Yes, Riverdale Was Cringe. And It Was Beautiful.
In defense of a modern camp classic.
Riverdale actually got a lot of praise when it first debuted... but that changed when it returned for its second season. What was once a clever, noir-inspired murder mystery quickly unraveled into an absurd mess of nonsensical serial killer reveals, unexpected musical numbers, and fan-service-y ship wars. But what people who gave up on the series as it started going off the deep end don’t know is that the further it devolved into ridiculousness, the more fun it became to watch. By its final season, the once-grounded teen drama had gone completely off the rails — and it was all the better for it. Because when Riverdale was cringe, it was perfect.
Over the years, social media’s default mode has been to hate on Riverdale. The show became synonymous with preposterous storylines. Every so often, a clip would go viral, and the common response would be something along the lines of “How is this show still on,” or “Who is watching this?” The answer to that latter question is: Me. I was there when Betty found out she has “serial killer genes.” I was cheering for Jughead when he faked his death to expose a secret society. I was crafting the perfect tagline for Veronica’s mom to use when she joined The Real Housewives of New York. When Riverdale became fully untethered from reality by introducing superpowers, magic, and alternate dimensions in Season 6, I was more hooked than ever. No, it wasn’t technically “good.” It was something better. It was camp.
But sadly, the rollercoaster of haunted dolls, ancient warlocks, and nightclubs owned by high schoolers had to come to an end sometime. As Riverdale pulls off one of its wackiest stunts yet by time-traveling back to the ‘50s for its seventh and final season, let’s look back on the truly unhinged moments that made Riverdale a camp classic.
1. When Archie fought a bear, then hallucinated.
One of the most infamously absurd Riverdale moments came out of nowhere in the middle of Season 3. While Archie is living in the woods outside of Riverdale, he’s attacked by a bear. The show never actually shows the bear fight, just Archie scrambling to his cabin with a giant slash across his chest. To make it even weirder, Archie then starts having intense hallucinations seemingly from his blood loss.
2. When Cheryl basically became the Scarlet Witch and destroyed a meteor.
It’s hard to top the Season 6 finale when it comes to absolutely incomprehensible Riverdale scenes. After Veronica was able to absorb all her friends’ superpowers, she transferred them to Cheryl with a kiss. (Cue one of the show’s funniest lines: “It's not queer-baiting; it's saving the world.”). Cheryl then used her “Phoenix powers” (which are never fully explained) combined with the other powers to destroy the massive comet hurdling towards town. However, the resulting explosion sent the whole town back in time to 1955. Any questions?
3. When Chad Michael Murray ran an organ-harvesting cult.
This is not the Lucas Scott you remember from One Tree Hill. When Chad Michael Murray showed up in Season 3 of Riverdale as the mysterious cult leader Edgar Evernever, nobody could have predicted just how ridiculous his story would be. He used hypnosis to get people to join his cult, then cut out his followers’ organs to sell them on the black market. Oh, and the girl who claimed to be his 17-year-old daughter Evelyn turned out to actually be his 26-year-old wife, so there’s that, too.
4. When Edgar Evernever built a rocket.
The most hilarious part of Edgar’s story arc was its end, when he revealed he’d been secretly building a rocket to escape on once his cult was found out. The scene of Edgar dressed in a full Evel Knievel get-up jumping into a rocket ship that looks like it was borrowed from a state fair is priceless.
5. When Judghead was held captive by the Rat King.
Jughead’s story got pretty dark after the Season 5 time jump. As his drug and alcohol addictions got worse, he wound up spending the night in the sewers, where he met a shadowy figure he knew only as the Rat King. The Rat King wanted to keep Jughead underground with him forever, but Jug was able to escape and find a hospital, where he realized he’d hallucinated the whole thing. Well, not the whole thing. He did cuddle up with some rats in the sewers, and wound up contracting rabies from them.
6. When Kevin started doing tickle porn.
Riverdale never had any clue what to do with Kevin Keller. The constant sidekick has been involved in some of the show’s weirdest side-stories, but none can beat his Season 4 arc when he started making money by getting tickled on camera. He even convinced Toni, Fangs, and Reggie to get into the tickle biz, until his former tickle-boss threatened to chop off his fingers if he didn’t share the profits of his tickling website. Yeah, the tickling plot stopped being so funny after that.
7. When Cheryl was possessed by the spirit of her ancestor and she tried to kill Archie with a scone.
Fully explaining the events of Riverdale Season 6 would take multiple days, a room full of whiteboards, and a crash course in quantum physics. Suffice it to say, things got exceptionally weird this season. And one of the most unbelievable twists involved Cheryl’s ancestor Abigail, a witch who was burned at the stake in the 1800s, returning as a ghost to possess her descendant. Once in control of Cheryl’s body, Abigail gave poisoned scones to both Archie and Jughead as her revenge for their ancestors killing her. Luckily, Betty’s superpower to pick up on threatening auras exposed Abigail’s plan and saved Archie and Jughead.
8. When Jughead’s teacher randomly killed himself during class.
Season 4’s Stonewall Prep plot was one of the show’s most confusing ever. It all kinda came together in the end, but it was never really explained why Mr. Chipping suddenly threw himself out of a window to his death shortly after Jughead arrived in his class. The show tried to justify the dramatic self-defenestration by revealing Chipping had been wracked with guilt over not being able to help Jughead navigate the murder plot he was walking in on, but that never really added up.
9. When Betty’s brother escaped prison and forced his mom to officiate his wedding to the guy who pretended to be him.
This scene still feels like a fever dream. Instead of immediately fleeing town when they escaped prison, Betty’s brother Charles and his boyfriend Chic (who had originally pretended to be Charles back in Season 2 to get close to the Cooper family, but let’s not get into that) beelined to the Cooper house. Their first priority? A wedding. Charles threatened his mother into officiating an impromptu marriage ceremony in the living room. And for the reception, they made everyone stab Betty’s ex-boyfriend. So beautiful!
10. When Veronica’s dad put a bomb under Archie’s bed that opened a portal to an alternate dimension.
Hiram Lodge’s obsession with killing his teenage nemesis culminated in the mob boss sneaking a bomb into Archie’s room. The explosion didn’t exactly do what it was intended to do, though. When the bomb went off, the whole universe of the show shifted, transforming into a magical, monster-filled town called Rivervale. Jughead was eventually able to reverse the bomb’s explosion and return to Riverdale, but in yet another inexplicable development, the bomb’s next explosion gave everyone superpowers. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
11. When Betty did a striptease in front of the whole town.
An early standout for Riverdale’s most bizarre scene, back in Season 2, Betty learned that the way for women to join the Southside Serpents was to put on a seductive show at the White Wyrm. So she stripped off her clothes, started singing a sultry cover of “Mad World,” and performed a full pole dance in front of all of her friends and family. Yes, it was completely cringe-worthy, but the silver lining is that it may have led Lili Reinhart to her role in Hustlers.
12. When Tabitha defeated the devil with some help from the angel Raphael.
Nothing is holy in the world of Riverdale... well, except for the very-real angels. Turns out, Tabitha Tate has an actual guardian angel looking out for her, which she learned when she met Raphael in Season 6. And it’s a good thing she did since the devil had just come to town under the guise of a man cleverly named Lou Cipher. Raphael gave Tabitha a vial of tears shed by the Virgin Mary at Jesus’ Crucifixion, which the diner owner used to poison Cipher’s milkshake.