‘Riverdale’ sets new standard for teen dramas

At the beginning of the year, the CW network strayed from their supernatural and superhero norms to release “Riverdale.” Roughly based on the characters from the “Archie” comics, the show takes place in the small town of (you guessed it) Riverdale, after the death of one of the Blossom twins, Jason. Along with an ongoing investigation, the plot revolves around the high school lives of Archie, Betty, Veronica and Cheryl.

Unlike most teen dramas, “Riverdale” strays from typical superficial characters and generic plot and tries to convey a message. These messages aren’t the redundant “stay in school” and “bullying is bad” bumper stickers that teenagers are constantly bombarded with; instead, “Riverdale” focuses on more pertinent, unexplored issues.

Besides showing gingers some love, Riverdale High also has its fair-share of gay students. While one student, Kevin Keller, has come out, football player Moose Mason and Southside Serpents gang leader Joaquin are “in the closet.” Kevin’s relationships with these two guys sheds some light on society’s stereotypes of homosexuality.

Among other teen-related issues, pregnancy is another thing that “Riverdale” brings up. (SPOILER ALERT) Before Jason’s death, he dated Betty’s sister, Polly, and eventually got her pregnant. In order to cover up their shame, Polly’s parents sent her to a mental institution. How should teen pregnancy be dealt with? Should it be pushed aside and forgotten or be made open?

In the episode “Body Double,” the show’s creators also take time to point out the privilege of star athletes. Veronica and Betty try to obtain evidence of a “shame book” the football team uses to humiliate girls they have been with. When this is brought up to the principal, the status of the athletes protects them and the principal is quick to dismiss the claims to protect the players. But when substantial evidence topples entitlement, the girls receive justice. The subplot is so powerful because this issue has sadly become commonplace. It has a clear parallel with the recent case of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. The swimmer was sentenced to a mere six months for the rape of an intoxicated/unconscious girl. Like the football players, Turner’s status as an athlete excused his crime. The writers were not only bold to call out the American justice system but right. Justice cannot yield to privilege and the episode makes that message clear.

This motif of justice and truth continues when Betty, along with the show’s narrator, Jughead, revive the high school newspaper. Not only is Jughead a fan-favorite for his complexity but the iconic Cole Sprouse has returned to TV to play him after his long run with “The Suite Life.” The two work together to uncover evidence in the murder investigation as well as tackle problems that arise in Riverdale High. Their paper, The Blue & Gold, directly parallels with the paper Betty’s mother runs, The Register. Like some news outlets today, The Register creates sensational news stories that stray from the facts. The ties to today’s political climate with “fake news” is uncanny.

The thoughts and questions that “Riverdale” poses is unlike anything else on TV. These topics are all within the first few episodes and the entire season hasn’t been aired yet.

The relatable characters, gripping plot and the timely issues masterly interweaved into each episode are enough to hold anyone’s attention.

“Riverdale” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.