How ‘Riverdale’ Season 3 Can Recapture the “Core Four” Magic

Lacy Baugher
TV The CW
TV The CW Riverdale

Riverdales vibrant characters and crazy plot twists make it one of the most addictive shows on television. As we look forward to Riverdale Season 3, we hope the show can return to what made Season 1 so compelling: unconventional stories, unshakeable core friendships, and a strong supporting cast.

Riverdale, the CW’s breakout adaptation of the Archie comics series, had something of a rocky second season. From the arrival of Veronica’s shady father Hiram, to Jughead’s decision to join the local Southside Serpent gang, to arrival of the Black Hood serial killer, the drama drifted pretty far away from its original focus as a show that told high school stories in a picturesque town full of dark secrets.

Part of the appeal of the series’ first season was that Riverdale delighted in subverting standard teen drama tropes, using the expected trappings of those stories to explore darker, more complicated issues, all while ending episodes with friends sharing burgers and shakes at Pop’s. The show works best when it gives archetypal characters, like the girl next door or the kids from other side of the tracks, intriguing new layers and unexpected dimensions.

As Riverdale expanded from 13 episodes in its first season to 22 in its second, the show struggled to maintain its balance between plucky teen drama and dark mystery thriller. Season 2 often led to stories that dragged on too long, made little sense, and split the series’ “Core Four” characters apart. Here’s three ways we want to Season 3 shine:

Tell More Teen Stories

riverdale-Season_2
The cast of 'Riverdale'.

Riverdale Season 1 focused on the murder of Jason Blossom, and almost every story linked back to his death in some way. Even though Season 1’s main arc was pretty dark, its stories still remained largely about the teens of Riverdale High. The kids had distinct lives outside of the murder investigation, but those same lives were also deeply impacted by the loss of Jason and the question of who killed him.

From cheerleading tryouts to behind the scenes drama at the school paper, to falling in love with one of your best friends, Riverdale still managed to tell realistic teen stories in the midst of its murder mystery. In fact, the show seemed to delight in doing so in unexpected ways, spending time building up a genuine friendship between comics rivals Betty and Veronica and giving stereotypical “mean girl” Cheryl Blossom meaningful, complicated layers. (Not sure how Archie sleeping with one of his teachers fits into this, but that’s also a thing that happened.)

Season 2, however, couldn’t seem to maintain that balance. The arrival of Hiram Lodge’s mafia business, the revelation of Alice Cooper’s long lost son Chic and the battle for control of the South Side weren’t exactly teen-focused stories. And, as a result, the series’ “Core Four” (Betty, Archie, Jughead and Veronica) were all pulled into different, more adult and, frankly, less fun plotlines.

Archie suddenly became a mob enforcer. Jughead embraced gang culture. Betty became a cam girl and helped her mom cover up a murder. What happened to milkshakes at Pop’s, guys? Can we go back to that more than once every four episodes? Season 1 proved that Riverdale can do a dark, gritty story well without sacrificing the show’s teen drama roots. Season 3 can too.

Get Back to the Core Four

K.J. Apa, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse and Lili Reinhart
'Riverdale's' Core Four - Archie, Veronica, Jughead and Betty.

Not only did Riverdale’s “Core Four” spend most of Season 2 falling down increasingly dark rabbit holes, they also spent the majority of it apart from each other — especially Betty and Veronica. Thanks to their romantic relationships, couples “Bughead” and “Varchie” still stayed connected. However, scenes in which Betty, Archie, Veronica and Jughead interacted, let alone behaved like real friends, became few and far between. Season 3 can address this problem, mainly by just letting our Core Four be the ultimate besties we know they are, no matter what’s going on around them.

The Season 2 finale episode “Brave New World” felt like a breath of fresh air because the episode remembered these kids are friends first, even as a world of crazy happens around them. Archie and Jughead actually hung out and acted like the BFFs they’re supposed to be, even if their reunion was due to a mob-sponsored gang war. The musical installment “A Night to Remember” featured a brutal murder, but the highlight of the episode was still Betty and Veronica’s apology-via-song to one another. And, even though the season ended with Archie heading off to prison, this twist still reminded us that it’s his innate goodness that helps hold the town – and the show – together.

Part of the appeal of Riverdale is that no matter how insane the plot twists get, the show always leads back to the very real lives and relationships of the characters at the heart of the show. Season 3 can tell as many murder mysteries or gang turf war stories as it wants, as long as it remembers to make us care about the people involved as much as the next “OMG” moment.

Let the Supporting Squad Step Up

Cheryl and Toni
'Riverdale's' most interesting couple - Cheryl Blossom and Toni Topaz.

While its “Core Four” are clearly the show’s primary focus, Riverdale’s roster of secondary characters is also incredibly appealing. Cheryl Blossom, Josie McCoy, and Kevin Keller are all complicated, interesting figures on their own. Yet, none of them had much to do in Season 2, often disappearing for episodes at a time.

Cheryl fared the best of this group, story-wise, coming out as bisexual thanks to her relationship with Serpent Toni Topaz. However, this development happened after a season in which Cheryl was frequently sidelined, doing little more than dropping GIF-worthy one liners. Neither Kevin nor Josie really had storylines of their own either. Josie found herself stalked by Cheryl for reasons the show never fully explained, and Kevin had to fake date Betty’s brother Chic to help collect dirt on him. Not particularly memorable.

A new relationship for Cheryl – and hopefully Kevin too, after that finale kiss with Moose – is a great place to start, but both these characters should be part of more than romances. Just as Josie deserves an arc of her own – that doesn’t involve her providing musical accompaniment for every town festival and school dance.

Season 3 offers a perfect opportunity for a fresh start for all these characters, and a chance for Riverdale itself to get something of a reset. The town with pep has its dark and shocking secrets, of course – that’s part of what makes it so much fun to watch – but for those stories to work, Riverdale needs to be firmly grounded in its core characters and relationships.

Riverdale returns Wednesdays this Fall to the CW.

Lacy Baugher
Digital strategist by day, fangirl all the time. | Freelance writer as seen on IGN, The Mary Sue, Tell Tale TV, Culturess and more | Co-host of Krypton Podcast | Still waiting for the TARDIS to show up.
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