Britta Lundin, TV and novel writer by day and fangirl by always, is a writer on the CW show Riverdale and author of the groundbreaking fandom novel Ship It. During an appearance at the Boston Teen Author Festival, Nerds and Beyond sat down with her to discuss Riverdale, both her role on the show and what is to come in season three.
Warning – spoilers for season two of Riverdale ahead. Proceed with caution.
Nerds and Beyond: What made you interested in TV writing, and what exactly does your job entail?
Britta Lundin: I’m a story editor, which is just a fancy word for writer – which is confusing for anyone who is not literally inside a writers’ room. I have wanted to be a TV writer basically since I became interested in The X-Files. I was like, “I want to do the thing that makes these people talk. I want to write the words that they’re saying, and then I can write them kissing each other.” (laughs) “The people who are really in power are the writers, and I want that job.” So I went to film school and I moved out to LA and I was writing a lot of scripts. Ship It‘s original screenplay version was the script that finally got me an agent and was my writing sample for Riverdale. Riverdale was my favorite pilot of that year and I was so excited to meet with Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] (the creator of the show) and I couldn’t believe I got staffed on it, I was just over the moon happy about it.
In terms of what our day to day is like, we show up at about 10 a.m., we sit in the writers’ room, and we just start talking about whatever episode we’re working on. There are twelve of us and we sit around a big table and have a very organic conversation. We start talking about one character’s story, so maybe an Archie story. We’ll talk about where he left off at the end of last episode, where we want him to go at the end of this episode, and what kind of steps he could take to get there. Once we get the Archie story, we’ll go on to the Betty, Jughead, and Veronica stories and then a parent story or a Cheryl or a Reggie or whoever else is in that episode. And then we’ll weave the storylines together and write an outline. Once we have an outline we get notes back from the network and the studio, and then we go to script – someone gets assigned the episode but it’s all very collaborative. We write the episode, it gets more notes from the studio and the network and at that point the actors tend to weigh in, and then it goes to shoot. It’s all a very, very brisk process.
N&B: Do you have a favorite episode you’ve written?
BL: I cowrote with Brian Patterson episode 10 of season one which is the episode where Betty throws Jughead a birthday party, and that episode has the iconic line, “I’m weird. I’m a weirdo.” (laughs)
N&B: Was that your line?
BL: I think it originated somewhere in the writers’ room. It had certainly been said many times before it made it to script. I don’t know that you can point to any one person who said it first – I’m sure someone did, but it’s lost to the sands of time.
But that was the first time where we were watching the internet the night it premiered and sort of overnight it became a meme. When we woke up in the morning it was everywhere. That was the moment where I was like, “Oh my god. We have so much power writing this show. And we just think we’re twelve nobodies sitting in an office building in Burbank. And then suddenly we write something and a million people are riffing on it on the internet and we’re like, ‘Wow. This has power.'”
The other important episode to me is episode 17 of season two which is the episode where Cheryl and Toni kiss for the first time. I was very happy that I got that episode. Again, I wrote that with Brian Patterson and being on set for that moment was very powerful to me. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to put myself in a position where I can make characters gay and then I was finally on set for the day that this ship was going canon and this character was queer and it was being said on a TV show that teens will see all over the world. It was a powerful experience to the point where where I was crying on set that day.
N&B: When you decided to introduce Toni Topaz, was the idea that she would be a romantic interest for Cheryl?
BL: No, she was originally introduced because Jughead went to Southside High and we needed someone for him to talk to over there. Toni Topaz was from the comics and we decided to bring her in. And then we just saw the chemistry she had with Cheryl, and we were like “that’s interesting.” These two bounce off each other, they’re kind of opposites in some ways. Cheryl is very high femme and Toni fixes motorcycles and is a gang member. And now they’re wearing each others’ clothes, so it’s a whole thing.
N&B: This season there was a musical episode – where did that come from?
