Riverdale and Heathers: A match made in a teenage nightmare


Riverdale and Heathers have very similar themes, and this week our faves channel the cult movie to go deep into a self-examination.

It doesn’t get much more meta than Riverdale and Heathers. I know it might not seem, at first, that these two have much in common. However, if we examine these two texts closely (and why shouldn’t we?) you can see that they share a lot of common themes.

Riverdale adopting the cult-classic’s musical version is just a way to self-reflect on what this show has been trying to do all along. If you cut through all the camp, the heavy-handed Lynchian influences, and ignore the 30 year olds playing high schoolers, you get a story about teenage ennui.

Holding the Heathers-mirror up to itself is like trying to, once and for all, show everyone what they’re really about. Just think about it. Both texts are about isolation and fear and take long, scrutinizing looks at outsiders. Both the series and the film (and the subsequent musical) are about loss of innocence and disillusionment, and both feature beautiful people with sad, dark hearts. They were born for each other.

If the writers of Riverdale are anything, they are a cheeky bunch. Handpicking songs like “Seventeen,” in which the characters implore themselves to “just be normal,” is about as meta as it gets. The song, which serves as the finale to the episode, is a wink to fans who lament about the age-inappropriate plot lines involving “drug lord moms” and “serial killer dads.” Riverdale gets us, and this musical episode is a love letter to fans.

The juxtaposition is especially savvy, as Jughead and Betty sing the lyrics to “Seventeen” after they just planted a bomb in Jughead’s childhood home-turned mobile drug lab.

Toni’s version of “Dead Girl Walking,” is especially unsettling because we know it could just be a metaphor for Cheryl’s banishment or it could be quite literal. No one is safe in these high school halls, and it shows how cleverly intertwined these two texts actually are.

Naturally, Cheryl plays HBIC, Heather Chandler, because, why not. However, reimagining her mean girl spirit through the lens of a jilted lover is downright genius. Toni isn’t banished because of her status in the hierarchy, she’s reaping the wrath of Cheryl’s broken heart. It’s really quite poignant, if you think about it.

Riverdale — “Chapter Fifty-One: BIG FUN” — Image Number: RVD316c_0628x.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Vanessa Morgan as Toni and Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl — Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

The cast singing “Beautiful” also gave me a little tug in my heart parts. So much of Riverdale’s driving plotlines have been about outsiders trying to figure out their place in the world. Say what you will, but the whole Gryphons and Gargoyles stuff is just a play on the many people who play Dungeon and Dragons as a way to escape their own bleak realities. And, if you really wanna double down on the self-reflections, isn’t this what we do every week when we tune into Riverdale?

You can’t put a finer point on the matter than the when the kids are dancing their way down the hallway singing, “This ain’t no high school: this is the Thunderdome.” I get this is just a figurative way to talk about the nasty interpersonal machinations of this age, but in Riverdale, it’s quite literally true. Think back to last year’s musical when poor Midge was strung up, stabbed to death, in front of a live audience. It’s tough out there on those Riverdale High streets.

Archie and Josie are an actual thing, and I must pause here to lodge one complaint: stop trying to make Archie as a boxer happen. It’s tiresome and quite a bit of an overreach now that Hiram has (inexplicably) gifted him a whole ass gym. To that point, watching him croon, “Fight For Me” to Josie while he is actually standing in a boxing ring is too ham-fisted, even for Archie. They continue to write him as a meat-headed dolt, and this just further drives his point. At least he didn’t get too much screentime this go around.

As if the Heathers-themed episode wasn’t enough of a gift, we finally get to see Chad Michael Murray in his debut as Edgar Evernever. While the One Tree Hill fan in me felt wildly skeptical that he’s old enough to be the father of a kid in high school, I was nonetheless pumped to see him stand straight up in the audience and start a slow clap.

I’ll concede the slow clap turned creepy really fast, as other members of The Farm arose and made it super menacing, but he’s finally here. It’s been a long time coming, folks, and now we can see how these characters will take on The Farm.

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I didn’t get around to Choni’s dueling “Candyshops,” but it’s worth a look, if only to see how hot Riverdale can actually get. Now that these two are reunited, I imagine they will be the core four’s main line of defense against Edgar and his Farmies.

The musical episode did all the things it should have: further a few plot points and make up for last season’s wooden imagining of the Carrie musical. We’ll see the fallout for Bughead’s arsonist capers and will finally get to see how The Farm fits into it all.

We will also see the results of the Lodge parents split and maybe they can finally get out of the mob-family loop. Here’s to the last of the season giving us exactly what we deserve.