If you've been watching Riverdale, you may have noticed that Cheryl Blossom isn't your average villain. On the surface, she's an elitist bully that belittles those she deems beneath her, but look a little deeper and you'll find a broken girl desperate for her parents' approval and affection. It's a nuanced role, and purposefully so, because Riverdale star Madelaine Petsch thinks Cheryl subverts the mean girl trope in a powerful way.
During a recent interview withVulture, she explained that playing Cheryl taught her that "most of the things that people do around you have nothing to do with you" — a revelation that could resonate quite deeply with high school kids confronting bullies. As she told the outlet,
"It shows the younger generation that being bullied has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with the way the person is and how they feel about themselves. One-hundred percent of the time, that’s what’s going on with bullies. Cheryl is so broken and she’s bullying everyone around her. I hope kids can take away the reasons why."
It's a meaningful takeaway, and one that falls in line with a larger TV trend of stepping away from high school archetypes. Teen dramas like Pretty Little Liars and 13 Reasons Why have also done well in making their characters multi-dimensional, painting them as more than just an obligatory plot point. PLL, for example, fleshes out its villains' motives with heartbreaking backstories, and though that doesn't excuse their twisted, often dangerous schemes, it does make them feel more human.
And while 13 Reasons Why features stereotypical cliques — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the honor students, the nerds — it takes things a step further by explaining their behavior with personal details. Outcast Tyler just wants someone to talk to, type-A Courtney is struggling to accept her sexuality, and cool kid Alex is wrestling with his own dark demons.
By exploring more fully realized characters, shows like Riverdale, PLL, and 13 Reasons Why mirror life more realistically, giving kids an outlet to better understand and identify with one another. Television may be full of imaginative, escapist stories, but that doesn't mean it can't teach some important lessons along the way.