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Riverdale’s Poor Attempt at Gay Representation

Riverdale, the CW show based on Archie comics, has never failed to catch my attention. For whatever reason, I am drawn to the four best friends and their tumultuous lives every season. And while I can give the show some praise, there is a lot to critique. Specifically, the way the show handles its LGBTQ+ characters. So, in typical Jughead Jones fashion, I am sitting at my computer sharing my thoughts. 

Riverdale had a poor start in portraying LGBTQ+ youth. In season one, the show makes a point to say that the gay best friend stereotype is overused but then continues to use the same stereotypes throughout its run. Meanwhile, the two straight female leads, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, kiss purely for shock value. It is mentioned that queer baiting by way of straight women kissing is out of fashion. But that original kiss is continually sexualized throughout the show. This all creates a superficial tone for the LGBTQ+ characters and how they should be perceived. 

The first noticeable trope is the gay best friend, Kevin Keller. In season one, Kevin is marketed as the gay best friend. Betty’s longtime best friend who likes talking about boys and is there whenever the show needs a plain filler character. Kevin’s character is so one-dimensional that watchers are often left wondering who his friends are. And what are his interests? The only constants in Kevin’s storyline are that he has an interest in theater and has a boyfriend or is looking for a boyfriend. Kevin’s romantic interests are in an endless rotation season-to-season as if the only trait that makes Kevin important are his relationships. 

Kevin’s boyfriends vary from Serpent member Joaquin DeSantos, to closeted jock Moose Mason, to Serpent member Fangs Fogarty. 

The out-and-proud members of the South Side Serpent gang seem like a refreshing take on gay representation. But, Joaquin’s actions of a murder cover-up and betrayal of Archie Andrews make him irredeemable. Joaquin is shortly killed, falling prey to the bury-your-gays trope. 

Moose has a particularly unsatisfying story. Moose was a great character in a believable relationship with Kevin- a lone case in Riverdale, as he was still allowed individual growth and development while in the relationship. However, after Cheryl Blossom publicly outs Moose and Moose’s own father tries to kill him for being gay, Moose’s character makes a series of choices that ultimately cause him to join the army and leave the show. 

Cheryl Blossom, another important character, befalls the crazy lesbian stereotype. Cheryl is the resident antihero of the friend group. She is bossy, popular, and she comes from a long line of serial killers. Cheryl also suffers a myriad of mental health issues due to the loss of her twin brother, her oppressive parents, and eventually her forced admission to conversion therapy. However, the validity and seriousness of how she deals with trauma is questioned because she has been set up as the teenage villain. 

To make matters worse, at the start of Cheryl’s coming to terms with her sexuality, she develops an unhealthy obsession with her good friend Josie McCoy. For an entire episode in season two, Cheryl anonymously sends Josie drawn portraits, threats in the form of love letters, and eventually a pig’s heart. This subplot only builds a foundation of toxic behavior that perpetuates the predatory lesbian trope and leads watchers to wonder why anyone should like Cheryl at all. 

Riverdale has a problem with devolving characters once they are in relationships. Toni Topaz and Fangs are the prime examples of characters with engaging subplots and meaningful friendships who lose everything that made them enjoyable once in a same-sex relationship. Riverdale’s season three antagonist, cult organization The Farm, targets LGBTQ+ youth. When Cheryl and Kevin become indoctrinated into The Farm, their partners, Toni and Fangs, submissively accept and join them. The two characters, who were once strong supporting characters, become accessories for their relationships. 

Riverdale makes a big attempt at inclusivity when “Chapter Seventy-four: Wicked Little Town” premiered in season four. The musical episode adaptation of the off-broadway show Hedwig and the Angry Inch aimed to tell the story of a homophobic new principal and Kevin’s fight against discrimination. However, this ends up being a situation where Kevin has a new interest that has never been mentioned before; drag. The episode misses the mark in creating lasting, substantial, change to the portrayal of their LGBTQ+ characters, and Kevin’s interest in drag is never mentioned again. 

The show struggles with portraying strong lesbian, gay, and bi characters who are single. Moose is rarely in the show when he is not dating someone, and Toni and Fangs are devoid of all motive once in relationships. It feels like the show does not know how to characterize gay characters unless they are in relationships. Even Archie’s mom only comes out as bisexual when she is in a relationship with a woman. 

Riverdale has done a good job when it comes to the quantity of lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters. However, the prominent characters fail to have developed relevant storylines, and are suffocated by tired tropes, cliches, and stereotypes. Meanwhile, the script continues to condemn such tropes, making a mockery of the LGBTQ+ characters

Meredith (they/she) is a sophomore at Pace, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. They enjoy reading, ramen, and my chemical romance.
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