Riverdale is one of the most successful teen shows on the air today thanks to its lurid atmosphere, strong (and hot) ensemble cast, and dramatic plot twists. It’s cryptic and corny while being perfectly self-aware of its identity. Season 4 of the dark modern take on the beloved Archie Comics premieres October 10, but if you’re still itching to get your creepy Archie-fix in-between episodes, you might check out the little known made-for-TV movie, Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again that’s been uploaded to YouTube by some Jughead-loving saint.
Premiering in 1990, To Riverdale and Back Again revisits Archie and the gang all grown up and reuniting for their 15th High School Reunion. Next to Riverdale’s gangs, murders, abusive parents, and cults, this TV movie may not necessarily sound dark or creepy at first glance, but trust me, the horror is subtle and builds over time.
The Kids Are Not Alright
When we first meet our main characters as adults, everyone is in their early thirties. Archie and the gang have clearly gone their separate ways, but no one seems to be doing all that well.
Let’s start with Betty (as played by a young, blonde Lauren Holly). She’s a teacher and struggling writer in a nearby town with a rich, yuppie, asshole boyfriend who never misses a chance to put her down.
Next, there’s Veronica who still has her life funded by Big Daddy Lodge and lives in Paris. By the age of thirty-three, she’s a four-time divorcee who’s been engaged thirteen times. The strangest thing about this show is that there are plenty of sexual themes, but no one ever comes straight out and says the word “sex” or even any of its traditional euphemisms (like “sleeping together”). It’s heavily implied that Veronica has a risqué past, but no one is prepared to touch on any specifics.
Reggie still lives in Riverdale and owns a used car dealership and a gym. He sold his soul to Veronica’s rich dad and agrees to do Daddy Lodge’s dirty work in exchange for the old plutocrat’s financial support. Reggie has a number of disturbing lines such as “legal as an eighteen-year-old,” implying a past rich in roofies and paternity suits.
And then there’s Jughead. Oh, Jughead. It’s so incredibly painful to see what life has done to this poor soul. No longer, the easy-going, hamburger-loving young philosopher, Jughead is now a husk of his former self.
Just look at this sad, empty shell of a man. Jughead is a practicing psychiatrist whose revolutionary method of treatment is to relay all of his problems to his patients so they can feel better about themselves. We learn that Jughead is divorced from his evil unnamed wife and has been given custody of their monstrous offspring, Jordan (more on him later).
The trauma of his first marriage has left Jughead terrified of all women and the thought of encountering Big Ethel at the reunion brings on violent panic attacks.
Since this is 1990, we are thankfully spared the sight of Jughead posting on 8chan and attending Pick-Up Artist seminars.
Finally, there’s Archie who has done the best out of the bunch. He’s a successful attorney about to move to “The Big City” with his nice, non-Riverdalean fiancée and take a job with a major law firm. Don’t worry though, this won’t last for long. By the end of the movie, Archie will have lost everything. Everything.
The Obnoxious Child Actor
This is Jughead’s hellspawn, Jordan.
In the 80s and 90s, the producer of every movie or TV show demanded a cute, precocious child star. The problem is, writers often don’t know how to write for kids, so what they think is adorable on paper often misses the mark on-screen. It’s clear that Jordan is intended to be an enfant terrible, but just comes off as garden-variety irritating. He mugs for the camera, spouts a stupid catchphrase (“Wakka Wakka!”), and generally terrorizes the adults in his life like a bargain basement Dennis the Menace.
Jughead’s sinister ex-wife can’t deal with him anymore, and Jughead readily admits that he can’t stand the sight of his own son — with good reason. This kid goes from low-level pranks like squirting the adults with a water gun to physically assaulting them for no reason to turning The Archies’ hit song “Sugar, Sugar” into a horrifying hip hop piece with all the skill and sensitivity you’d expect from a white guy in 1990.
Again, there’s no specific mentioning of sex, but the movie has no problem with this eight-year-old child ogling women’s breasts and staring up their skirts. There’s even a scene where the newly hot Big Ethel appears and both father and son look like they’re down for the world’s most disturbing threesome.
If an adult Jordan spends his nights cruising bars and trying to lick the neck of every woman he meets, he will have done far better in life than could be expected from this upbringing.
