This week Riverdale did their rendition of Heathers: the Musical. The musical aspect certainly helped this episode feel more fun and distinctive, but overall it still fell flat.
In its two musical episodes, Riverdale has done a better job than most TV musicals of fitting the songs to what’s going on with the characters. On a basic level, the execution is pretty clever. But, there’s a lot that’s lacking.
The obvious issue is that no one in the cast of Riverdale is an especially strong singer or, more importantly, an interesting singer. At least the way Riverdale presents these voices, everyone sounds bland in the same way. The musical numbers don’t really pop because they don’t sound distinctive. It’s very Kidz Bop.
The feeling that everything is a little too bland and homogenous extends beyond just the actual vocal quality. There’s a lack of real emotion and character in the overall presentation. At one point, Toni Topaz got so angry at Cheryl Blossom that she tried to initiate a threesome in the middle of the school auditorium. In concept, that’s an all-time great over-the-top dramatic teen drama moment. In execution, it had the same sanitized High School Musical feel as the rest of the episode.
The other big issue was that mapping Heathers onto Riverdale drew attention to the show’s dramatic shortcomings. Heathers is so powerful because even though it’s hyperbolic, at its core it’s portraying the real everyday tensions of existing as a teenager. Riverdale season 3 is half supernatural horror and half mafia movie. Mixing that with something that actually understands teens was a reminder of how far afield the season is. Listening to Veronica Lodge sing about how she can’t escape her stifled teen life until college, as we see her working at her nightclub which is raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars, created cognitive dissonance that’s hard to reckon with.
The episode also has a central conceit that watching the school musical indoctrinated people into a cult. The episode underexplained this concept. When the episode reached its conclusion, instead of feeling chilled to the bone, I was just confused. They could’ve at the very least introduced an audiovisual element that was subliminally effecting people. Instead we were just supposed to understand that of course watching Heathers: the Musical would indoctrinate people into a cult. Forget it. It’s Riverdale.