The concept of a teacher dating a student is pretty universally taboo, and yet somehow that dynamic keeps making its way onto TV time and time again. "Riverdale" is the newest show to attempt this twisted tale, and the reception to Archie (KJ Apa) and Miss Grundy's (Sarah Habel) little affair was not very positive.
"I think inherently because it’s a controversial topic, a lot of people are saying, don’t do it -- which I also think is the wrong way to approach a controversial topic," Cole Sprouse says of the turmoil surrounding this on-screen relationship. "I think the controversy of it demands and necessitates its illumination, and I think that’s what we’re really trying to go for."
We have to agree with Sprouse, given the context the show has tried to attach to this particular relationship: Where past shows have tried to paint teacher/student relationships in a sexy and forbidden light -- the first few that come to mind include "Pretty Little Liars," "Gossip Girl" and "Dawson's Creek" -- "Riverdale" decided to tack in a different direction.
From the jump, Miss Grundy is painted as a predator. Her first scene with Archie, which flashes back to the summer they first started their affair, depicts her as if she's literally hunting him; sending him seductive glances from over the top of her heart-shaped shades and pulling over to offer him a ride out of the blue -- if she were a male teacher, that scene would be terrifying, not tantalizing... But "Riverdale" still managed to make it look creepily wolfish and off-putting.
Later on, when Archie wants to come clean about hearing a gunshot in the woods, Miss Grundy pushes back, citing her reputation and safety as a reason to impede a murder investigation. When Archie still protests that they should come forward, she quite literally seduces him into keeping quiet. Their once-terminated relationship starts back up as a way to keep him quiet, and she even goes so far as to confess her "feelings" for him in order to buy his silence.
Those are not the actions of a supportive girlfriend or loved one -- they're the actions of a child predator trying to evade getting caught.
It's also suggested that Archie may not have been the only student Miss Grundy preyed on. Her connection to Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines) is also suspect, given the many hours they spent behind closed doors. "Red-headed superstar with a promising future ahead of him" seems to be her type.
As her arc came to a close in "The Last Picture Show," we see yet again that Miss Grundy is not an innocent young woman who's accidentally fallen in love with a younger man. Her final greedy look at the two young boys walking past her car shows us pretty much everything we need to know: She has done this before and will do this again.
While the storyline certainly puts us off -- as it should -- it's actually a relief to see "Riverdale" wasn't trying to sexualize or romanticize this storyline. They showed it for exactly what is was, an abuse of power and molestation of a minor.
In a world where these kind of stories are often not depicted as wrong or abusive, you have to appreciate the message "Riverdale" is trying to send about teacher/student relationships:
"I also think the audience that we’re approaching or that we want to digest this are people that might not have the voice ... or might not feel empowered enough to have a voice in that dialogue," Sprouse says, "And if perhaps this show can be that catalyst, then good."
"Riverdale" airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.