Remember when the students of Riverdale High actually went to class and stuff? Yeah, me neither.
Archie and his friends are in their senior year of high school, but if you just started watching Riverdale in season 4, you would barely know it. The students should be focusing harder on their studies and extra-curriculars than ever before, but it seems like they’re thinking about anything but.
Riverdale has seen a steady decrease in classroom time since season 1. The characters used to spend tons of time at school functions. They were always in class, studying, cheerleading, playing football, and hanging out in the music room. If they ever spent a lot of time away from the hallowed halls of Riverdale High, it was a departure from the norm.
In Riverdale season 4, it’s rare that the school makes even a brief appearance. It’s pretty easy to believe that the characters of Riverdale aren’t getting into schools like Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, when they spend all of their time running illegal businesses, fighting crime, and chatting with their dead relatives.
The show is split between La Bonne Nuit, the Cooper/Jones household, the Blossom estate, and Archie’s community center. When we do spend time at school, it’s with Jughead at Stonewall Prep. While all of these locations have become important threads in the Riverdale tapestry, putting each character in a different primary setting leads to the show, and the characters, feeling disjointed. It feels like there are five distinct stories happening without much to unify them.
When used correctly, Riverdale High can serve as a grounding centerpiece for the show. The school provides a place for everyone to come together, often around shared circumstances. Also, since high school is a familiar setting to everyone, keeping the show grounded there stops it from seeming too ridiculous, which we can all admit Riverdale has been guilty of. There are things you can get away with in an unfamiliar setting that you just can’t in a deeply familiar one.
Riverdale even went to the trouble of bringing Kerr Smith in to play the high school’s Principal Honey in season 4, and he’s been extremely underutilized. However, when he has been involved, like when he brought Mrs. Burble in to speak with the students, it’s led to some of the best episodes of the season.
While the stories surrounding the Lodge rum war, Archie’s thirst for justice, dark Betty and the Farm, and Cheryl’s cuckoo bananas family are good, they’re starting to become both far-fetched and repetitive. Obviously, Riverdale fans can handle a bit of absurdity, but we don’t want to watch these characters do the same ridiculous things all the time! The show can be as extra as it wants as long as it remains entertaining.
It looks like Cheryl has finally made peace with Jason, although she now has Penelope to deal with. Archie may have found a new father figure to help him deal with his demons. Veronica is trying to sort out her direction for the future. Betty needs some sane influences more than ever. After the Riverdale mid-season finale, each of these storylines have been redirected. It’s the perfect time to bring everyone together for a more unified back-half of the season.
It’s no secret that high school shows suffer once their characters graduate and head off to college. The transition from the familiar setting which the show was built around to completely unknown territory with new characters is tough to navigate, and many iconic shows have gotten it wrong.
It’s possible that Riverdale is trying to ease that transition by spending less time at school in Archie’s senior year. If that’s the case, it’s a smart move, but I don’t think the payoff will be worth the price in this case. Unless everyone stays in Riverdale, they’re going to have to navigate some version of these waters anyway.
At this point, we’ve already stuck with these characters through years of high school, and we deserve to see them go through all of the traditional milestones. We want to see Cheryl campaign for prom queen, we want to see Betty and Kevin make the most epic yearbook ever, we want to see the big football game, we want to see graduation.
These things are more than just tropes. They’re important moments in everyone’s life and part of what makes us who we are. Graduating from high school, and all that it entails, is a huge deal for everyone. It’s a transition into adulthood, freedom, risk and agency, like few other moments in life are.
Sure, it may seem like the characters of Riverdale are already pretty adult, but we need to remember that they’re not. They have huge, life-altering decisions to make regarding their future. They still have tons of growing to do before they’re ready to leave the nest.
I think bringing the show back to school would serve the show in many ways. First of all, it would unify the characters and storylines, which will be especially important leading up to the spring break flash forward.
Also, it would allow us to see some iconic senior year moments and would provide a perfect place to explore the growth and choices of these characters as they prepare for graduation, and the inevitable next steps.
It won’t be long before Archie, Betty, Jughead, Veronica, and Cheryl have to say their final goodbyes to Riverdale High, but while they still have it, the show should use it.
Riverdale season 4 will return to the CW on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at 8/7c.