This review contains spoilers.
4.2 Fast Time At Ridgemont High
“After everything I’ve lived through, I don’t think going back to text books and cafeteria politics is really my scene”
With this line, Mad Dog sums up the problem with tonight’s Riverdale.
Following seasons packed with serial killers, cults, and murderous RPGS, it’s hard to care about the stories of typical teenage life that this episode places front and centre. How can we possibly be concerned with things like football practice when we already have seen Archie nearly murdered by a bear while on the run from his girlfriend’s drug kingpin father? I’m sorry, but as a viewer I’m just not capable of the cognitive dissonance required in order to buy what this episode is selling.
Fortunately, this is Riverdale. By the time the end credits roll we are reminded that in just a few months Jughead will go missing and life in the town will return to (chaotic) business as usual. Besides, Betty’s mother is still in a cult, Cheryl is having heart to hearts with her dead brother, and Veronica makes the stupefying choice to hold a press conference in which she performs a standard from Chicago for no good reason. So this ain’t quite Party Of Five territory. Still though, high school-based stories? Hard pass.
As Jughead tells us in his opening narration, the rest of the summer was spent trying to help Archie cope with the death of his father. (As seen in last week’s excellent instalment). But now the time has come for the gang to begin their senior year. Colleges have to be applied to, dances need to be planned, etc. There’s a new principal at Riverdale High, Mr. Honey (Kerr Smith).
He’s presented as an enemy for wanting to bring “order, discipline, consequences” to the school. His first order of business? He cancels the Back to School Dance that Cheryl and Toni were planning. (“At the last student dance multiple students were murdered,” he deadpans). Despite seeming to have a reasonable grasp of the hellhole he was assigned to, Mr. Honey is viewed as an enemy, someone who dares to challenge the hair-flipping wunderkind that is Cheryl Blossom.
Meanwhile, another new authority figure, Mr. Chipping (Sam Witwer) read the short story that Jughead wrote in the previous episode and was so impressed that he simply must have our burger-chomping, mystery-solving savant attend the prestigious prep school he works at. Veronica warns Jughead that there is no school “more nihilistic or privileged” than Stonewall Prep, but he doesn’t care. Why? Because he can have a deep conversation about Moby Dick there, maaaaannnn. Given Riverdale‘s history with Heathers, I could only think of that flick’s referencing of the Melville classic and try to find a narrative throughline here. Frankly, I’m exhausted.
To recap: Jughead, a man who goes on endlessly about how the most important things in the world are his friends, his family, and the Serpents, decides to drop off all the above in order to do some Dead Poets Society cosplay with characters who have names like Bret Weston Wallace. Sure, this is totally in line with what we know about the character and not at all a contrivance. Eye-roll commencing.
But with Jughead off to indulge in intellectual pursuits, Betty has some free time to try to track down her mom. As she and Charles do their own half-assed remake of Mindhunter, Kevin appears and actually gets some screen time this week. Then he immediately betrays Betty after begging for her forgiveness then runs back into the arms of Fangs/The Farm.
“You are so messed up Kev” indeed.
Betty being a total sweetheart and never one to distrust someone who is clearly betraying her tells Kevin all about her mom’s infiltrating of The Farm. Eventually Charles agrees with Betty’s tactics, because in the world of Riverdale it is perfectly normal for law enforcement agents to have no idea what they are doing – if they aren’t just outright hooligans to begin with. (F.P., I kid). So next week we will have a Farm Throwdown, whereupon which Kevin may or may not screw over Betty again before disappearing from the show for weeks at a time. Whee!
Then comes Reggie. A storyline that could have been a thoughtful exploration of the impact of child abuse left turns instead into a jarring Ferris Bueller’s Day Off homage. I genuinely have no idea what the hell this was all about. Somewhere there is a great connection to be made about how the children of Riverdale are continually being forced to answer for their parents’ sins – especially in light of how Veronica declares “I stand with and for myself” after wowing a quintet of journalists with her take on Fosse choreography – yet none of that comes across on screen. Playing lip service to such a serious topic is not a good look, and something that Riverdale should aspire to be better than.
With the season just ramping up and having to establish what its driving plots will be, it is somewhat understandable that this episode was such a clunky wheel spinner.
Read Chris’ review of the previous episode, In Memoriam, here.
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