Fans of The CW’s Riverdale (and haters alike) have come to expect the unexpected from the series. What started back in 2017 as a dark riff on the classic Archie Comics, full of sex, murder and intrigue has grown to take wild swings like in Season 6, when the gang all got superpowers and ended up stopping a comet sent to destroy the town by a near immortal sorcerer. But for the final season, Riverdale is embracing perhaps the most shocking twist of all: becoming the 1950s set series viewers probably expected the show to be, when it was first announced.
“It’s been really, really, really fun,” showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told Decider on Season 7’s trip back in time. “It was creatively energizing for the writers when we landed on this concept.”
The concept Aguirre-Sacasa hints at was introduced in the Season 6 finale. Thanks to the after-effects of that pesky comet, the town of Riverdale has been blasted back to 1955. The “kids” — who are now all in their mid-twenties or older in real life — are once again high school Juniors. And on top of all that, nobody remembers their lives pre-1955… Except Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse).
For the writing staff, bringing Riverdale back to the basics of the Archie Comics source material wasn’t just about returning the show home; it was because they didn’t want to “go out on fumes,” according to Aguirre-Sacasa. ” We didn’t want to tell stories about, you know, Betty being a therapist and treating people, and Archie trying to be a foster father to his uncle’s long lost son, and Tabitha franchising Pop’s all over the country… We just kind of wanted to go back to high school, but we didn’t want to repeat what we’d done.”
Enter versions of these classic characters that will feel familiar to both fans of the comics, and the show. Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) is now the earnest girl-next-door for real, but still running the school newspaper. She’s also dating Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), who fans will remember is gay — and don’t worry, that plays in big in the coming season (more on that in a moment). Similarly, while Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) is no longer Riverdale High’s first openly lesbian student body President, she’s still queen bee of the school, and wrestling with some confusing feelings of her own. She’s also got a new brother: actor Nicholas Barasch joins the cast as Julian Blossom, subbing in for Trevor Stines’ Jason Blossom.
Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes) has had her home of origin transferred from New York to Hollywood, but in the season premiere she’s still making a splash at Riverdale High, enchanting Archie (KJ Apa), and having some very serious parental issues. Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan) is probably the most consistent of the characters: still in a gang, still out and proud, still speaking her mind, and still fighting for what’s right. While Reggie Mantle (Charles Melton) doesn’t show up in the first three episodes provided to press, he will pop up eventually — and instead of working at his father’s car dealership, he’ll now be a farmer and basketball star. And Fangs Fogarty (Drew Ray Tanner) is a snarling greaser in the mode of Elvis.
The most changed character, though? Archie. Riverdale started with Archie literally and figuratively losing his innocence — and in Season 7, he gets that back. His father is still gone to due to the real-life tragic loss of actor Luke Perry. But other than that sad note, Apa plays Archie as the earnest, lovable, simple small-town boy from the comics.
“Going back to the ’50s allowed us to go back to the animating idea of the series, which is that there’s a wholesome, innocent quality to these Archie Comics, but underneath there’s these darker, more passionate roiling emotions and themes that we wanted to engage with,” Aguirre-Sacasa notes. “And the ’50s veneer allowed us to do that in, I thought, a new, fresher way.”
Those “roiling emotions” play out in fun ways, like a, er, sex montage that fans have glimpsed in the season trailer. But they also play out in more serious ways that double down on the idea that this is the show perhaps Riverdale could have been (and maybe should have been?) all along: classic Archie Comics characters dealing with serious real-world issues; while balancing high school and romance.
The premiere in particular presents dual tragedies: James Dean has just died in a fiery car-crash; and the trial of Emmett Till’s murderers is coming to a far-too-quick close. While the Dean storyline is used more for plot reasons relating to romance and character motivations, Till’s murder — which was teased in the episode’s synopsis — is a hot button subject of the sort Riverdale has often struggled with in the past. In point of fact, the show was called out by Morgan in 2020 for making Black characters into “sidekicks,” leading to an open conversation between Morgan and Aguirre-Sacasa, and the addition of Erinn Westbrook as Tabitha Tate (who shows up in a surprise way in the season premiere).
Even with several seasons of storytelling post-2020 under their belts, the Till case is one that could definitely raise eyebrows if treated incorrectly. For the writing staff of Riverdale, though, it wasn’t just tossed in there; instead, they used it as a way of assessing the time period, and looking at how it would affect these characters now that they’re back in their teen years.
“When we first talked about doing the ’50s, one of the big questions that we talked about a lot in the writers room, and I talked a lot about with the cast was, are we going to play the reality of the 1950s?” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “That for a certain kind of teenager they were great and super fun; and for the more marginalized groups, the characters of color, the queer characters, it was in fact a very repressive, racist, homophobic, horrible time. And that was the first question that a lot of people were asking, when we were doing research about the period. And we had ended Season 6 with the death of James Dean, when the comet hit and all that stuff, and when we were doing research all around the time of the death of James Dean we realized there was another story that was obviously shaping the country, and that was the trial of the Emmett Till murderers. And two stories about two teenagers, completely different, that spoke to the time period.”
Also raising eyebrows? Seemingly closeting two openly gay characters in Kevin Keller and Cheryl Blossom. While Kevin is with Betty, thanks to casting notices we know that he’ll be striking up a friendship — and perhaps more — with Clay Walker, played by Karl Walcott, an openly gay character. For Cheryl, who was part of a coming out storyline that at least in part won Riverdale a GLSEN Award for “groundbreaking storytelling about LGBTQ relationships,” things seem a little murkier given promos have shown Cheryl not just dating Archie, but also potentially getting married to him.
Don’t worry, it’s all part of the plan. Aguirre-Sacasa and the staff are aware that even if the season takes place in 1955, it’s a TV show that’s being filmed and broadcast in 2023.
“That’s been an ongoing discussion in the writer’s room,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “It goes back to the reality: were we going to pretend that in the 1950s people could be open and out and proud and gay, and were we going to pretend there was no racial tension and no racial strife, and things like that? And it felt like it was a needle to thread, and that’s kind of how we saw a lot of this stuff. That said, we did a lot of research in the 1950s, there absolutely were safe havens for queer people, there were outlets for queer people, and there were queer relationships that were quite fulfilling and quite joyful, but still had to be open secrets, or more secretive like that, and it felt like we had to find our way through that.”
So fans can breath a sigh of relief, because those more “joyful” moments are coming. Also coming? A time jump. Though as of this writing Riverdale is filming around Episode 13, which is still set in the ’50s, Aguirre-Sacasa confirmed that the entire 20 episode long final season will not be set in the 1950s. So does that mean the final page of Riverdale has been written? That all the endgames are in the books, and Jughead has narrated for the final time?
“We are not done writing the season,” Aguirre-Sacasa said, laughing, when asked if that was it for the Town With Pep. “We are nowhere done near writing the season.”
Seems like even with 13 plus episodes of issue-driven, small-town classic Archie Comics stories, there’s still time to get back to some classic Riverdale style insanity. Bring it on.
Riverdale premieres Wednesday, March 29 at 9pm ET on The CW.
The post Welcome to the ‘50s: ‘Riverdale’ Goes Back in Time for the Final Season appeared first on Decider.