With Luke Perry’s death, the wayward ‘Riverdale’ loses its moral compass
After news broke of actor Luke Perry’s untimely death on Monday, a common refrain rose among Gen Xers: “Can you believe there’s an entire generation who won’t remember him as Dylan McKay from ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’?”
They’re not wrong. Hulu carries the series, which aired on Fox in the 1990s, but those born throughout and after its original run are too young to know the feeling of tuning in every Wednesday night to witness Perry’s tender portrayal of the brooding bad boy. They must instead get their fill of modern teen soapiness from shows that might not have existed had it not been for “90210” and its peers setting the stage; shows like “Riverdale,” the CW’s grim adaptation of the Archie Comics.
Luckily, that means the youths of today are still acquainted with Perry’s heartwarming presence — just in a different capacity. In 2017, nearly two decades after “90210” ended, the actor once again found a home in teen programming as Fred Andrews, the scruffy single father of “Riverdale’s” own rebellious heartthrob, Archie (KJ Apa). Fred serves as the moral compass of a show fueled by murder mysteries and morally ambiguous characters. With his gentle spirit and hard-earned wisdom, he is a grounding force for a teenage son wandering with his head in the clouds.
Perry died this week after suffering a stroke at 52, and creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa tweeted Wednesday that the episode airing that night, as well as “the rest of our run,” would be dedicated to Perry. The episode ended with a black screen on which the words “In Memoriam” appeared above Perry’s name; below were the years he lived: “1966-2019.”
Fred doesn’t appear until late in the episode, and his main line is as characteristic as can be: “You’re not an idiot, son,” he sighs, bandaging Archie’s latest wounds. “You’ve just got a big heart.” The context of his remark, which involves the naive teenager trusting the wrong person, is irrelevant. No matter how ludicrous a situation Archie finds himself in — and “Riverdale” certainly tests the limits — Fred will stand by him. He may do so with a furrowed brow and narrowed eyes, but he’s there.
And he always has been. Much before the show entered its mystical phase, Archie was a normal jock facing normal challenges – by “Riverdale” standards, anyway. After his parents split up, his mother moves halfway across the country. He returns to school after a summer fling with a teacher, only to discover that his childhood best friend Betty (Lili Reinhart) has been harboring a crush on him. He attempts to juggle football practice and the prospects of business school with his new passion, music, but struggles to do so. Amid this all, the small town tries to solve the murder of another Riverdale High School student.
Like Perry, many of the “Riverdale” parents were once young stars themselves, with ’80s idol Molly Ringwald as Archie’s mother, “Twin Peaks” actress Mädchen Amick as Betty’s, “Scream” actor Skeet Ulrich as the father of their classmate Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and “Head of the Class” star Robin Givens as the former mayor. Fred is easily the most stable of the lot, a man who holds honesty and sincerity above all else. (It’s no wonder the bulk of Season 2 involves Archie’s desire to avenge the attempted murder of his father.)
In the end, Fred’s penchant for goodness in the face of adversity isn’t so dissimilar from that of a young man named Dylan McKay. Perry approached each role with empathy, which “Riverdale’s” executive producers highlighted in a statement following his death.
“Luke was everything you would hope he would be: an incredibly caring, consummate professional with a giant heart, and a true friend to all,” they said. “A father figure and mentor to the show’s young cast, Luke was incredibly generous, and he infused the set with love and kindness.”