The CW’s Riverdale is a prime-time dramatic serialization of the classic Archie comics they used to sell at the grocery store when you were a kid. In other words, a dark gritty reboot( We’re only a mediocre pitch away from a dark gritty Scooby-Doo reboot, aren’t we?) Cynicism aside, Riverdale is suitably corny, uneven and shameless show with a fun aesthetic and a needlessly convoluted murder-mystery plot. It’s also a surprisingly astute marker of the current political and economic climate; hinting at issues of class, feminism and even race. In 2017, it couldn’t be any other way.
There’s an old adage in the realm of television sitcoms: status quo is god. The format of weekly television has historically limited the creative options for television writers. A sitcom is a product, even more than film or dramatic television. Viewers expect to tune in every week to see the same people in similar hilarious situations. A change in the status quo can ruin a sitcom. If the relationships between the main characters are changed, it dramatically shifts the way the series has to be written from that point on. Difficulties can come up quickly when you consider screen-time requirements for certain characters. Keeping it safe is imperative, which is why serious changes are often ret-conned or pushed off for as long as possible. Countless shows have been ruined after romantic tension is resolved in their key relationship. If we grade the forms of film on a scale of commercialism, sitcoms rate just ahead of soap operas. They are much more product than art, due mostly to the limitations of the business model.
Cringe is a difficult form of comedy to pull off well. It seems simple enough: put your characters into awkward situations and watch the audience wriggle at the second-hand embarrassment. Good cringe, however, takes much more nuance and tact. Cringe is based on pain, and it’s a balancing act between funny pain and dismal depressing pain. For four seasons, Peep Show created some of the most cringe-worthy and hilarious situations on television. And then season five happened.