From ‘Riverdale’ to ‘Bates Motel’: Revisiting Classics With Progressive Images of Women

TV shows that draw on decades old source material are not exactly a new phenomenon, but there is certainly a new trend arising from it: the revitalization of classic, but problematic, material. The fact is, there is an overwhelming number of great stories out there that, by today’s standards, are burdened by their historical baggage — perhaps most notably in their politics of gender and sexuality. A good example is the cover of a 2011 Archie & Friends comic, in which Archie is asked how he tells apart his set of twin girlfriends, and with a big smile he replies: “I don’t even try!!”

As popular culture becomes increasingly progressive, looking back at some of our favorite classics requires a certain amount of whistling passed some pretty unfavorable images of patriarchal and heteronormative values. But we do it because, hey, they’re the classics! And we justify it with extensive contextualization, which is fine. But what’s braver, is questioning those images. And that’s exactly what we are seeing on TV these days with shows like Bates Motel (2013 – 2017) and (2017 – present). These shows are more than simple remakes, reboots, or re-imaginings, they are subversive re-contextualizations; and though they aren’t perfect, they’re rather brilliant.

Let’s take a look at why.

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images credit to The CW and A&E

The Walking Dead: “Something They Need” and Female Leadership

Despite initially offering some problematic portrayals of women – Lori, Andrea, and Carol – The Walking Dead has really stepped up its game in the last few seasons. Lori and Andrea were killed off, so that takes care of that; and Carol transformed from abused housewife to tough-as-nails survivor. More women eventually got added to the main cast, and they keep getting stronger and more well-rounded.

Now, Maggie, Michonne, Rosita, Tara and Sasha make up some of the best female characters on TV today. But it took until Alexandria for us to get a female leader; and soon after, she died and Rick took over. Then we met Dawn, who was in charge at the hospital. She turned out to be two-parts villain, one-part weakling who couldn’t stand up against the wrongs she knew she and her group were committing. Even more recently, we met Jadis. There’s not much yet that can be definitively said about this group, except that they are strangely modelled after a 90s sci-fi flick. Unfortunately, it’s unclear at this point if Jadis is friend or foe.

Suffice it to say, the depiction of female leadership has been questionable. Nonetheless, this week’s episode, “Something They Need” shined a spotlight on two of the season’s most significant female leaders. Natania of Oceanside, and the rising leadership of Maggie, at Hilltop. Both make very interesting case studies for the authority of women in a post-apocalyptic world.

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Image Credit: AMC