Trashy TV: My favorite train wreck

Betsy Jarosick, Staff Writer

The CW’s Riverdale is an objectively terrible show. A teen drama based on mid-century Archie comics, the show seeks to be both referential and relevant (though it rarely succeeds). The acting is bad, the dialogue is unnatural, and the plots are deeply strange. The storylines are near-incoherent, and there’s an ill-advised musical episode every season. Worst of all, despite this, the show seems to go on forever. 

None of those facts have stopped me from watching seventy-nine of its episodes over the span of about three weeks.

Why? I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that I absolutely could not stop once I started. While I don’t think I gained any particular insight, revelation, perspective or education from my approximately 3,160 minutes of watch time, it was nothing if not entertaining. There’s truly nothing like looking up from making dinner to see Betty arguing with her secret brother who’s joined the FBI, or doing a double take in the middle of a probability problem because Archie just said he’d been mauled by a bear. 

As I watch, I know, objectively, that what I’m watching is ridiculous, and subjectively, I think something pretty similar; however, I can’t help but appreciate it for what it is. Because the thing is, I don’t think entertainment has to be serious to be worthwhile, and I don’t think something has to be worthwhile to warrant its existence. There must be a reason that cable soap operas seem to go on forever, and they’re still making new seasons of The Bachelor. 

Because, really, what is trashy entertainment anyway? Is it a term reserved for only the most ridiculous of media or just anything without intellectual value? If a piece of media is not adding something of substance to the world, is it inherently subtracting? 

Some things are beautiful and thoughtful—I love to read poetry and read books about old clothing and art—but some aren’t. And, quite honestly, I’m glad: I don’t want or need to hear the laments on society or deep emotional narratives of the people who decided that the characters should simultaneously be cheerleaders and gang bosses. What I do want to hear is more of that ridiculous, over-the-top drama that keeps me coming back and gets me through my math homework. 

This should not be conflated with anti-intellectualism: art is deeply important, and good art is even more so. It can contribute so many things to the world, and even change it. I think it’s a huge mistake to ever dismiss something, especially if we don’t understand it—I’ve never quite gotten modern art, but it still fills up museums—that caliber of high art is not something I’ve been privy to. 

On the opposite end of that same spectrum, I think it can also be a mistake to reject the lowest of “low art,”  or the most “popular” of popular culture. They are popular for a reason, and those reasons can reveal parts of our lives and values in a way that a peer-reviewed paper or high theoretical work could not be. Most people don’t attend architectural tours or spend their weekends at indie film festivals, but they do watch whatever’s on Netflix,  sports, or reality TV. So when we look at those shows — what they’re saying: what’s in them, what isn’t, how they change, and the parts of them that stay the same—we can get a fuller view of what most people like, want, or believe. 

So, though I do have to concede that my favorite kitschy dramas are nowhere near good, they’re at least worth something. And, at the end of the day, it’s all just more fun.