The fourth season of Riverdale premiered Wednesday night, and though the show has always been dark, “Chapter 58: In Memoriam,” was starkly more somber than any previous episode. The soapy TV show, based on the Archie comics, had to grapple with the real-life death of actor Luke Perry, who died in March after suffering a stroke. Perry played Archie’s father, Fred Andrews, who was often the moral center of the show.
The scene from last night’s episode where FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich) tells Archie (KJ Apa) and his mother (Molly Ringwald) about the car accident that killed the patriarch is hard to watch. Everyone onscreen is red-eyed and crying. There likely wasn’t a whole lot of acting required to conjure the deep emotions that course through the episode.
Archie learns his father was the victim of a hit-and-run. In true Fred Andrews fashion, he’d pulled over to help a stranded motorist — notably played by Perry’s real-life friend and former co-star on Beverly Hills 90210, Shannen Doherty. In July, she posted pictures of herself with Perry on Instagram and wrote, “I am deeply honored to pay tribute to Luke on Riverdale. The care […] this show takes in honoring his memory is beautiful. He is missed. Today. Tomorrow. Forever.”
Sadly, it took a real tragedy to bring Riverdale back to doing what it did best, way back in its freshman season when it tackled semi-plausible high school dramas, like an affair with a teacher and murder, and not the high camp of recent plotlines, involving a knock-off “Dungeons & Dragons” and a murderous cult. (Wait, weren’t they sophomores in season one? I stopped watching and don’t understand why they’re all just now seniors. Did they flunk? Take a gap year in solidarity with Archie, who’d been in juvie for a minute? But I digress.)
Riverdale has always had the building blocks of greatness, and the first season or so was really, really good. It has a hot, talented cast; wildly imaginative designers; and a seemingly healthy budget. It takes imagination and talent to address tough, real issues. Riverdale has done a commendable job dramatizing a number of topical subjects, like gay conversion therapy for example, and the cast is quite diverse (though uniformly hot). But after seasons and seasons of soap opera death — a son is shot by his father in an elaborate drug scheme cover-up; a series of high school students drink the literal Kool-Aid and turn up dead with blue-stained lips — it’s refreshing to watch Riverdale pause, take a breath, and sincerely honor an actor and a character gone before his time.