The students of Riverdale High are finally graduating—again and for good this time. The CW’s sensational teen drama,
which bewitched and bemused audiences for a solid seven seasons, is finally coming to an end on August 23.
It’s the closing of a chapter for a group of young actors, for its emergent showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa,
and for Archie Comics. But when it comes to a certain form of teen soap, it may be the end of the book altogether.
Time was, there were at least a half-dozen teen shows on television at any given time.
There were even entire networks more or less dedicated to it: The WB, UPN, Teen Nick (or The N), and Freeform (or ABC Family) all offered robust teen programming,
on top of all the teen-focused content littered elsewhere at other networks. While teen entertainment comes in many flavors,
the classic version of the form as it evolved is one where high school was mostly set dressing for whatever outlandish things were going on in the lives of its adultified young cast.
Buffy was slaying the supernatural, Roswell dealt with the plight of extraterrestrials, the Pretty Little Liars were being relentlessly stalked by a mystery tormentor.
The CW, a network launched in 2006, took this form and elevated it to new heights with shows like Gossip Girl,
The Vampire Diaries, The 100, the 90210 reboot, and many more. These shows created their own lane of “camp,” infiltrating the cultural zeitgeist and earning devoted (if sometimes niche) fanbases.
Riverdale was in many ways the last dying gasp of this species of series, a final evolution rooted firmly within the tradition of the genre while observing from without.
Much has been said about Riverdale’s increasing ridiculousness and how the show went “off the rails” as the show progressed,
But it was always a parody, one that pilloried teen soaps as much as it reveled in being one.
There were gang wars and class battles, big musical numbers, and characters declaring their own romantic relationships as “endgame.”
By the ’50s-set final season, Riverdale had become nothing so much as a parody of itself, in the best and most entertaining way possible.
Aguirre-Sacasa came from Glee, after all, a show similarly misunderstood in its intentional zaniness. “It is What the fuck?
That’s the whole point,” star Lili Reinhart described the series in a recent Vulture interview.
“When we’re doing our table reads and something ridiculous happens, Roberto is laughing because he understands the absurdity and the campiness.”