Ah, “Riverdale.” The show started with a promising premise based on the “Archie Comics,” positioning itself in Season 1 as another teen murder mystery show with the right balance of angsty drama and cutting-edge suspense.
Archie was the archetypal “good” guy torn between music, sports and, of course, love interests, including a fling with the music teacher of Riverdale High. Jughead and his iconic beanie dealt with homelessness and discovering that his father was the head of the Southside Serpents gang. Veronica, the new girl to Riverdale, and Betty, the girl next door, became fast friends despite being caught in a love triangle with Archie while investigating each of their respective families.
However, by Season 2 and 3, “Riverdale” somehow managed to transition to serial killers (yes, multiple killers in the small town of Riverdale) and a brainwashing, organ-harvesting organization called the Farm. Riverdale is amusingly self-aware of how ridiculous the plot has become.
Betty’s mom is thought to be totally enamored with the Farm, but is ultimately revealed to be an FBI agent working with Betty’s long-lost brother. Jughead’s dad is now the sheriff of the police department that arrested Veronica’s dad, Hiram Lodge, a business tycoon who practically owns everything and everyone in Riverdale. The parents are embroiled in as much of this spiderweb as their children are.
Season 4 is supposed to mark a return to “normal” high school life, whatever that means anymore. It would have been super easy and understandable to forget that the main characters are teenage high school students when they are running a speakeasy, breaking out of prison or in charge of a neighborhood gang. Returning back to high school feels comical, especially when Archie had to take the SATs after running away to the Canadian wilderness and surviving a bear attack.
The Season 4 trailer is nostalgically reminiscent of Season 1’s themes. Veronica is immersed in the mystery of her father and figuring out how to navigate her dysfunctional family dynamic. Betty is a budding detective again, this time around focusing on her long-lost brother, Charles, who has suddenly come into her life. Jughead goes to prep school and deals with the adjustment of being an outcast in a new environment.
Only Archie maintains his Season 3 storyline, continuing work with his boxing gym, though it seems he is back to Season 1 in terms of interesting plot and character development.
Of course, no trailer of “Riverdale” would be complete without flaunting the admittedly good-looking cast. Just about every possible couple can be seen passionately making out while half-naked, except for poor Kevin. He is still relegated to the gay friend only used when it’s convenient to advance the storyline, despite being part of the main cast since the second season.
I continued watching “Riverdale” in the second and third seasons despite the precipitous drop-off in the quality of writing since the first. Watching in anticipation to see what could possibly happen next to top the previous “did they really just do that” moment is the essence of consuming this type of media.
Many people who enjoyed the dramatic yet still sensible first season stopped watching through the next two seasons as the show became focused solely on shock factor. In the first season, becoming invested in the characters and their storylines was still a possibility. The following seasons displayed disappointing character development, or lack thereof, sacrificing it for plot twists that slowly became less surprising.
If the fourth season is going back to the first season but a chunk of those original viewers are lost, it will be interesting to see how “Riverdale” fares in its fourth season. The first episode paid a beautiful tribute to the late Luke Perry’s character, Archie’s dad Fred Andrews, and is probably not representative of the vibe of the remaining episodes.
The episode starts with some classic narration by Jughead, who proclaims the shocking normalcy of the town of Riverdale after the events of the Black Hood and the Farm. Things are going so calmly that Riverdale is even going to have an Independence Day celebration for the first time in three years since Jason Blossom’s death.
As expected, Cheryl is back to her bombshell ways and promises to protest the celebration planned by Veronica, Archie, Jughead and Betty. However, viewers who follow the show know that this normalcy cannot possibly last for long. While at Pop’s, the local diner, with his friends, Archie gets a phone call that changes his life forever. His dad is dead.
Fred pulled over to help a lady with a flat tire. Someone was speeding dangerously down the road, and, as Archie finds out later in the episode from the lady herself, Fred pushes her out of the way of the oncoming car, saving her life. The episode was a poignant recollection of the father that Mr. Andrews was to everyone in Riverdale, and the town comes out in full recognition of his contributions when Archie brings Fred’s body back to Riverdale.
The remembrance is organized by Cheryl, who knows the pain of losing a loved one. Jughead’s episode-ending obituary sums up not only Fred’s legacy but also Perry’s. Fred quite literally, “left Riverdale better than when he found it” through his construction work and his incredibly good spirit, just as Perry left the show “Riverdale” better than he found it.
The season opener was a solemn start to what looks to be an otherwise dramatic season. How are the writers going to explain Archie, Veronica and Betty standing around a fire covered in blood (and obviously half-naked), burning Jughead’s beanie while he’s nowhere to be seen? Lili Reinhart, who plays Betty, suggests that the writers are in the dark about what’s going to happen just as much as the viewers are.
How quiet is Hiram Lodge going to be in jail? Who is Charles and can Betty trust him? Most critically, will any of the main characters graduate high school? This all remains to be seen in the final 21 episodes of Season 4. Despite the trainwreck that “Riverdale” can be, catch me watching this guilty pleasure every week as the show finishes its fourth season.