Is it just me, or is Riverdale a bold, experimental masterpiece?

(Image credit: The CW)

Riverdale is rubbish, according to popular opinion. Reviews declare the TV series – a live-action take on Archie Comics – a cheesy teen drama, trashy, a guilty pleasure at best; one that’s full of "ridiculous" plot lines and "cringey" dialogue. People on forums label it inconsistent, unrealistic, poorly written, full of "filler"… 

They’re missing the point. These musings shouldn’t be positioned as criticisms. They should be framed as praise. Riverdale is meant to come across this way. It’s tongue-in-cheek, subversive, and way smarter than your average teen show.

Steeped in hyperrealism, it depicts the kind of small-town life you see in other serialized dramas through an atypical lens. It shares traits with seminal saga Twin Peaks, which was set in a similarly unnerving townscape. Employing stylized dialogue and acting, David Lynch took traditional soap-opera tropes and bent them to his surreal will. Riverdale also channels soapy energy – not just for satirical purposes, but to pay homage to what you might call "trash TV".

Across its lengthy, seven-season run, it has thrived on chaotic experimentation, tackling diverse subjects with characteristic aplomb. There have been musical episodes, timeline jumps, and even time travel, with the latest season transporting the cast back to the 1950s; cue an exploration of homophobia and the treatment of women that deftly reminds us that we’ve come a long way, even if there’s still some distance to go. And more generally, the show has been a standout platform for LGBTQ+ representation, as well as offering a stellar depiction of women.

Riverdale has also maintained relevance by tapping into such contemporary obsessions as the multiverse and superheroes, slyly mocking them and other pop-cultural phenomena. The series challenges us to look closer at the content we consume, to understand what we get from it and boldly asks whether we’re taking it all a bit too seriously. And all the while, it serves up immensely satisfying entertainment. Riverdale is pure genius, fact. Or is it just me?

For what else to watch, check out our round-up of the best Netflix shows available right now.