TV Critic Holly Pittaway argues that Netflix’s Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina portray their high-school characters in an overtly sexual and inappropriate manner
The hit shows Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina have more than a few things in common. They share the same cinematic universe (for no other reason than to recruit the former’s ready-made fan base for the latter) and they both debuted on Netflix under the same production team. And, of course, they both feature uncomfortably cringe-worthy characters and revolve around a highly highly repetitive plot.
The most troubling aspect of the two shows (and the wider TV genre of high-school drama), however, is their shared determination to overtly and inappropriately sexualise their teenage protagonists.
For those of you who have so far remained blissfully ignorant to the two shows, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the newest instalment to the Archie comics universe by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. It markets itself as a new and progressive version of the classic Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Like the original, it follows 16-year-old Sabrina (half magic, half mortal) as she struggles to choose between her life as a human and life as a witch. Riverdale, now in its third season, is not so easily explained – mainly because the plot has become secondary to its characters flouncing around in bikinis and stilettos at pool parties (because, you know, that’s what kids do). However, the basic premise is similar to that of Sabrina; it’s supposedly a more modern and forward-thinking version of the original comics, depicting the lives of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica.
Most of the central characters in both shows are still in High school. In other words, many of them cannot be considered to be consenting adults – something that the shows’s creators seem incapable of recognising.
Episode 2 of Sabrina stands out as particularly chilling. It’s main focus lies in preparing the titular character for her so-called ‘Dark Baptism’, a satanic ritual that would see her sign her soul away to the Devil. It also features the protagonist seeking revenge against a group of school-boys who insulted her non-binary friend. Sabrina does this by by enlisting the help of the ‘Weird sisters’ to create a twisted orgy scene – girl power, am I right? Together, the young witches cast a spell to make the boys think they’re getting lucky with four girls, when in reality, they’re being tricked into making out with each other. As if this isn’t bad enough, the Weird Sisters decide to then go rogue and ‘take their boyhoods’ – that is to say, they won’t be rising to the occasion any time soon.
And it’s all downhill from here. Later on in the episode, Sabrina attends her ‘Dark Baptism’ clothed in a sombre black wedding dress, and is immediately told to disrobe by the High Priest. She is left standing in a skimpy slip in front of an entire crowd of witches and wizards – something I consider to be slightly inappropriate seeing as she has only just turned sixteen.
It’s a similar story with Riverdale. Many will have witnessed the most uncomfortable scene in television history when high-schooler Betty decides to strip in front of an audience and perform a pole-dance routine whilst singing, only to be ushered off-stage by her boyfriend’s dad (once she had finished, that is). There’s a multitude of reasons as to why this is downright wrong. For one, she’s underage; secondly, her audience consists of mainly middle-age men; and thirdly, it’s just bad – bad acting, bad ‘dancing’, and bad auto tuned singing.
It seems that the showrunners of both shows are willing to use any excuse to justify these teenagers taking their kit off. It’s not exclusive to their female characters either. Riverdale’s Archie is pretty much semi-naked in every other episode, because who needs a decent plot when you’ve got abs like that – right?
As a result of their hyper-sexualisation of teens, both of the Netflix shows have received a hefty amount of backlash. After Sabrina depicted the young witch taking part in yet another orgy, viewers took to Twitter to express their disgust and critics marked the episode as a continuation of a ‘troubling trend’.
The show creators are surely to blame. They hire adult-age actors to portray 16-year-old kids, and then promptly forget that the characters they’re meant to be portraying are exactly that – children. And no one in their right mind wants to see children strip off or partake in orgies on a weekly basis.
Sabrina and Riverdale are hardly the first shows on our screens to sexualise teenagers – just take Gossip Girl, 90210, or The O.C., for instance. But the fact is that it is still happening, and in two shows that claim to be modern and progressive, is simply unacceptable.