“Riverdale,” a CW show based on the Archie Comics, is well known for its larger-than-high-school plots and chaotic character arcs. But instead of cults, gangs, creepy quest games, or jailbreaks, the Season Four premiere took a break from all that. Instead, viewers got a well-deserved and heartfelt tribute to the late Luke Perry.
When last season ended, the trailer for the fourth promised the same amount of nonsense (if not more) as seasons past. Jughead is apparently missing, people have dark secrets that will change everything, and Betty is getting hit over the head with what looks like a rifle. But on March 4 of this year, Luke Perry — who plays Archie’s father Fred Andrews — passed away after suffering from two massive strokes. So, instead of kicking off the season by introducing a new antagonist (although how could they top Chad Michael Murray’s terrifying cult leader Edgar Evernever) or expanding even the slightest bit on the trailer, this episode put aside season-long aspirations and focused on one thing: Luke Perry. As it should.
Before the episode premiered, the cast spoke to Entertainment Weekly about Perry. Marisol Nichols (who plays Hermione Lodge on the show) claimed that remembering Perry as “the most important thing that we had to do.” Molly Ringwald, who plays Fred’s wife and Archie’s mother, explained that while Perry died before Season Three could end, the showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wanted to wait until this season for the tribute, giving the cast and writers time to fully think about the best way to remember their late cast member.
The episode focused solely on Fred Andrew’s death and Riverdale’s reaction to his passing. Archie (K.J. Appa) is devastated when he hears the news that his father has died in a hit-and-run. He makes Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) double check that the body is really Fred’s. He insists on hunting down the driver of the car who hit his father and continually worries that he didn’t make Fred proud. But Riverdale rallies around Archie. Betty, Veronica, and Jughead (Cole Sprouse) drive a hearse to bring Fred home, and the townspeople line the streets with signs praising Fred. The kids sit around in lawn chairs, drinking beers and recounting their favorite memories and later Archie gives a touching eulogy at the funeral. There’s even a guest appearance of Shannen Doherty — who was Perry’s costar on “90201” a decade ago — as the woman Fred was helping when he was hit. All in all, the actor’s brought a grade-A performance and the episode is hard to watch without tearing up at least once.
However, Riverdale wouldn’t be Riverdale without those terrible throwaway lines that really make you wonder why you’re watching. When the kids talk about going camping, Jughead reminds his friends, “If anyone is scared of bears, well, don’t be, because Archie’s been attacked, like what? Multiple times and still survived.” As if we could forget that crazy fever dream of an episode. Speaking of fever dreams, Archie randomly has one that includes his grandfather and all the other Riverdale characters who have died so far. Jughead has another cringe-worthy line to cap it all off, calling Fred Riverdale’s “knight in flannel armor.”
In a way, with all the reminiscing, the tearjerker moments, and an appearance of the whole cast, it felt more like a series finale than a season premiere. But that isn’t necessarily bad. This is exactly the tribute Luke Perry deserved: While the show didn’t lose it’s cringy “Riverdale” charm, the focus was solely on remembering Fred Andrews, and by proxy, Perry himself.
—Staff writer Caroline E. Tew can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @caroline_tew