Heather McAlpine, an associate professor in the English department at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), started watching the hit Netflix TV series Riverdale last October.
Less than a month later, she was planning an academic conference about it.
That conference – titled Riverdale: A Land of Contrasts – takes place at U-House on the Abbotsford UFV campus (33844 King Rd.) this Sunday, March 11.
The schedule includes 12 presenters, two creative projects and a full day of panels. It concludes with a milkshake social at Rocko’s Diner in Mission, where parts of the Riverdale pilot were filmed.
The show – which reimagines the characters in the Archie comics in a grittier, darker, real-world context – came to Netflix in May 2017 and is now in its second season.
It quickly became hugely popular on the streaming site – both with people who love it, and those who love to “hate-watch” it.
The show has several filming locations in and around the Fraser Valley, which is partially why McAlpine started watching.
She was interested in watching a relatively unserious TV series, especially with the bonus that she might recognize some local landmarks.
She didn’t count on becoming, in her words, “slightly obsessed” with it, let alone planning a “semi-serious academic conference” around it.
“I feel like it was already too late when I turned it on,” McAlpine says, laughing.
As soon as she tweeted that she had started watching the series last fall, fellow English department instructor Ron Sweeney couldn’t resist chiming in.
“It’s terrible,” he replied. And then, almost instantly, in the same thread: “I just finished episode 10.” He, too, couldn’t resist the allure of hitting “play next episode.”
The conversation – how can something so overdramatic and rife with tropes and cliches be so entertaining? – quickly spiralled out of control.
The next thing anyone knew, McAlpine, Sweeney, and a host of other UFV English faculty, students, and graduates were fielding ideas for conference papers and collaborating on a call for papers.
Finally, the conference has come to fruition, with papers considering and reconsidering the show in myriad ways.
One panel focuses on the traditional gothic themes in the show, which mimic Gothic literature and novels; other papers present character studies or fan theories, such as the idea that Riverdale and Stranger Things – another hit Netflix series – take place in the same universe.
It’s been a wild ride, not to mention a hilarious one, McAlpine says.
Conference panels begin at 9 a.m. There is no registration fee, but those planning to attend are asked to register in advance online at FraserValleyRiverdale.Wordpress.com, where the full schedule is also posted.