Riverdale season 6 review: Jumping the shark with a Midsommar remake

Riverdale is back, and blessedly, it is likewise back on its bullshit — particularly, being the wildest program on television with flair and the utmost genuineness.

Season 5 was amongst the sleepier of the program’s installations. Archie attempted to rejuvenate the town after Hiram Lodge actively undermined it for his own gain. Betty went after a serial killer who abducted women (such as her sis) off the highway and got held at gunpoint by her half-brother (likewise a serial killer). Veronica, now called the “She-Wolf of Wall Street,” attempted to distance herself from a violent Gordon Gekko-type hubby. Jughead did shrooms to assist him compose his next book. Cheryl assisted begin a cult worshipping her dead bro (that includes Cheryl’s experiencing preconception that “imitate the holy wounds of Jason”). Requirement things.

Even compared to other Riverdale trips, season 5 was all over the map. The season was entrusted with finishing up what was expected to have actually been season 4’s plot, prior to leaping the world 7 years into the future, then layering in brand-new characters, secrets, and Jughead narrations. Since of that, season 5’s stories frequently strike natural stalling points. The plotlines felt synthetically extracted — like a cliffhanger where Jughead may be abducted leads into a Hiram Lodge Goodfellas flashback episode, prior to exposing that Container was great after all. And once the conclusions came, they didn’t hit the same thrilling peaks that Riverdale was once capable of. (Chad Michael Murray rocket, never forget.)

But with just one episode under its belt, Riverdale season 6 promises to be something wilder. The writers replace Jughead’s usual voice-over with him doing hammy Twilight Zone-style introductions (complete with winky check-ins, delivered straight to the camera). Unlike Rod Serling, he’s the show’s framer and narrator, but also apparently still the same character. He quickly introduces the audience to the new town of Riverdale — sorry, that’s Rivervale, where everything is the same plotwise, except that the timeline has moved forward a few months, and everything is a bit closer to idyllic. Pop’s never burned down. Archie and Betty nearly being blown up by a bomb in the season 5 finale is hand-waved away as a dream Archie had of an alternate reality where he lives in a town called Riverdale. (No matter what the town is called, Riverdale loves an homage.)

Like the fifth season, Rivervale is fielding a ton of continuing plotlines. It inherited no fewer than five new romantic pairings. None of those couples were together when the last season started, and each of them are marking their own bizarre milestone. Betty and Archie are officially cohabitating, having just gotten back together in the season 5 finale, and are now planning on when they can start a family. Tabitha and Jughead just moved in together after dating for a few months, and he was absent for much of that time. Alice and Frank can’t figure out how to take their relationship to the next level. Toni and Fangs are just trying to get their colicky baby to sleep through the night, while Reggie and Veronica struggle to make their business empire work alongside their relationship.

Archie and Betty look at each other at a carnival during the season 6 premiere of Riverdale

Photo: Kailey Schwerman/The CW

It’s all straightforward stuff until Cheryl’s foray into witchcraft is brought in as the solution, as she uses her newly discovered magical ways to pull people into some nefarious web she’s weaving. The issues climax in a midnight ceremony where the whole town rallies behind Cheryl to sacrifice Archie, including Betty, who apparently used him to conceive a child earlier in the night. “A son, I know it, I can feel it in my bones,” she tearfully beams at him before he gets tied to a post, stabbed, and Cheryl holds up his still beating heart to a dancing crowd. Rivervale believes killing Archie will solve all the town’s problems, from the fertility issues to the bugs in Tabitha and Jug’s apartment to the sick baby. It’s hard to know exactly what this Rivervale alternate reality is meant to be: a fictional world Archie’s living in after a very real explosion left him injured? A five-episode anthology of each cast member’s mystical Fantasy Island world? A simple excuse to introduce the magic of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s neighboring Greendale into the story?

The truth is, everything feels possible after the season 6 premiere, which is the sweet spot where Riverdale thrives. Critics may knock the show for living its truth so bombastically, but fans know the series’ pure, unabashed hubris is its secret, un-parodiable sauce. The season 6 iteration of Riverdale is a bit cheekier than the past season, winking to the audience about where we’ve ended up after so many years. The Rod Serling persona allows Jughead to shed his overwrought, dour novelist tone and be almost impish, relishing lines like, “Let’s go next door, where my old chum, Archie Andrews, is living with my ex-girlfriend Betty Cooper … let that one sink in for a minute.” But though the series is self-aware, it’s never self-conscious, even — especially — when it’s having characters say things like “I’ve always wanted to make it on a pile of money” with a straight face.

How Riverdale lands the plane has never been the most important thing, so long as it can constantly be topping itself and raising the bar for audacity along the way. This is a show where Archie fought a bear, joined the Mafia, and extolled the highs and lows of high school football, and his peers met them all with the exact same sincerity. (All of his choices were likewise largely footnotes to the more bombastic elements of their respective seasons.) Now his first attempt this season to investigate weird happenings has found him with an antler crown and runes drawn on him in his own blood. The premiere’s final sequence in the woods is lofty, bold, and full of incredible aesthetic choices, as the whole town comes together in the Cheryl Blossom Midsommar collection. In other words, it is exactly what Riverdale should be.

The first episode of Riverdale season 6 is now streaming at CW.com, with brand-new episodes airing on Tuesdays.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.