Ok, no, let’s delve into that a bit more,
but firstly a disclaimer. I don’t watch Riverdale. I watched the first season
and the Carrie episode but I hadn’t seen anything between then and the Heathers
episode. I don’t know much about the plot now apart from the fact there’s a
cult and things are weird. Therefore, I’m not trying to hate on Riverdale. I
wouldn’t ever want to hate on something I haven’t even properly seen so I
promise, I’m not hating on Riverdale… I’m just hating on this one episode of
Riverdale. Here’s why…
Why it doesn’t work for the show
Here’s something you might not be expecting
from that opening, I actually love the idea of Riverdale doing musical episodes.
Since much of the action is set in a school it makes sense for them to incorporate
real musicals into the show as their school productions. However, they do seem
to be going for more of a Glee-approach to the episodes where the songs aren’t
always performed as part of a show-within-a-show format. Sometimes the
characters will just start singing when they’re not performing or rehearsing in
a they-don’t-actually-know-they’re-singing-their-feelings kind of way. This is
fine in a regular musical or even just in the odd one-off musical episode. Lots
of shows have managed to include a musical episode without it feeling really
off, usually it’s a bit cringy but they just-about make it work because they
include original songs.
Where this gets confused in Riverdale is
when they try to fit the songs from one pre-existing musical into the context
of what is happening in that one specific episode of the show. Which, like any
TV show, needs to continue the same established storylines it’s been setting up
so far. Glee worked existing songs into its story by establishing itself as a
musical show from the off and including any and all songs into the show. By restricting
itself to an album of 20-odd songs to choose from, especially a musical theatre
album where the songs are all very specific to a certain story, the Riverdale
writers have to work extra hard to fit these songs into their pre-existing
narrative. This is really difficult and credit where credit’s due, they tried.
The Heathers episode did see them slot Seventeen really nicely into the show
where it actually felt like it fit but no other song in the show that wasn’t
added in to be the characters performing in the school production really did.
For example, the fact that Archie is
practicing boxing when Josie comes to speak to him doesn’t justify her singing
the lines “Well whoa, you can punch real good/ You’ve lasted longer than I
thought you would”. This makes sense in actual Heathers because JD is fighting
Kurt and Ram. Archie is on his own, not fighting anyone when Josie walks him so
how has he “lasted longer than [she] thought [he] would” exactly? He was
punching the air. The air’s not likely to fight back, Josie. It just doesn’t
Why it could be good for theatre fans
Let’s go back to what I said earlier about
loving the idea of Riverdale doing musical episodes for a second. I really
think if the songs from Heathers were kept in the context of a school
production it would be a cool way to introduce musical theatre to an audience
that perhaps doesn’t know about the amazing world of musicals. I love the
thought that someone might watch that episode of Riverdale and go and download
the Heathers album. Getting musical theatre out there and more accessible to
more people is a good thing for theatre and, in turn, a good thing for theatre
fans. Despite the dodgy lyric changes and awkward singing, there’s definitely
going to be at least one person who comes away from that episode wanting to
hear more from Heathers.
Why it isn’t good for theatre fans
Ok, now we’re getting into the real nitty
gritty. To be perfectly honest, despite what I just wrote, I don’t think the
makers of Riverdale care about anything I said in my last paragraph. At all.
The makers of Riverdale naturally want to get their show to a wider audience.
They’ve clearly done their research and found that there is a community of fans
in their target demographic who are also fans of musicals which, since the
likes of Glee, Smash and Rise are no more, don’t get a chance to see their love
for musicals incorporated into TV. This means Riverdale is tapping into a gap
in the market and trying to pander to musical theatre fans to get them to watch
their show. This would be fine if they actually seemed to sincerely care about
the musicals they were adapting or wanted to pay a tribute to those that
created them. You can see this level of respect for source material in Heathers
the Musical itself as it’s very much a homage to the film yet still functions
on its own. The Heathers Riverdale episode didn’t feel like a tribute to
Heathers the Musical, Heathers the film or even of musical theatre itself. No
one seemed particularly happy to be working on a musical, in fact, it almost
seemed a burden for some characters. Neither was there any championing of the
messages and morals that Heathers stands for.
For me, the most glaring example of this
was the fact that no one in the show was cast as Martha. Why? Because none of
the current Riverdale cast members could or should be cast as Martha. Not a
single one of them fits the casting type because Martha is a bigger girl and
the Riverdale cast are all slim. Now, arguably, this isn’t that big a deal as
it’s not as if we get to see Sweetpea (I literally had to replay it to make
sure I heard his name right) as JD or Archie or Reggie as Kurt and Ram. But,
celebrating acceptance and tolerance of all and disregarding social hierarchies
in favour of befriending each other despite our differences is such a key
message in Heathers and it’s not at all in the Heathers Riverdale episode. If
you’re going to include a musical, please just try to care about what the
musical is trying to say to see if it’s relevant to the context you’re putting
On the one hand, I could be mad that the
ploy to bring the musical theatre fans in clearly worked on me because I watched
the episode but equally, I’m not likely to watch another one so did they really
Now, please, like I said before, don’t think I’m hating on Riverdale. I’m really not. I’m annoyed at one episode of a successful show that has many fans in its own right but that doesn’t mean it can’t try harder. I know the show gets a lot of stick for being cringy and weird but, as far as I’m concerned, as long as it does that on its own turf, it’s all good. But, when it tries to take good musicals down with it, regardless of their relevancy to their own plot and without even acknowledging the key messages of the piece and celebrating musical theatre itself, that’s just sad.
Overall though, there are way worse things to get worked up about. If Riverdale does another musical episode, I just hope it’s an improvement on this one.
In other news, I miss Glee.