Why A Dark Show Like Riverdale Is So Popular


Riverdale which jump-started its television series in 2017 with the murder of a high school student, Jason Blossom, features corruption and darkness that has successfully appealed to young adults across the country.

It is an ominous show that had 2.3 million viewers, according to “Variety” magazine in October 2017. It has been described as “Invitingly dark” by the LA Times.

Photo by: Hannah Clott
Murphy explains the current trend of dark shows.

Tim Murphy has been teaching at Hopkinton High School for 14 years. His classes are Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, Literature and War, and Film As Literature.

According to him, “It seems that both dark subject matter and the corruption of innocent characters have always had a pretty strong presence in human stories… they certainly appear frequently in the literature and films that I teach.”

“I think that there is an element of prestige attached to shows with dark themes and morally ambiguous main characters at the moment. They win awards and get lots of attention from entertainment media. This trend goes all the back to shows like The Sopranos in the 1990s.”

Michael Hamilton has been at HHS for 12 years. One of the classes he teaches is Advanced Placement Psychology.

Hamilton describes some potential psychological reasons for why someone would like a dark show like Riverdale.

He said Freudians, “would definitely say that our enjoyment of show like this represents a form of sublimation,” which means expressing our societally unacceptable thoughts or impulses in societally acceptable ways.”

“We have found a societally acceptable way to express some of the more aggressive parts of our human nature. ”

“Freudians would argue that watching such shows would provide for some sort of emotional release that is cathartic for the viewer,” Hamilton said.

However, sublimation and catharsis are only theoretical and may not apply to everyone when it comes to Riverdale.

Canfield explains why she personally likes Riverdale.

Megan Canfield, a Riverdale viewer, is a senior at HHS and ranks the show at a 7 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10.

“For me, it’s definitely not catharsis If anything watching dark shows… make me paranoid and slightly anxious,” Canfield said. “In fact, I tend to watch positive, fluffy, comedic shows when I need a break….I wouldn’t say it’s sublimation either. Though I guess since sublimation has to do with the unconscious I wouldn’t really know if it was anyway.”

Thrill may also be a potential reason for watching a show like Riverdale.

Hamilton said, “Arousal theory seems like a potential reason why some people really like horror movies. Each of us engages in behaviors that create an optimal level of physiological arousal and watching such movies may provide that.”

Vasatika Ghadiyaram, a senior at Hopkinton, ranks Riverdale at a 9.

Ghadiyaram discusses why she finds Riverdale interesting.

She said she one of the reasons she watches the show is “The amount of suspense in the TV show causes excitement and thrill.”

According to Hamilton, Just World Phenomenon may be a reason for watching a dark show like this. Just World Phenomenon is when people believe that bad people are punished and good people are rewarded.

“You want confirmation that the bad people in the show get the bad outcomes that they deserve,” Hamilton said.

According to Murphy, “Stories thrive on conflict and surprise” and Riverdale contains both of these elements.

People may be attracted to dark shows like Riverdale because they seem to mirror current societal themes.

“The popularity of these shows may be a reflection of the tumultuous nature of American society at the moment,” Murphy said. “Recent political and cultural events have created or revealed tremendous division, dissatisfaction, and conflict in our country. Maybe people are attracted to dark shows because they seem to reflect or echo the times in which we are living?”

Ghadiyaram said she likes Riverdale, “Because corruption is real and shows like that describe real life sometimes.”

“For a few of these shows (but certainly not all), it may just come down to really intriguing storytelling,” Hamilton said.

“I like a lot of dark shows. Sometimes I find them more intriguing than happy go lucky shows, in my opinion. They also usually tend to be more emotional, dramatic and have good characterization,” Canfield explained.

In the end, “ It is very likely that people’s motivations vary for why they enjoy such programs. For some, it may be an escape from their daily interactions and routines. For others, it really might be about the enjoyment of the arousal that comes along with fear-provoking stimuli. In other cases people may want to engage because of the just world phenomenon,” said Hamilton.