Lady Business: Riverdale Does Female Friendships The Right Way


The CW teen drama is doing a lot of things that we’ve seen before. But they way Riverdale is treating it’s female friends – and female politics in general – is pretty awesome.

I’ll admit: I like Riverdale a lot. I’m a sucker for a handful of beautiful adults playing teenagers, and I desperately love campy melodrama. Riverdale is hitting me right in my teen-soap sweet-spot. It’s beating a familiar drum for sure, but it’s also doing some pretty cool stuff inside it’s portrayal of it’s female characters.

When I say “cool,” I really mean Riverdale is treating the age-old TV trope of catty, feuding girls

Riverdale is treating the age-old TV trope of catty, feuding girls with a fresh respect and dignity.

with a fresh respect and dignity. It seems trite to see two girls treating each other kindly as progressive, but the relationship between Betty and Veronica is a far cry from other teen soaps.

Anybody remember how Beverly Hills, 90210 handled the love triangle between Dylan (who we now know and love as Archie’s dad, Fred), Kelly, and Brenda? It was reduced to a handful of cliches of slamming doors, backbiting, and dramatic storm offs.

Riverdale allows Betty and Veronica to default to understanding and empathy. The choice to prioritize their friendship over their romantic interests is reassuring to say the least and bold to go even farther. Riverdale, along with it’s stylized, post-modernism, and precocious dialogue, marks a turn in the way we’re seeing women on TV.

Veronica and Betty openly commit to their friendship, vowing, “No boy will ever come between us again.” Although that’s a tall order for a show in which one of the main story arcs surrounds a love triangle. But these girls seem different, and if anybody can carry out these new, post-Mean Girls female politics I believe these two can. They have surprising depth for characters based on a mid-century comic.

Riverdale — “Chapter Two: A Touch of Evil” — Image Number: RVD102a_0129.jpg — Pictured: Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge — Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network. All Rights Reserved

I find Veronica to be the most paradigm-smashing of the bunch. While Archie is too vanilla to justify the crush these women have on him, Veronica is downright transcendent. Her whole “New York-It-Girl” vibe is meant to call up visions of Blair Waldorf and early Brooke Davis, but she’s more. Much more.

Her inclinations to be honest with her female friends is totally aspirational. She confronts Betty about their feud, giving her real talk, “It’s not my fault Archie doesn’t like you.” Because it isn’t.

Good for Riverdale for pushing about against the conventions that pit two women against each over something they can’t control – a man’s affections. It’s good stuff.

Good for Riverdale for pushing about against the conventions that pit two women against each over something they can’t control – a man’s affections. It’s good stuff.

Betty is also is totally above the traditional conceit of the “rich bitch” caricature. Her very rich, posh mother is now a waitress, and she just carries on being supportive and encouraging. Can you imagine Blair Waldorf rooting for her mom in a waitress’ uniform? I think not.

Not such good stuff, however, is the character Cheryl Blossom. She’s the Mona Vanderwaal to the rest of the group, playing a comically sinister foil to everybody else’s sweetness. The show, in all it’s meta-glory, allows her to be called out as a “stock character from a”90s teen movie,” and that’s about the extent of it.

Riverdale — “Chapter Two: A Touch of Evil” — Image Number: RVD102c_0073.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper and Casey Cott as Kevin Keller — Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network. All Rights Reserved

She’s hard to like and relate to. Her sheer existence is meant to challenge the other characters’ limits for understanding and empathy. She finds Betty’s boundaries, however, and in return Betty threatens her. You can see the steam building in Betty, as she utters through clenched teeth, “Get out of my house before I KILL you.” Without Cheryl, we would never get to see Betty buck against her “perfect” persona.

Veronica, on the other hand, allows Cheryl to challenge her to be better .. to do better than the “old Veronica.” When Cheryl melts down at the pep rally, it’s Veronica that comes to her rescue, not nice-girl Betty, or chronically heroic Archie. More self-awareness follows when Betty admits to Veronica, “Not many girls would have done what you did.” And she’s right – at least in the TV universe.

Related Story: Riverdale Might Be The Teen Drama We Didn’t Know We Needed

The only real triangle I’m interested in is the Betty/Veronica/Cheryl relationship, and I predict an evolution in their dynamic. For a show that treats women’s friendship with the ethics by which we abide in real life, I don’t see Cheryl lingering in this cartoon space for very long.

Check back here every Friday for my weekly dish on all things Riverdale.

Riverdale airs at 9/8c Thursdays on The CW.