24 May 2018

REVIEW: Riverdale season 2

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Riverdale
Starring: Kj Apa, Lili Reinhart, Cole Sprouse, Madeleine Petsch, Camila Mendes
This review contains very minor spoilers.

SUMMARY OF SEASON 2: MAIN PLOTS

The first season of Riverdale was a massive hit last summer. Everyone fell in love with the characters and enjoyed a compelling, mysterious plot which was well structured and delivered over the course of 12 clean cut episodes. The show has always been a little bit campy (but oh my did we still enjoy it), the actors have proved their talent and the writers have shown us what they are capable of, however the second season failed to live up to many people’s expectations, a result of the over-stuffing of action-driven secondary plots and filler episodes.


This article is only intended to be constructive criticism, this applies to all of our reviews. It is something that goes without saying for most critics, but many people take reviews personally or as an attack on the actors. Of course, that is clearly not our goal, our goal being to share our thoughts on the second season in an informative and constructive manner.

After the success of season 1, Riverdale returned with a whopping 22 new episodes. The cliff-hanger at the end of the previous season launched the main plot of season 2: who is the black hood who shot Archie's Dad in the diner? On top of this main plot the longer list of episodes enabled the show to explore several secondary plots, such as Hiram Lodge's secretive plans for Riverdale and his influence over Archie, Betty's long lost adoptive brother Chick, the closing of the South Side Highschool... These plots were all fascinating and held a lot of potential but ultimately, they were a little weak and unnecessarily stretched out to fill out the longer list of episodes. Too much action, not enough substance. 



BRIEF REVIEW : STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS OF STORYLINES IN S2

Season 2 of Riverdale is overall weaker than its premiere season but still has a strong central mystery intertwined with melodrama. It's only natural that Riverdale wanted to expand its horizon after the huge success of season 1 but the black hood story-line alone wasn't enough to sustain an entire 22-episode run so of course the show relied on other secondary story-lines to fill out the season (these kids have lives after all). Unfortunately, those plots simply weren't interconnected enough and felt a bit random, despite the importance of the topics they discussed (Cheryl's time with the Silent Sisters, Kevin's time in the woods, Jingle Jangle...). There seemed to be a big continuity issue and we didn't get to see how some events impacted the characters in the long run because something new and intense was happening in every new episode. It seems that Riverdale tried to cram in as much as possible in to its second season which resulted in short-lived and quickly forgotten story-lines. The continuity issues prevented character arcs from being fulfilled, resulting in a loss of momentum of the show.

The black hood mystery felt a little drawn out by the end of the season despite being at the root of the strongest episodes: this story-line remained the main plot in the first half of the season before returning at the end of the second half, however there were many 2 to 3-episode arcs in-between which had potential but were ultimately undeveloped. The Red Circle, Jughead & the South Side Serpents story-lines weren't given a strong structure and because of the bumpy jumps between each individual episode there was not a sufficient build-up. These plots lost their emotional value and the viewers didn't feel as invested during the dramatic scenes. There are also several moments from season 2 which seem completely out of place: Betty's pole dance (I mean Betty is 16 years old right?), the killing of Chick's acquaintance, Cheryl's threat to Josie - it feels like it all happened in the characters dreams as these events seem to have be entirely forgotten by the characters, another weakness of the s2 script. Many elements that we had become accustomed to in season 1 (such as Archie with his music, Jug with his writing) were pushed aside completely which made the actions of our beloved characters feel less realistic. The emphasis was put on the situations rather than the characters personalities. Ultimately, we didn't learn anything new about them, we only saw them react to the situations they were faced with (which were soon forgotten about).

The strength of the show had always been the friendship between the core characters, season 2 put these friendships to the test and separated the group to make place for the multiple story-lines. We very rarely saw all of them team up together which is such a shame as it is the reason why season 1 was such a success: no matter what was happening, the core four would be there to deal with it together. There seemed to be a lot of drama which wasn't dealt with in a realistic way this season, as Betty, Jug, Archie & Veronica spent too much time apart (although we did have more relationship dynamics with Varchie & Bughead). We didn't have any small moments which would have allowed us to learn more about these characters and their relationships.

This might all seem a little pessimistic, but we have to say the show has so many positives. Riverdale is politically correct and is very aware of the influence these characters have on younger viewers. We have a wonderful diverse cast and gay & bisexual characters. The show discusses very important and educational topics (see more below) which is always a plus, especially for a show with such a huge audience. It's just a shame that those issues were only discussed for an episode or two and we didn't see the realistic long-time effects on the characters.

It is important to point out that the cast did a truly great job. KJ Apa truly shines as Archie Andrews and Lili Reinhart also delivered a very strong performance in one of this season's most memorable episodes. Cole Sprouse's Jughead became more of a broody bitter teenager hellbent on seeking justice for the South Side and we have to say that Josie and Kevin didn't get the story arcs they deserved.

Despite the somewhat jumpy structure, there are some very strong episodes in season 2 which reminded us why we all fell in love with this show in the first place: the finale episodes Judgment Night and Brave New World were definitely this seasons highlights, and A Stranger Calls has been crowned a favouriteThe Carrie Musical episode was also enjoyable with one bang of an ending.


IMPORTANT TOPICS

Season 2 did discuss important topics such as emotional abuse, trauma, sexual assault, gay conversion therapy & the exploitation of vulnerable people. Cheryl’s storyline with the Silent Sisters was very rushed and quickly forgotten about as the following episodes fail to mention any of what happened, or even discuss the effects it had on Cheryl and the relationship with her mother. Unfortunately, it kind of felt as though it was put in there for the sake of it when truthfully it had huge potential, Cheryl is a deeply loved character and the story-line deserved better. Archie's relationship with Hiram was one of the main story-lines this season with Hiram becoming a central character in the show: the end of the season successfully expressed this pairing as unhealthy and exploitative, with Archie directly telling Hiram that he was vulnerable, and he was taken advantage of. Needless to say, this had major consequences for Archie and will no doubt be the central plot at the start of season 3.

LOSS OF CINEMATIC FEEL

Season 2 lacked the cinematic feel that the previous season had: there were some gorgeous shots made more enticing by Blake Neely's score (have a listen to the s1 score), however Riverdale followed a very fast-paced structure through-out the 22 episodes so it all felt a little rushed, any beautiful sequences weren't given much value and they didn't really stand out. That being said, the colour grading and the music were still good, I only wish more time and value was given to those cinematic shots, dialogue scenes and those silent moments which help establish fictional characters.


We can only hope season 3 of Riverdale (airing October 2018) will return to its roots by reuniting the core characters and remembering why season 1 was so successful. So is season 2 of Riverdale worth a watch? Honestly, yes. I would suggest binge-watching it to compensate for the multiple storylines and short-lived arcs, which result in a loss of momentum when watching it weekly. There are a handful of stand-out episodes that make it all worthwhile - and of course who doesn't love Juggie and co?

Holly & Summer
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