The Daily Stream: Riverdale Is Even More Absurd Than You've Heard (And That's Why It's Great)

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Riverdale"

Where You Can Watch It: The CW App

The Pitch: Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines), a beloved student-athlete and heir apparent to the wealthy Blossom family's maple syrup empire, mysteriously vanishes before turning up dead in Riverdale, a seemingly idyllic place that's even nicknamed "The Town With Pep!" And that's when things start to get strange.

Forget the "Riverdale" memes where Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) broodily opines that he's a "weirdo" or Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa) sincerely preaches "the epic highs and lows of high school football," and believe me when I tell you these viral moments are even more bizarre in the context of the series. Case in point: Archie is actually in prison when he utters his infamous line, having been framed for murder by his girlfriend's mobster father after helping to unravel the mystery behind a serial killer who shot and nearly killed Archie's father before declaring war on the un-pure citizens of Riverdale itself. He is then pulled into an underground fight club overseen by the prison's corrupt warden, all while the students of Riverdale High School develop a deadly infatuation with an enigmatic fantasy table-top role-playing game known as Gryphons and Gargoyles. And did I mention that none of this is directly related to Jason's murder and only barely starts to cover the events of seasons 2 and 3?

Why it's essential viewing

How does one begin to summarize the marvelous camp pastiche that is "Riverdale," a TV show adaptation of the Archie Comics universe where the only consistent genre is melodrama, and there are at least 200 sub-plots going on at any given time? It's a series that packs in so many absurd story beats in a single episode that it's easy to forget which ones are real and which are fake when someone recaps them to you. Did Archie really get mauled by a bear and nearly die while living as a fugitive in the forest? Or what about that time he formed a vigilante group called the Red Circle? Or when Riverdale's teenagers kept using a drug known as Jingle Jangle? And let's not forget that time when Riverdale got quarantined because its teenagers were having seizures attributed to a malicious figure known as the Gargoyle King. Or when Jughead uncovered a conspiracy involving his family and the best-selling Baxter Brothers mystery books, even as increasingly-disturbing VHS tapes began popping up on people's doorsteps like something out of the Michael Haneke film "Caché."

I could go on (and on and on and on), but you get my point. "Riverdale" started out as a quasi-grounded teen drama series in its first season, presenting Archie Comics characters like Archie, Jughead, Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart), and Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) as subversive takes on archetypes like the-boy-next-door, the wealthy daddy's-girl, the artistic outcast from the other side of the tracks, and so on. It similarly riffed on Americana with its setting and visuals, creating an outlandish vision of small-town life where teenagers spend their free time getting burgers and shakes at a retro-style diner called Pop's Chock'lit Shoppe and, for some reason, still use landline phones and video cassettes despite owning iPhones and laptops. The show then splashed its world with neon lighting and struck a figurative match to light the whole thing on fire, creating a powder keg of murder, mystery, teen angst, and horniness that gave rise to the beautiful kitsch-fest that it is today.

I'm in the mood for chaos

Much like "Euphoria" responded to criticisms that it sensationalizes and exploits its teen leads by embracing theatricality after its first season, "Riverdale" creator Robert Aguirre-Sacasa and his writing staff have wisely moved further and further away from the edge-lord pseudo-grittiness of season 1 with every passing year. It's gotten to the point where the show's idea of homage is to basically recreate iconic scenes from movies both old ("The Godfather," "The Silence of the Lambs") and new ("Uncut Gems") and insert its characters into them. (This is not a complaint, either.) It helps to have a cast of actors who, by and large, firmly understand the assignment, with extra credit points to Madelaine Petsch and Mark Consuelos (who honed his scenery-chewing skills on the soap opera "All My Children") for their work as, in turn, Riverdale's queer queen of chaos Cheryl Blossom and Veronica's deliciously terrible gangster dad Hiram.

Really, now's as good a time as any to hop aboard this Fizzle Rocks-powered train to Bananaville (which, oddly, is not the name of a place in the Archie-verse so far as I know), as "Riverdale" is promising to get even wilder in its ongoing sixth season and recently-ordered season 7. If you're wondering how a show that's had multiple musical episodes (the ones based on "Heathers" and "Next to Normal" are my favorites), a plot thread about an organ-harvesting cult leader who tries to evade justice by fleeing in his rocket, and a story-line involving a store that rents out snuff videos called Blue Velvet Video (naturally, because the "Riverdale" writers love subtly, the store's owner is named David) could somehow get even more inspiredly ludicrous, just know that season 6 has brought the multiverse, super-powers, and magic into the mix. There's even been an "Unbreakable" homage in the form of, yes, a scene where a character lifts weights like Bruce Willis in M. Night Shyamalan's film.

Here's the thing all you "Riverdale" newcomers need to understand: For its first five seasons, the show always provided down-to-earth explanations for its most confounding mysteries, usually with Jughead and Betty Scooby-Dooing this s**t. But now that the show has finally crossed the threshold into the realm of the fantastical? The sky's the limit so far as where we go from here. (And yet, even then, the actual Archie comic books will probably still be weirder.)