‘Riverdale’ Season 3 Dabbles in the Occult as Archie Faces Jail Time

Riverdale” has returned for a third season that promises to be just as absurd as the last one. A big hit for the CW network, the show stylishly mixes together every bubblegum teenage, millennial fantasy into a saucy brew that’s hard to look away from. As this season kicks off, Archie faces jail time, girls are angry with their mobster fathers and a bizarre new cult enters the scene. Oh and junior year at the local high school is about to begin.

Summer is coming to a close in Riverdale, but Archie Andrews (K.J. Apa) finds himself in court facing trial over the murder of a man associated with mob boss Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). Archie is innocent but Lodge wants revenge for him turning away from the mob life and siding with his dad, Fred (Luke Perry). You may recall that last season was very much dominated by plans by Lodge and his wife Hermione (Marisol Nichols) to sweep away the poor south side of Riverdale and build a for profit prison. Archie had been Lodge’s henchman for a while but soon turned on the thug. Making things complicated is the fact that Archie is still very much dating Lodge’s daughter, Veronica (Camila Mendes), who wants to break with her corrupt parents and prove Archie’s innocence. The whole gang of friends including Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and Betty (Lili Reinhart) are being affected by Archie’s possible incarceration, even as they deal with their own crises. Jughead is now head of the Serpents gang and is keeping the peace with their rivals the Bulldogs, but on the other side of town the Ghoulies are making new threats. Betty’s mom Alice (Mädchen Amick) is dealing with last season’s stunning revelation that her husband, Betty’s father, was a serial killer. To cope she has joined a strange group in a farm which sounds like a mystical, self-help movement. But the big question hovering over everyone is if Archie can be proven innocent, or will he be framed and the Lodges win.

As with its previous two seasons, “Riverdale” begins a third season with its one basic rule intact: Abandon all logic. Archie and the gang have endured everything from serial killers, mob wars, gang turf wars, shootings, near-death beatings and grandiose conspiracies, all before senior year! Jughead has carried out torture and leads a vicious biker gang, at the end of last season he was nearly beaten to death by the Ghoulies. Yet somehow he’s prepped for junior year without any PTSD. The season premiere has a slightly mellower tone, with Archie being more reflective since he might go to prison. He tells Betty to watch over his dad, and hints to Veronica it might be best they break up. Of course she’ll have none of that and concocts a scheme to sneak into the hotel room where the jury deliberates, disguised as a maid of course. You cannot have a proper “Riverdale” episode without sudden developments where even the tiniest standoff plays like grand opera. Jughead is informed by fellow Serpents that the Ghoulies, now led by former crooked attorney Penny Peabody (Brit Morgan), have kidnapped their official dog, Hot Dog. Jughead immediately calls for a “stealth mission” into the southside of town, now Ghoulie territory. Who has time to think about prom? Once Jughead rescues Hot Dog Penny shows up with some Ghoulies and warns that the northside will now be a target. Cute little Hot Dog now becomes the catalyst for what will no doubt be vicious gang warfare later in the season.

Aside from the leads, other cherished fan favorites return, ready for more drama. Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch), she of Riverdale high society, is now openly dating Toni (Vanessa Morgan), but feels she owes Archie and his friends a lot for saving her last season from a gay therapy dungeon at a nunnery. By the end of this episode she will have her “Hunger Games”-style bow and arrow ready to take anyone who messes with her friends down. In keeping with the show’s fun tradition of bringing back former teen icons to play adults, Molly Ringwald of “Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles” fame returns as Archie’s mom Mary. Not only is she here to support Archie, she’s also taken it upon herself to be his lawyer. It’s a small town, so anything is possible, right?

“Riverdale” has a wicked angle in the way it takes the classic characters of the “Archie” comics and transforms them into teen sex fantasies. Everyone in this show looks too perfect. The guys all walk around nearly shirtless, showing off the biceps, the girls are all in swimsuits or short shorts, with figures that suggest the average high schooler spends more time at the gym and starving themselves than partying or doing homework. Even the sex feels out of a pulp novel as Archie and Veronica shed their clothing by the campfire and then lay together, glistening in the firelight afterwards. In another scene Kevin (Casey Scott) suggests to Moose (Cody Kearsley) that they make a pact to knock boots before the holidays.

But the trick is that “Riverdale” knows it’s a trashy soap opera using a famous comic book as its starting point. It seeks to do nothing more than mindlessly entertain with scenes shot and lit like glossy teen daydreams. This season promises to continue throwing every wild plot development imaginable. Another character brought in from the comic, Dilton Doiley (Major Curda), warns Jughead of some strange entity called the Gargoyle King. Sure enough, Jughead soon finds a bizarre alter made of skulls and bones with apparent victims stripped and bowing before it. And this is before Betty walks out into her front porch and sees her mother with strange, robed figures seeming to prepare some babies for a fiery sacrifice. Yes, you read that correctly. Oh, but before all this Archie makes a bold decision in court to take a plea deal and all hell breaks loose.

Call it what you will, “Riverdale” is far from boring. Good taste is of course another matter. But in the era of peak TV, when high caliber programming is now abundant, maybe a little bit of candy isn’t so bad.

Riverdale” season three premieres Oct. 10 and airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.