Self-Awareness as a Saving Grace

Pauline Kael’s, ‘Trash, Art and the Movies’ discusses how films do not have to be of a ‘high level of craftsmanship’ to be enjoyable [1]. In her words, ‘…wit imagination, fresh subject matter, skillfull performers, or a good idea – either alone or in any combination – can more than compensate’ [2].

Cover of an ‘Archie Comic’

Riverdale is a television adaptation of the comic book series known as, ‘Archie Comics’. The television show takes the simple premise of the comics and places it into a theatrical, darker context, in which the characters are navigating high-school whilst dealing with the tragic murder or their friend, Jason.

Promotional Image for ‘Riverdale’

In the clip below [3], the characters are seen going to a school dance. The setting and the action are cliche: the teens arrive to a decorated school gym and we watch as two characters tip-toe around their own romance. The show is filled with familiar tropes and is what many would refer to as a ‘guilty pleasure’. Kael notes, ‘Despite a great deal that is spoken and written about young people responding visually, the influence of TV is to make movies visually less imaginative, and complex’ [4]. This is evident in the clip because it is composed of visuals that we have seen in many films/television shows before it.

The element of Riverdale that saves it from itself, is the self-awareness of the show. As Kael mentions, there only needs to be one saving grace for a film to redeemed from its technical failings. We see this in the clip through the characters’ dialogue. The characters say things that no regular teenagers would say to each other and they acknowledge the familiarity of their situation. For example, Veronica says to her friends, ‘Guys, can’t we just liberate ourselves from the tired dichotomy of jock, artist? […] Can’t we, in this post James Franco world, be all things at once?’.

Comic from ‘Archie Comic’



[1] Pauline Kael, ‘Trash, Art and the Movies,’ American Movie Critics, ed. Lopate (Washington: Library of America, 2006), 132.

[2] Kael, 131.


[4] Kael, 132.


  1. While Kael’s point of films not needing to be of a “high level of craftsmanship” to be entertaining is true, I cannot agree that Riverdale possesses any saving grace to compensate for its quality. I disagree that self-awareness is enough and think the show lacks all “wit, imagination, fresh subject matter, skillful performers…” etc.

  2. While yes I do agree that there are several of the classic tropes, especially at the dance, I would not say that they are self-aware. Yes, the line that Veronica says could be taken as being self-aware, but instead of the other characters acknowledging it, they continue to play into their tropes. Even Veronica is doing this when she says that one piece of dialogue, which makes it seem as if the show was trying to save itself, but just needed up digging itself deeper.

  3. While I disagree with your specific use of Riverdale, I think your point about self-awareness is valid and rings true in many other films as well. You can see in films such as Airplane or Police Academy that are not technically well made that they are popular because they give people the guilty pleasures that they want. While it is obviously a different method than Riverdale, the end result is the same.

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