First look Netflix UK TV review: RIverdale Season 4
Martyn Conterio | On 22, Oct 2019
This look at Season 4’s opening episodes contains spoilers. Not caught up? Read our review of Season 3 here.
The latter half of Riverdale’s third run was rocked by the shocking death of Luke Perry. As we’ve said before, Perry’s portrayal of Archie’s old man, Fred Andrews, represented the idealised American man – dedicated to family, humble, hard-working, a rock of stability, a man you’d be proud to call ‘Dad’. Perry’s performance was laconic and subtle, the relationship between he and Red heartfelt and realistic. You believed their dynamic, their bond. In a show which is often hectically paced and sometimes surreally melodramatic, Archie and his father were the homespun figures living in a comic-book world of constant crazy.
Riverdale is heavily stylised – its ‘gothic horror meets Norman Rockwell’s America’ vibe consistently wows and the expressionist use of light is dreamy, but in all that, Archie and Fred anchored each other in a kind of emotional realism which felt a world away from the other characters and their parental woes. Perry’s death from a stroke hit the cast and crew like a freight train and presented series creator with a puzzling dilemma: How to write Fred out of Riverdale, while being tactful and respectful?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacaca’s rewarding solution gives the character a hero’s send-off. Archie receives a phone call out of the blue, informing him Fred has been knocked down by a car on a lonesome stretch of country road, while helping a stranded bystander. Fred died aiding a stranger. He met his demise playing the white knight. It doesn’t get any more Fred Andrews than that.
If Perry had been written out of the show over a contract dispute or simply as an endpoint for his character, having former Beverly Hills 90210 co-star Shannon Doherty play the stranger would have been a bit cheesy pie. Instead, Doherty’s cameo is like a gut-punch and profoundly sad. As the tears flow during the funeral, the display of grief and sorrow is a rare thing to witness, in that it goes beyond acting and make believe. It’s a striking scene providing a moment of catharsis for the cast, crew and fans alike. The sequence feels almost intrusive and prying, in some ways, as it presents an uncomfortable juncture between fiction and real life. To sum up, Luke Perry was the perfect actor to play a guy like Fred Andrews and his presence in the show will be sorely missed.
For once, Riverdale doesn’t come out of the traps running with the plot hell for leather. Arguably, after Perry’s death and the lunatic finale of Season 3, it was time to take a bit of a breather. Episode 2 is well-paced rather than frantically moving from one plot point to the next and is largely centred on the media blowback from Veronica Lodge setting up her parents (Hiram and Hermione are currently doing the jailhouse rock) and Jughead being wooed by a prep school. Elsewhere, Archiekins invites Mad Dog to enrol at Riverdale High and join the football team and Reggie comes to blows with his bullying father. Cheryl Blossom finds herself a new bête noire, in the form of school principal, Mr. Honey (a hard-line administrator who recalls Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Principal Snyder, in temperament and anti-children outlook) and Betty is still obsessed with taking down Edgar Evernever and The Farm. She’s also got to mend her relationship with Kevin, which, if you recall, got a bit tense and strained, when the brainwashed lad took part in a plan to lobotomise Riverdale’s own Nancy Drew.
Kevin says he’s learned a valuable lesson and wants to help bring Edgar and his gang to justice. But this is Riverdale we’re talking about, so chances are he’s still deep into the Farm and playing Betty. Miss Elizabeth Cooper wasn’t born yesterday, though, and she doesn’t trust Kev. Quite understandably.
If you recall, the last episode in Season 3 saw Archie, Veronica and Betty burning their clothes in the woods at night. It also teased Jughead’s death. At the very end of Season 4, Episode 2, another flash forward occurs, the title ‘Spring Break’ appearing on-screen. This short scene sees the gang (and what looks like the entire town of Riverdale) searching for their missing pal in the forest. What on earth is going on here? Is it linked to the prep school? The Ghoulies? The Gargoyle King? The Farm? Only time will tell, but as we know by now, Riverdale is full of twists, turns and hairpin madness; it’s bound to be a gripping ride until all is revealed. There’s no way they’d kill off Jughead Jones, but it looks as if he’s in major peril.
And a side note: please, for the love of West Side Story, no musical episode this year. It’s awful, cringey and totally unnecessary (although Season 2’s musical special landed with a killer sting, admittedly). Plus, we’ve already been subjected to Veronica randomly singing All That Jazz at La Bonne Nuit, in a black Playboy Bunny leotard. Keep the song-and-dance numbers to Veronica’s club, as bits of filler in between scenes, if we must. But to quote Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls, stop trying to make the musical episodes happen,.
Just one more thing: Will Sabrina make an appearance? It’s been firmly established the shows exist in the same universe. But we’ve only ever got teasing references so far. Given how surprisingly supernatural Riverdale Season 3 felt at times, fans are eager to see Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jug meet the teenage witch. Make it so, Robert Aguirre-Sacasa.
Riverdale Season 4 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.