Small-town dramas like One Tree Hill and Riverdale have distinctive features that keep fans engaged and returning for more.
There’s a cozy appeal to small-town television dramas. Shows like One Tree Hill and Riverdale attract audiences because they’re the visual equivalent of a literary coming-of-age story. The small-town setting gives audiences a bird’s-eye-view of the drama as it unfolds. These shows are pop culture zeitgeists that encapsulate the emotional experience of growing up in a specific place and time. They evoke feelings of comfort and familiarity, which is why they’re being rewatched by old and new fans in streaming and syndication. Small-town dramas like One Tree Hill and Riverdale have distinctive features that keep fans engaged and returning for more.
Small towns have histories, which broaden storytelling potential.
Small-town dramas are appealing because their history has more storytelling potential. On One Tree Hill Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Nathan Scott (James Lafferty) are rival half-brothers. Their dynamic relationship structures the show’s plot. Basketball, romance, and competition for their father’s affection fuel their rivalry. The history and relationships of Lucas and Nathan’s parents shape the town’s backstory. It also provides a blueprint for the audience to follow as they watch the characters develop.
On Riverdale, the main cast’s relatives grew up in the titular town. The residents’ history ties in with the current storylines, expanding the boundaries of storytelling. Archie (KJ Apa), Jughead (Cole Sprouse), Betty (Lili Reinhart), Veronica (Camila Mendes), and Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) are affected by the choices their parents made in Riverdale of the past. Many of the storylines in the first four seasons explore the characters’ parallels to their parents. In season six, Riverdale’s ancient history connects to the supernatural drama brewing in the town.
The setting becomes its own character, symbolizing the values of the town and its residents.
The setting of small-town dramas remains consistent, which gives the audience a sense of comfort and belonging. The settings of these shows are so distinctive they become characters of their own. While homes, schools, and jobs are featured heavily in small-town shows, there is always at least one location that symbolizes the heart and soul of the town.
In One Tree Hill’s pilot episode, Lucas and Nathan face off for the first time at the Rivercourt. This basketball court becomes a symbolic, safe space for characters to process the drama that unfolds around them. Over the years, the Rivercourt becomes an iconic place where characters have pivotal breakthroughs.
Tree Hill is also home to Tric, the nightclub where residents gather to hear musicians perform. Tric hosted stars like Michelle Branch, Jimmy Eat World, and Fall Out Boy. Since music plays a pivotal role in Peyton (Hilarie Burton) and Haley’s (Bethany Joy Lenz) storylines, having a place where popular musicians could share music with characters and fans alike was an immersive experience.
On Riverdale, Pop’s Chock’Lit Shoppe is the most iconic location on the show. Stylized like a diner from the 1950s, it becomes a place of refuge for the cast from the drama at home. It’s also a place where characters can gather to plan, scheme, and hide from trouble. Pop’s Chock’Lit Shoppe symbolizes the heart of Riverdale’s community, and its residents work tirelessly to protect it from closure.
Secondary characters add diversity and nuance to the established setting.
No small town would be complete without its residents. Secondary characters breathe new life into the already-established dynamics of the main cast, making storylines fresh and more interesting to watch. While the camera initially focuses on the main cast, secondary characters can develop lives of their own, reaching more audience members.
On One Tree Hill the Rivercourt basketball players were so well-received by fans, they got storylines of their own. Skills Taylor (Antwon Tanner) started on One Tree Hill as a friend of Lucas, who provided sage advice amid the drama of Lucas’ story arc. By season four, Skills became a regular cast member, with a backstory and love interest of his own. Skills’ entry into the main cast was meaningful because he was the first Black character introduced in the show’s pilot episode.
On season two of Riverdale, Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan) and Fangs Fogarty (Drew Ray Tanner) entered the scene as members of the Southside Serpents gang. Originally, friends of main cast member Jughead, they were so beloved by fans that they became season regulars. Toni and Fangs’ chemistry with other cast members and viewpoints as diverse characters made them more interesting to watch on screen, which resonated with fans.