“Riverdale” stepped on the scene in the spring of 2017 as one of TV’s hottest sensations. A bombastic, outlandish show of frills and stylistic glory, “Riverdale” has often been accused of biting off more than it can chew. Season four of the series, which aired on the CW from October to May, landed on Netflix May 14, once again providing an absurd take on the high school drama genre.
It would be virtually impossible to summarize the season and its plots. Storylines take center stage one episode only to be swifty dropped the next. Some endlessly circle the drain as though the writer’s room went on autopilot. And some provide true intrigue, only to be interrupted by an abrupt end to the season in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Executively produced by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (“Glee,” “Carrie”), season four of “Riverdale” ups the ante once again as a season with no status quo. The perceived high stakes provide some interest, yet the show rarely follows through, making for anticlimactic plot after plot.
The season’s main mystery began in the cliffhanger at the end of season three. Jughead (Cole Sprouse) is perceived to be dead as Archie (KJ Apa), Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) stand scantily clad with blood on their hands.
It’s a decent storyline, yet the murder mystery loses much of its appeal when it’s obvious the writers never intend to actually off Jughead. Instead, what plays out is a redundant plot that encompasses 16 of the 19 released episodes.
Still, this mystery stands as the most coherent since season one’s murder mystery of who killed Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines). Foreshadowing and flashbacks tie together this arc in a satisfying fashion reminiscent of a functioning writer’s room not seen since the show’s beginnings.
The other main arc of the season focuses on the citizens of Riverdale receiving strange, ominous VHS tapes. While introduced early on and dropped until the last three episodes, this plot easily outpaces all competing arcs in the season. With the intended final three episodes of the season on the backburner until production can resume, the plot is left at a chilling and quite salacious cliffhanger that will draw viewers back in whenever the new season begins.
Yet, while the highs of the season were surprisingly lofty, the lows were pitiful. With an overstuffed cast, the show has always struggled to provide ample characterization to its ensemble. Season four takes this to a devastating new level by sidelining many characters of interest in order to showcase Betty and Jughead once again.
Despite main character status, Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan) and Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols) exist as mere wallpaper and a sounding board for their on-screen partners. They become hollow shadows of their initial iterations.
Alice Smith (Madchen Amick) is written so inconsistently it becomes a chore to even care for her. The season three finale that attempted to repaint Alice as a devoted mother rather than a cult member sowed the seeds for Alice’s shaky fourth season.
She alternates between doting mother and abusive sycophant with little rhyme or reason. It’s tiring, as is her chemistry-devoid romance with FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich). A former highlight of “Riverdale,” Alice spends season four as one of the show’s most stale characters.
Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) spends yet another season flailing without a purpose. Rather than toss Kevin in on a few of the mysteries, he’s sidelined to a storyline about tickle porn. Yes, tickle porn. And somehow, as preposterous as this plot is, it still manages to be boring.
While tickle porn may seem an easy winner for dud of the year, there are plenty of contenders. Veronica’s rum war against her father Hiram (Mark Consuelos) is not only mind numbingly dull but straight up illogical. The world of “Riverdale” may be nonsensical but one would think to realize that a teenage girl cannot start an alcohol business, seeing as she can’t even legally drink the rum she produces. Alas, the writers of “Riverdale” trudge forward with this plot anyway, shafting Veronica for the majority of the season.
So much of the fourth season of “Riverdale” disappoints but, at the very least, the show manages to remain one of television’s most daringly experimental shows. It’s often absurd, uncanny and borderline unwatchable, but the show’s charm remains. There’s truly not a show like it (for better or worse) and that keeps “Riverdale” fresh in the age of peak TV.
“Riverdale” season four is available now on Netflix.