The scene opens on a picturesque American town on 4 July. Two teens drive in their convertible, roof down and both of their red hair blowing in the wind. They reach a lake, and the male and female hold hands while walking to the shore before getting into a row boat and sailing off into the horizon. Flash forward a few minutes later, and the sunny scene has turned stormy; the red headed woman sits in her water soaked clothes, mascara running down her face, and the mystery of where her counterpart has gone begins.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or, you know, enjoy the outdoors and not binging a whole TV season in one sitting), you’ll know that this is the opening of the angsty teen drama that’s gripped tweens — and the occasional 24-year-old Wonderland writer — worldwide: Riverdale. Based on the characters from the Archie Comics, the show has just wrapped up its second season and to summarise for you Netflix-challenged, outdoorsy lot: it’s been non-stop sex, drugs (which are known on the show as “Jingle Jangle”), murders, sassy comments, and lead character Archie Andrews’ questionable music career. Everything you could ever want in a TV show.
As an adamant fangirl of the series, my favourite character throughout both seasons and the standout character in general has to be the previously mentioned red-headed vixen, Cheryl Blossom, played by Madelaine Petsch. An undisputed bad bitch, Cheryl has had all of the best sassy clapbacks, transformed into a fan fave through one of the most heartbreaking and intriguing storylines of the whole show, and recently (spoiler alert) proved she can wear a Southside Serpent jacket better than everyone else. Sorry, Cole.
“I went in and everyone was like ‘You are Cheryl Blossom!’” Petsch laughs, recalling how she landed the role. Chatting with the 23 year old over the phone from LA, she tells me how she originally went to audition for another show — Legends of Tomorrow — when she was snapped up for Riverdale instead. “David Rapaport casted our show and he was also casting this show, so I walked in to see the producers and he was sitting there like ‘Oh, I’ve got a pilot that you’re actually perfect for! Can you come in tomorrow?’ I was freaking out because being a character on CW [the channel it’s shown on in America] was a dream come true! They’d told me since day one that I was their Cheryl so it was a very unique experience.”
Scoring the role in 2016, the last two years have seen the show — and, in turn, Petsch herself — catapulted to surprise global stardom. “I had literally no idea! None of us had any idea,” she promises, “but as the seasons unfolded we started figuring it out more. When it aired, it felt like it was going to be a very slow burn. We shot for a year before we even aired so we kind of thought we’d all been working on this thing that no one would ever see, and then it did just blow up in a weird way. It almost felt like overnight.”
Launching in January last year, Riverdale has hooked audiences worldwide. Originally being deemed as the villain of the show, Petsch has transformed Cheryl from the calculating bitch she was dubbed in the first season to a firm fan favourite — all while wearing a killer outfit and pair of heels, as “Riverdale’s resident it-girl” is known to do. “I knew from day one of season one that she had some complexities to her and that there was a root of all the anger and that her facade was really a facade,” Petsch explains. “I didn’t know the extent. I knew that her mother had pushed down her sexuality, which was a huge thing and a really real reason to be angry and have this façade because if your mum tells you you can’t be who you really are, of course you’re going to put up walls! As the season unfolded I started discovering more sides to her and layers and the longer you play a character the more sides you get to reveal… It was just a very beautiful ebb and flow of watching this girl develop in front of my eyes while playing her.”
One of the biggest moments of Cheryl’s character development has been her coming out as bisexual in the second season. Starting a relationship with Southside Serpent Toni Topaz (played by Vanessa Morgan), it forms the root of her previous behaviour and results in Cheryl’s mother sending her away for conversion therapy before Toni rescues her and Cheryl eventually emancipates herself from her care in an effort to live as her true self. “She’s finally living truthfully in season two,” Petsch tells me with a measure of pride. “She comes out as bisexual although I don’t really think that she necessarily feels the need to label it. I think she’s still kind of discovering what she really is.”
“The amount of people who have reached out to me telling me that they had a similar story and their parents didn’t approve of it, or they have decided to come out to their parents and Riverdale gave them the courage to do so has been wonderful and life-changing,” Petsch continues. “I meet fans now who are so overwhelmed with emotion because of what the show has done for them and what the character has done for them. I feel so blessed and honoured to be able to bring that to television. It’s nice that I can meet a fan who’s like ‘I’m bisexual and it means so much to me to see a bisexual woman on TV because I’ve never seen it before and I feel like I can identify with your character.’ To me, that’s huge.”
As bisexual representation goes on mainstream television, the amount of characters — especially bisexual women who aren’t just a plot device— shown are few and far between. The fact that Riverdale displays a bisexual couple in a positive light is therefore a huge deal for LGBTQ+ representation on television, especially in a show based on characters first developed in the 40s, aimed at teens in 2018. “I’ve been talking to Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa, who developed the show] for a long time about how there’s not a lot of representation on television for bisexual women. I feel like people see it as this black and white world where either you’re gay or straight, but I feel like the majority of my generation is bisexual or fluid or free, and I think it’s nice to be able to represent that because that’s what is out there right now. It’s actually kind of mind-blowing to me because that’s really what are world is and there’s so many different kinds of people yet you only see a select few on screen.”
Currently on hiatus, Petsch heads back to Vancouver to shoot season three in July and, despite my incessant begging, has no juicy exclusives for what the next season will hold. “I have literally zero spoilers!” She laughs, “We’re still on hiatus so I know nothing about season three other than Cheryl’s obviously a Serpent so that family bond will keep building and that her relationship with Toni will continue to progress. I wish I knew more because I wanna know too!” BRB while I relentlessly check the conspiracy theories online…
Photography - Daria Kobayashi Ritch
Fashion - Jake Sammis
Hair - Michael Kanyon
Makeup - Elie Maalouf
Wonderland Magazine Summer 2018 Issue