I’ve been watching Riverdale lately and I’m struck by how so many parts of the show appear to be written by adults engaging in wish fulfillment. What if Archie, a character from a silly comic book your grandparents read, was a hot football player and song writer having an affair with his attractive music teacher? What if Betty was the unrequited girl-next-door who also had a dark, sexy side, and she handcuffs a football player to a hot tub in a fit of pique?
This kind of sensationalism might be something teen dramas can fall into (I’m thinking Gossip Girl, etc.). My problem with it is the lack of verisimilitude. We might all wish we could be this version of Archie or Betty. But a good story resolves those tensions by showing the push and pull between dreams and reality. Failing to do so reduces the medium to maudlin nonsense or pedantry. Without contraries, no progression.
Let’s look at another category of teen dramas: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Breakfast Club. These stories resonate more because they tap into something real about the teenage experience. They treat the liminal stage between childhood and adulthood as something worth respect: there’s witty dialogue, heavy problems, the desire to guide oneself yet be guided. They make you laugh and then cry.
I have high expectations for teen characters, and as a lifelong reader of Archie Comics, Riverdale is falling short.