BL: Our show runner Roberto is a huge musicals fan. He comes from the Broadway world and it’s just something he loves very deeply. We had always talked about doing a musical episode but we weren’t sure if it was going to be possible because of the tight scheduling timeline. It’s hard enough to write a regular episode on our schedule and then we’d have to make it musical. But he was very passionate about it and they pulled it off, it was kind of amazing. The first time we watched it I think every single writer had their jaw on the floor. We couldn’t believe how good it looked.
N&B: Riverdale is based on the Archie Comics – how does it work adapting 75 years of comics to what seems to be a much darker show?
BL: We’re very different from the comics, but they are the same characters. So sometimes when we get stuck on a storyline we’ll say, “What would Archie from the comics do?” or “What would Veronica from the comics do?” and we’ll remind ourselves that we know these characters that have been with us for generations. So Veronica is still Veronica and Archie is still Archie, even when he gets in deep with Hiram Lodge and he’s in over his head and he has an 8-pack, he’s still Archie Andrews, boy-next-door. What does that kid want? It’s something that grounds us.
N&B: While I’ve got you here, I have to ask about season three of Riverdale. Through season two, every time it looks like Hiram is going to be taken down, he’s one step ahead, and Archie for the most part just went along with it! Is there anyone in season three who is a match for him?
BL: Isn’t he a delicious villain? Well, this season is very much about Archie coming to terms with the mistakes he made in season two. So you’re going to see a lot of growth from Archie this season. Hiram Lodge continues to be delicious, but in new unexpected ways.
N&B: What can you share about Cheryl and the Serpents?
BL: Cheryl… it’s so funny because we’re writing episode nine right now so I’m trying to think back to what happens in episodes one and two and three. Cheryl is a member of the Serpents, and that’s new for both Cheryl and the Serpents. I think she doesn’t always behave the way a traditional Serpent would.
N&B: The Cooper family had a go of it in season two. How are they dealing in season three?
BL: With the revelation that Hal Cooper was the Black Hood, the whole Cooper family is reeling from that and dealing with it – or not dealing with it. Polly is back and Alice is coping in some unhealthy ways. Well, I wouldn’t say unhealthy. She’s coping in her own way.
N&B: With Hermione now mayor but seemingly on the rocks with Hiram, how will her new position work out and how is her family life?
BL: Hermione is in a precarious situation. She is mayor and she is married to Hiram Lodge and those both come with their own sets of problems. (laughs) All of that will be particularly difficult for Veronica who is trying to get her speakeasy off the ground underneath Pop’s, which… bet you didn’t know there was a basement down there!
N&B: This is going to be an alcoholic speakeasy? They are high-schoolers, right?
BL: She’s a young woman with a small business and whether or not to serve alcohol is addressed in the show.
N&B: And the big one – Archie being arrested.
BL: We pick up in episode one on Labor Day and all summer Archie has been standing trial for the murder of Cassidy Bullock. So in the first episode back you learn the outcome of that trial and it feels like Archie’s fate hangs in the balance, but really the fate of Riverdale hangs in the balance – so you better watch that one live.
N&B: Coming from a fangirl place, is it hard to not tell people what’s going to happen?
BL: Constantly. I constantly want to reassure people but I can’t. It’s also like when fans get any little tidbit of information they want to discuss it, but I can’t do that because I know too much. I can’t say anything. It’s even a problem at home because I’ll be talking about work and my wife will be like, “(gasp) Was that a spoiler?” So I can’t even talk about work at home. (laughs)
N&B: Finally, what would your lightsaber color be?
BL: I would pick a neon pink. I’m not a very pink person but that’s why I like it. That lightsaber comes out and the enemy is like, “Woah, who is this person?” (laughs)
Thank you Britta for taking the time to speak with us! Season three of Riverdale premieres Wednesday, October 10 at 8/7c on The CW, and stay tuned for part two of our interview all about Britta’s book, Ship It.