It is odd when your personal world crumbles in tandem with the world at large. 2020 saw catastrophic bushfires – making climate change an issue one could no longer ignore – the US decided if Trump should be re-elected President, and COVID was declared a pandemic, sending nations into lockdown. It was also the year my Mum was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer – one that took eighteen months of ongoing treatment to remove.
Intensive chemotherapy and daily visits to a hospital is not an ideal situation for someone you love very much to be in during a pandemic. Chemo and COVID don’t mix very well. The endless talk of case numbers, hand washing and lockdowns meshed with talk of treatment plans and prognoses. Uncertainty, once reserved for my anxieties about the future, was brought to the forefront of my day to day routine – there was no switching off the TV and escaping to a promise of good health.
I found one respite in this period: the fictional town known as Riverdale. For 1 hour every week, my sister and I would set aside any broader worries and worship the absurd.
For the unacquainted, Riverdale is a show which began as a murder mystery in small-town America and quickly expanded to include – among other plot lines – an organ harvesting cult, a bear attack, a character doing a striptease in front of her own mother to a slowed and in-reverb cover of Mad World, and the dead body from the initial murder being reintroduced years later, intact and odourless. All without a hint of irony.
The ‘rejected pitches’ pile in the Riverdale writers’ room remains empty. I maintain the belief that every idea suggested, no matter how preposterous, has made it onto this show. Logic does not lend itself to the narrative of Riverdale, in fact there is seemingly no overarching narrative structure at all. To consume it you must forget what has happened in the episodes prior and blindly accept your complete lack of control over what direction it will go next. Which is precisely why I love it.
At a time when nothing in the world feels consistent, from impending climate disaster, insecure job markets, a global rise in authoritarianism, and zoom tutorials filled with uncomfortable silences and empty screens, Riverdale fits right in. In some sense, the past two years have felt like they have been written by the same people who wrote Riverdale. This unfamiliar state of every event being completely new, where the next global catastrophic event seems one news cycle away, is perfectly reflected in the show. But instead of providing a sense of impending doom, it’s comforting; it shows us that not all uncertainty is bad.
I do not wish to mislead anyone reading this, Riverdale is objectively appalling television. It is poorly written, the plot is confusingly convoluted, every actor looks as though they are questioning if the money they are being paid is worth the humiliation of being associated with the show, and occasionally there are musical episodes that have no context and give me so much second-hand embarrassment that I have to pause it in the middle and make myself a cup of tea. But it revels in this ridiculousness, and affords its audience that same opportunity. To watch bad TV doesn’t rid the world, or yourself, of what may be troubling, but that does not mean that there isn’t value in it. We must find joy where we can. For me, Riverdale is an endless stream of it.
Riverdale provides more than just simple escapism. It brings a philosophical realisation that the one certainty of life is uncertainty. Things happen that you can’t control or predict. Sometimes all you can do is take stock of the situation and try to find some humour to help get you through it. It’s fittingly embarrassing that this harsh reality was brought to me by people in their late twenties, with little to no conviction pretending to be high schoolers, who make grand admissions such as “I have the serial killer gene”. But that’s the genius of Riverdale, and bad television more broadly: its trashiness holds uncomfortable truths about us, made accessible by discombobulated plots and lukewarm acting. Perhaps one day the world will succumb to a climate disaster, politicians will never be held accountable for their actions and my Mum’s cancer will return. I cannot predict the future. Right now, though, I have the lunacy of Riverdale to ground me in the lunacy of life – and I think that might be just enough.