience gets a glimpse of the book Jughead is reading: Franz Kafka's Metamorphisis. How woke!

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