Ever imagine a world where Dylan McKay from Beverley Hills 90210 and Cody Martin from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody hung out with Barb, the breakout star who quickly met her unfortunate end on the show Stranger Things?
Of course you have. After all, you're only human, but now fans of these uniquely popular shows can finally see their wish come true this season on The CW's Riverdale, which welcomes actress Shannon Purser to the cast in Episode 3 of the #Archie comics adaptation.
What Role Will Shannon Purser Play On Riverdale?
So far, all we know is that Purser will star as a character called Ethel Muggs, who will team up with Veronica to investigate rumors of a "shame book" circulating around the football players of Riverdale High. Think Mean Girls 'burn book' but with less sass and more jocks.
Currently, Purser has only been confirmed for three episodes of Riverdale, but her recently acquired star power and Ethel's comic book history suggest that the actress could stick around for longer, becoming further embroiled in the quest for Jason Blossom's killer.
Who Is Ethel Muggs?
While she's never starred in a comic book series of her own, Ethel Muggs became a prominent supporting character across the majority of Archie comics, known primarily for her infatuation with Jughead Jones. Unfortunately, Muggs was often portrayed as quite the mug herself, continuing to pursue Jughead even after he rejected her for looking homely and somewhat unattractive.
However, the writers eventually decided to tone down this unappealing facet of her character over the years, developing Ethel into a more likeable figure who was even able to make Jughead jealous on occasion.
Given that #TheCW have decided to take Archie and the gang down a decidedly more dangerous and seductive path for their TV adaptation, we wouldn't be surprised if Shannon Purser's portrayal of Muggs is somewhat sexed up in the show, despite the fact that her #StrangerThings counterpart, Barb, was deliberately dowdy.
What Does This Have To Do With Jughead?
If that's the case, then the Riverdale writers may use this opportunity to create a new love interest for Cole Sprouse's Jughead on the show. After all, his comic book counterpart may have held a soft spot for Betty, but the show seems focused on pitting her and Veronica against each other for the affection of Archie. It's easy to understand, then, why Riverdale may exploit the history that Jughead and Ethel share instead, developing a romantic attachment between the two.
Such a move may finally give Barb the justice that she deserves, but what about Jughead?
Jug's Head Doesn't Have Much Interest In Women
After decades of distancing himself from female affection, Jughead finally defined his sexuality in the pages of Archie comics last year, officially describing himself as asexual.
Obviously, this was a huge deal for a number of reasons. Fans were surprised enough when the openly gay character Kevin Keller was introduced to the wholesome world of Archie back in 2010, but the idea of identifying an iconic character as asexual took things to a whole new level.
Understandably, many fans assumed that Riverdale would incorporate this key trait into Jughead's portrayal onscreen. However, The CW currently have no plans to acknowledge Jughead's asexuality and have even gone so far as to involve him in sexual relationships with women, possibly including Ethel Muggs somewhere down the line.
Will Jughead Ever Be Asexual On Riverdale?
Fans are understandably disappointed that asexuality has once again been swept under the rug within the public domain. However, while speaking at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, Sprouse may have given some hope to the idea that Jughead's orientation could be explored later down the line.
Heroic Hollywood reported Cole's views on the matter:
“Jughead will have romances with women … and burgers, but at the end of the day, I still had to do my job.... asexuality is not one of those things in my research that is so understood at face value and I think maybe the development of that narrative could also be something very interesting and very unique and still resonate with people, and not step on anyone’s toes."
MTV reported that Sprouse believes his character's initial relationships with women such as Ethel Muggs could help Jughead come to terms with his asexuality in future seasons, explaining that;
"If Season 1 is one of those events or something like that needs to happen in Season 1 for Jughead to eventually realize that kind of narrative, I’d love to play with that too.”
Asexuality Is Poorly Represented In Pop Culture
The fact that Sprouse vows to keep "fighting for this pretty heavily" is both a brave and important step for the representation of asexuality in pop culture. At a time when visibility for more prominent orientations such as homosexuality is still far from perfect, asexuality remains more on the fringe than ever, and misunderstood by the masses at large.
To date, the few examples of asexuality depicted in pop culture tend to misrepresent the issue, suggesting that those who identify in this way are just confused and can be 'cured' by having sex. In reality, asexual people experience very few or no sexual desires towards others, and the idea that people who identify in this way should even be 'cured' in the first place is both reductive and offensive. Unfortunately though, #TV shows such as House, Sirens and a movie called The Olivia Experiment are all guilty of perpetuating this view in recent years.
However, all isn't lost just yet. Despite experiencing romance narratives in almost every aspect of pop culture, asexuals are now beginning to see themselves represented onscreen in the likes of The Big Bang Theory and Bojack Horseman. While the portrayal of Sheldon's asexuality remains problematic for some, Bojack's sidekick Todd recently began to explore his orientation in a way that was surprisingly positive and accepting, leaving us with some hope for the future.
Does It Really Matter Whether Riverdale's Jughead Is Asexual Or Not?
Think about it. Almost every conceivable story line ingrained in pop culture, whether it's from film, TV or literature, all revolve around the notion that sex is causally linked to happiness. While this may be true to an extent for some, such views can cause significant psychological damage to asexual people who may feel that they are 'afflicted' in some way, or doomed to suffer a lonely existence.
For young asexuals who are regularly bombarded with such negativity, who are regularly told that they're invisible or that their orientation can somehow be 'fixed', mainstream representation in the form of Jughead would be a godsend. After all, Cole Sprouse's character is already asexual in the comics and the show is determined to focus on teenage struggles anyway, so why not incorporate this much maligned or ignored minority in a positive and powerful way?
Producer Greg Berlanti told The Hollywood Reporter how he plans to include more diversity on Riverdale in the future, explaining that:
"It hasn't gone away forever, my interest in doing shows that are relevant — and that's how I used to think about it. It felt to me that if we were doing character-based shows, and we weren't dealing with issues that people were dealing with or that you saw on the nightly news, it just wasn't appealing. I felt like the richness of the characters was determined by all the things you could go into. We're doing Riverdale right now [at The CW], which will be a straight character show, and I'll push. Even in the pilot, we deal with some of those issues. There's a gay character, a closeted character, a child on medication. So yeah, the seeds are there."
Is this lesbian kiss between Betty and Veronica an example of diverse representation or shameless queer-baiting?:
- Does This 'Riverdale' Trailer Prove That Betty & Veronica Are Gay Or Just Stereotypical Archie-Types?
- Archie's Abs Dominate In The Sexy First Trailer For 'Riverdale'
- Archie's 'Riverdale' May Lead To A "Darker" Sabrina Spin-Off, Witch Will Leave You Spellbound
While it's disheartening that Riverdale has opted to ignore Jughead's asexuality for the time being, there's still a chance that this could change as the season progresses. Instead of forming a romantic relationship with Shannon Purser's Ethel, could we end up joining Cole Sprouse's character as he discovers his asexuality? Stranger things have happened...