Hiram Lodge Goes Insane and Tries to Kill Archie
Veronica’s father is shown to own practically all of Riverdale, so obviously, he can do whatever he wants. And right now, there are two things that Hiram wants most. First, he wants to use the property where Pop’s Ice Cream Parlour resides. So, he sends his minion, Reggie to give Pop the boot.
The second thing Hiram wants most is for Archie to stay the hell away from his daughter and keep his meddling ass out of his affairs. The happily engaged Archie readily agrees to the first demand, but there’s no way that he won’t interfere with the closing of Pop’s. He’s going to help out Pop by representing him pro bono. This generous act leads everyone in Riverdale to just insult Archie because, after all, he’s leaving. Why should he care?
This pisses off Lodge, so he decides that since threats weren’t enough, he needs to resort to straight-up murder. Lodge has his unnamed driver/hitman cut the brakes on Archie’s car causing the vehicle to drive out of control and destroy most of the town. But Archie survives, so Lodge has to do something even more drastic. He sends Archie a packaged bomb. Yes, a bomb.
During the ensuing court proceedings, the judge says he doesn’t want this feud to spill out into the streets, making the whole thing sound like a gang war, which is not inaccurate.
This entire movie is all about nostalgia, which makes sense for a story set at a high school reunion. But Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again takes it to an incredibly dark place.
Everyone in town knows that Archie is moving to “The Big City” for an exciting new job. He’s worked hard and earned that position. But instead of being proud of him and congratulating him, almost everyone in town sneers at Archie for wanting to leave their wholesome little town to “defend criminals” in The Big City (whether that city is Sodom or Gomorrah is not specified). This town-wide negging slowly destroys Archie’s psyche.
After seeing Archie again for the first time in fifteen years, Betty and Veronica’s rivalry for his affections is instantly reignited. Despite Archie telling them that he’s engaged to someone else, that doesn’t stop Veronica from breaking into Archie’s house in the middle of the night to seduce him. Nor is Betty (who still has a boyfriend) deterred from visiting Archie and asking him to take a shower with her because she’s a dirty, dirty girl.
This all comes to a head later when Betty and Veronica walk straight up to Archie at their reunion party and demand that he finally choose between them right in front of his fiancee. She’s literally standing right next to him. This outsider means absolutely nothing to them. After all, she’s a non-Riverdalite, so she counts for nothing.
Archie also has a tendency to hold onto things from his past, but more in the form of stuff. He latches on to any object, any piece of literal trash that brings back any hint of nostalgia, and he doesn’t seem to do anything with this junk. He just hoards it.
There is little doubt that Archie will fight like a deranged weasel if anyone suggests that maybe he might want to get rid of some stuff that’s just sitting around taking up space. This hits a particular low in one scene where Archie and Jughead stop by the junkyard. They’re laughing and bonding together over shared memories brought on by garbage like glass bottles and no joke, a dirty old sock.
It’s a relief that the scene ended before we saw Archie and Jughead make a sad camp there for the night.
The Chilling End
Archie’s non-Riverdalican fiancée obviously has to go, so the movie turns her into a complete nightmare in the third act to give Archie an excuse to end their engagement. She hates small towns, she hates reunions, and she hates junk. So of course, Archie gives her the smelly old garbage dump boot. This poor woman had to witness two high school ex-girlfriends declare their love for the man she was about to marry right in front of her. The fact that she didn’t dump a malted milkshake on Archie’s head speaks to her maturity.
Archie decides that he’s not going to take that job in the terrifying “Big City,” which no doubt was consumed by fire and brimstone soon after. He’s going to stay right here in Riverdale! Betty and Veronica also decide to move back to their hometown so they can continue to fight for Archie’s affections for eternity. Even though Jughead and his son boarded a bus to head home, they turn that bus around and tell Archie that they’re going to stay in Riverdale, too!
This is Archie’s dream come true. All of his closest friends are back together again in their sweet, safe hometown gathered in their old ice cream shop. It’ll be just like high school again! Forever. In the very last scene, Pop offers to take the group’s picture.
“Okay, nobody move!” says Pop, aiming his camera.
“I don’t think anyone will,” says Archie as he smiles for the photo.
O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn self-willed exile from the loving hometown! Two chocolate malt scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was alright, everything was alright. The struggle was finished. Archie had won the victory over himself. He loved Riverdale.
Riverdale airs Thursdays on the CW.