I came late to the CW drama Riverdale, but what I lack in timeliness I make up for in ardor. To understand my love for this show (besides having covid and smoking weed), let me take you on a journey back to where it all began: It’s 2003. The Iraq War has just begun and everyone is singing “Right Thurr” by Chingy (I assume). Yale School of Drama graduate Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has just written a gay play called Archie’s Weird Fantasy, which depicts Archie Andrews moving to New York and being a big homo. The day before the play is set to open in Atlanta, they receive a cease-and-desist letter from Archie Comics (for copyright issues and the gay thing), and the play is cancelled.
Fast forward a decade and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has become the Chief Creative Officer at Archie Comics. A couple of years after that, he developed Riverdale.
This is all important to know because it tells you so much about what we are dealing with here. Riverdale’s engine runs on pure unadulterated camp. The first season sets out as a sort-of-regular high school drama, and it gets exponentially more insane from there. There are multiple musical episodes, including one that sees the school putting on the real-life cult flop “Carrie: The Musical” (gay). Because Riverdale is a show full of references and connections, it’s important to note that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa also wrote the 2013 Carrie film remake. Long before Yellowjackets was widely lauded for it , Riverdale was doing fun nostalgia casting: Archie’s mom is played by Molly Ringwald; his dad was played by Luke Perry (crying emoji); Betty’s mom is played by Mädchen Amick, otherwise known as Shelly from Twin Peaks; Kerr Smith, who you might remember as Jack in Dawson’s Creek (and who participated in the first gay kiss on network TV) had a stint playing an evil principal. Jughead’s mom is the iconic Gina Gershon, and his (HOT) dad is played by Skeet Ulrich from Scream.
The whole show feels like an antidote to modern television, with its glacially slow pacing. Other shows can go 6 episodes without anything really happening at all. So much happens in Riverdale, and it never ever ever stops happening — leaving no time to think about if something makes sense. There are multiple moments per episode that would be a season cliffhanger in a normal show. In one season 3 example, beautiful moronic himbo Archie literally physically fights a grizzly bear, and it’s not in the top 4 most eventful plot points. Everything is high stakes and somehow there are never any real consequences, which is a beautiful combination. In a world of self-importance and Jeremy Strongs, this is a show that doesn’t take itself seriously.
The lightness of Riverdale is exemplified best in my favorite feature of the show — the slightly altered fake names they use in place of real brands and places. An homage to the original Archie comics, these illustrate perfectly the things that make this show work. Incredibly stupid, very funny, and everyone involved totally commits. It’s campy, it’s self-aware, it’s unpretentious, and I love it.
Here are some of my faves:
THE FIVE SEASONS
That’s right. If an outsider comes to Riverdale, there is no doubt where they will be staying. Not The Four Seasons, don’t be ridiculous you fucking idiot. They will be checking into The Five Seasons. And what IS the fifth season, you might ask? Why, it’s good television of course!
It took me a while to notice, but Riverdale has approximately 7 shooting locations they reuse and implement in the show in masterful ways. It’s the TV equivalent of that Simpsons episode where Marge cuts up her Chanel suit in various ways to try and make new clothes. The Five Seasons is Riverdale’s only luxury (only?) hotel, yes. But it’s also been a brothel, and a high-end social club selling Veronica Lodge's maple rum, during the “rum war” she and her father waged against each other.
In the world of Riverdale, Fabergé eggs are called Glamergé eggs. If you are wondering how often Glamergé eggs could possibly come up in a TV show about teenagers, wonder no more — it’s a lot. The eggs are referenced over multiple seasons, including a storyline where lesbian couple Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz catburgle one of the eggs, which causes them to be kicked out of their gang (the Serpents) because they broke a code or something. I can’t really remember the details, but it literally never matters and I don’t need to remember, and it’s so relaxing.
BRET WESTON WALLACE
Bret Weston Wallace is a rich and sociopathic student who attended Stonewall Prep (lol) with Jughead, and competed with him to become the new ghostwriter for a series of books about crime-solving brothers (The Baxter Brothers).. Having a rich piece-of-shit character named after Bret Easton Ellis is one of the gayest things to happen, and naming that character Bret Weston Wallace is one of the funniest things to ever happen, and I think about it at least once a week. No notes.
I simply cannot mention The Five Seasons without also bringing to you the miracle that is Fibes Magazine. As in Forbes. The first time I heard someone mention Fibes, I felt as though I was having an aneurysm. The Four Seasons/Five Seasons naming convention tracks in some way, it’s simply going up one number. Forbes has nothing to do with the number four, so it absolutely makes zero sense to call it Fibes. Say it out loud. You won’t regret it. Fibes.
Sure, “Spiffany’s” may sound like slang for cum, but everyone in Riverdale knows that a Spiffany’s bag is simply the best place to carry your Glamergé egg while on the way to The Five Seasons.
Riverdale has been full of Stephen King references from the beginning. It’s clear that Aguirre-Sacasa is heavily influenced by King, and he not only wrote the Carrie film adaptation, he also wrote a comic book adaptation of The Stand. The reverence is sort of built-in because at its base, Riverdale is a show about a small town with weird vibes and strange goings on. Some references are deeper cuts than others, but Shankshaw is the funniest one by far.
This is an interesting one. Changing “American Express” to “American Excess” could very well be a commentary on wealth and consumption in America (Riverdale has touched on things like unionizing, for-profit prisons, and homelessness), or it could just be that the writers went to rhymezone.com and put in ‘express’. No way to tell, which is one of the delights of this show.
BEAN & BELUGA
I believe this one, a parody of Dean & Deluca, was created with a quick trip to rhymezone. What’s more, I think the fact that “bean” has anything to do with coffee is a complete coincidence. Not much rhymes with Deluca, so Beluga it is! I actually only know about Dean & Deluca from watching the tv show Felicity, and I’ve thought about Felicity several times during my viewing of Riverdale. A normal show about a group of young hot friends that eventually goes off the rails to the point of time travel? That’s some precursor stuff.
Lol. I have no clue as to how it was decided that the name Craig would be replaced with the name Ned, but it is not for us to ask how a genius creates a work. We are simply to receive it with open arms. I actually think the real Craigslist should be forced to change its name to Nedslist, and that way we would have to hear Americans pronounce the name Craig less.
Bec Shaw is a writer for TV and heaps of places on the Internet.