A lot has happened on Riverdale recently. To be fair, a lot is constantly happening on Riverdale — the show’s ethos centers on outrageous crimes, cults, abs, and age-inappropriate cabaret acts — but ever since the show’s big seven-year time jump it’s been acting out on another level. Archie has been in a war. Betty is hunting serial killers. Veronica got married. Kevin is a high-school drama teacher. Jughead continues to deliver overwrought prose through voiceover.
I hadn’t kept up with the series through its increasingly convoluted later high school years, but suddenly it’s hard to look away from the sheer amount of stuff the show is throwing at the wall. Specifically random pop-culture-homage stuff. Not only has Riverdale thrust everyone into adulthood via time jump, it’s also found ways to shoehorn in a wild number of up-to-the-second references to other movies and TV shows, seemingly just because. It’s as if the writers room, while figuring out what could possibly be filmed during COVID, simply decided to say yes to every possible idea. Good for them, I guess.
In case you haven’t paid much attention to Riverdale past its status as “the Hot Archie in high school show,” the teaser above gives a sense of what happened to everyone over the time-jump, though of course those answers raise more questions. First of all, Archie went to war? Which war? On that point, we’re still not clear. All we know is that Archie signed up with the army just before graduation (he still didn’t have the credits to graduate, however, he’s not the brightest ochre-haired bulb) and went off “overseas” for his service, until he was pulled from duty and sent back to recruit kids in Riverdale. His war flashbacks take place on a football field, in what I personally have decided is a reference to Taylor Swift’s boyfriend’s work in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and is maybe also an incisive commentary on America’s forever war. That, or just a budget thing. Probably a budget thing.
In a more direct movie reference, Betty takes up a job at the FBI, running around in a big gray sweatshirt stolen directly from Jodie Foster’s wardrobe in Silence of the Lambs and using her family’s history with serial killers to track down new ones. Later on, once all the former Riverdale teens converge back in town, she takes on a job as a shop teacher, and then hooks up with Archie in the back of the car she’s having her class dismantle and reassemble for school. While that does not feel very hygienic, it is also very clearly shot as a reference to Titanic’s steamy, confusing hand car sex scene.
The most baffling and yet delightful movie reference comes from Veronica, who has gotten married first to an evil WASP type but is unhappy about it (very Charlotte York of her). Her mom, meanwhile, has signed up to be on the Real Housewives, lest you forget that Andy Cohen exists within the Archieverse. Before you assume that Riverdale would do some sort of young gal in the city reference with Veronica, they zag all the way in a different direction and have her working a job in the diamond district pretending she’s Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems. Are A24 references just teen culture now?
Before you can say “Idina Menzel strapping on old Bat Mitzvah dress,” Riverdale moves on from that Uncut Gems scene and barely references it again, aside from establishing some strife between Veronica and her husband over the fact that she wants to work and he doesn’t want her to. She, like everyone else, converges back in Riverdale and becomes a teacher of Economics, probably because she knows her way around mineral wealth.
The other primary Riverdalians have less exciting routes back to the town, but in case you’re wondering: Jughead did indeed become a writer, and even got himself a fancy profile in New York Magazine about his position among a new brat pack of writers. He also is in serious debt, which, relatable. Kevin Keller, resident gay, tried to make it in New York City (RIP Katy Keene) but has also ended up back home as a drama teacher, and he’s still with his edgy boyfriend Fangs. Primarily, he seems to be watching a lot of Succession, and also losing the ability to differentiate whether or not situations actually resemble Succession.
Finally, there’s Toni Topaz and Cheryl Blossom, who are currently on the outs, but have maintained some pretty strong capital back home. Cheryl is hanging out in her gothic estate being all creepy as usual, while Toni has taken over Veronica’s old speakeasy, Riverdale’s primary excuse for random musical performances. So, of course, the show quickly found a way to use that performance space as an excuse to get Veronica to sing “Shallow” from A Star Is Born. Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore, indeed.
There’s no way that Riverdale can possibly keep up this level of go-for-broke energy for the rest of its season, but I do hope that it tries. Or at least that the pop-culture references keep being this wild. Can someone get really into chess for Queen’s Gambit bit? Will Jughead rent an RV and wander around Riverdale like Frances McDormand in Nomadland? Will somebody mention that they’ve gotten really into watching this dark sexy TV drama version of a classic comic strip called Foxtrot? We can only hope.