Riverdale, a teen drama with the premise What if everyone in the Archie Comics universe was really hot?, is the best show on television. It’s campy, fun, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Most importantly, it’s the kind of show that’s easy to watch — something you could binge over a long weekend, if you are so inclined, which is exactly what I did when I dedicated three days to watching all 13 episodes in the show’s first season. During my Riverdale binge session, I determined that Riverdale, a masterpiece, can do no wrong — except for the one thing it’s already gotten wrong.
Before I get into that, let’s talk about what Riverdale has done right. It’s easy to write it off as yet another show about an Idyllic Town Where Not Everything Is As It Seems, but it’s much better executed than others in that genre (like Pretty Little Liars, a terrible show I faithfully watched for seven terrible seasons). The biggest, most welcome change in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s take on Riverdale, aside from all the sex and murder, is that the town isn’t as lily-white as its comic book namesake. Though Archie, Jughead, and Betty remain virtually unchanged in Aguirre’s Riverdale — except Jughead is a moody writer, and Archie has abs — other central characters have been completely reimagined. Josie and the Pussycats are now a trio of black singers; Kevin Keller, the Archie Comics franchise’s first gay character, goes cruising in the woods; and Veronica, now a recent transplant from New York City, is Latina.
This brings me to my sole problem with Riverdale: Veronica’s parents, Hiram and Hermione Lodge, seem to have a minimum requirement of one cringey Spanglish line per episode. Veronica and Hermione move to Riverdale — Hermione’s hometown — at the beginning of the show’s first season. Despite always speaking to her daughter in English, Hermione sometimes addresses her as “mija,” Spanish for “my daughter,” usually when she’s trying to come across as motherly or protective. When Betty and Veronica get in trouble for exposing a boy at their school as a slut-shamer, Hermione tells her, “Next time, mija, you come to me first. You don’t take matters into your own hands.” When Veronica accuses her mother of doing business with the South Side Serpents, Riverdale’s resident gang, Hermione “mija”s her incredulously. “Now, mija, I’ve done things to upset you,” Hermione tells Veronica after she cuts off her American Excess (lol) card.
Representation is cool and all, but these occasional mijas stick out blatantly in a family that never speaks Spanish or otherwise. There are no signifiers, aside from these mijas, to clue you in to the fact that Veronica’s family is vaguely Latinx — and honestly, I’d be okay with that if the mijas weren’t so nails-on-a-chalkboard grating, sometimes almost rhyming with “yeehaw.” If the Lodges don’t speak Spanish, that’s fine! But if they are going to speak Spanish, can they at least work any other word into the rotation? (To be fair, Hermione does switch it up a bit in the season 2 premiere, calling Veronica “mijita.” She even says a whole sentence in Spanish! In another episode, after Hiram is released from prison, he calls Hermione “mi amor” as they sit by the fire, plotting, which is admittedly kind of cute.) To be honest, though, if Veronica’s mom was really that Latina, Veronica would never get away with half the shit she pulled in season one.
To its credit, Riverdale does Spanglish better than other shows, even if it doesn’t necessarily do it well. Dexter did this throughout its seven seasons, often throwing Spanish words into certain characters’ dialogue just to remind the audience, hey, they’re Cuban. (We’re in Miami, bitch!) On Dexter, Spanish-speaking characters wouldn’t just say random words in Spanish — they’d also immediately say them again in English, so the English-speaking audience would understand. TV Tropes calls this particular cliche the “Gratuitous Spanish” trope — and there’s a solely similar moment on Riverdale where Hermione says “Pobrecita, poor little princess,” after Veronica's attempt at getting her dad to like Archie backfires. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, the second-best show on television after Riverdale, occasionally suffers from the same problem. Every now and then, a crime victim will give Benson and the other detectives a full statement in perfect English, only to throw in a random Spanish word juuuuust in case you forgot she’s not actually from the United States.
One show has achieved the perfect mix of English and Spanish: Jane the Virgin, a show where Spanglish makes sense because one of the characters doesn’t speak English, another is a literal telenovela star, and no one says a phrase in Spanish only to repeat it in English for good measure. Jane the Virgin gets Spanglish right because its writers mimic how people speak in real life. The Spanglish on Riverdale, meanwhile, reminds me of an overeager college student during a semester abroad in Spain.
Of course, there are no rules in Spanglish, aside from the fact that it should never sound forced. The Spanglish on Riverdale is a constant reminder that, hey, this show is diverse, and isn’t that the greatest? Ironically, in a show where cocaine is called “jingle jangle” and a group of teenagers manages to solve several murders that the police just can’t figure out, the Spanglish is the one thing that breaks my suspension of disbelief. The richest man in town murdered his son and heir in cold blood because he didn’t want to inherit his maple-syrup-as-a-front-for-heroin empire? Sure, okay. But a woman calling her daughter mija one too many times? Nah, sorry, I’m not buying it.