The story behind Riverdale season 4 premiere's Luke Perry tribute and Shannen Doherty's cameo
Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa explains why Fred Andrews was written off in such a heartbreaking way and more spoilers from the season 4 premiere.
Warning: the following story contains major spoilers from the season 4 premiere of Riverdale.
The beloved actor died in March at age 52 after suffering a massive stroke, and The CW’s Archie Comics drama paid respect by sending off his character Fred Andrews in the most heroic of ways. At the very beginning of the season 4 premiere, Archie (KJ Apa) receives a call letting him know that Fred was struck by a car. Throughout most of the episode, he struggles with accepting his father’s death and tries to figure out how/why the accident happened. When he visits the site of the accident, he sees a woman (played by Perry’s 90210 costar Shannon Doherty) laying flowers on the side of the road. When he asks her why she’s bringing flowers to the place his father died, she reveals that she was stranded on the side of the road and Fred was the only person who stopped to help her with her car. That’s why he was hit by a car that came speeding by.
After confronting the man who turned himself in for the hit and run, Archie learns it was actually the man’s underage son who was driving without a license who accidentally hit Fred. The father was just covering for his son to protect him. Archie realizes that’s something he could have done — sneaking out and taking the car without permission, getting into an accident — and his father would have done the same thing — taking the blame to protect him. It really was just an accident.
By the end of the episode, Archie vows to live his life in a way that would make his father proud. And Riverdale honors both Fred and Perry with a parade put on by the whole town, and reminiscing with videos and photos of both the character and the actor while setting off a beautiful fireworks display. But showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa reveals that the initial plan was to wait on addressing Perry’s death on the series.
“When Luke passed [last season] we very quickly made the decision that we weren’t going to address it in the current season of Riverdale,” Aguirre-Sacasa tells EW along with a group of reporters after an advance screening of the premiere. “We didn’t want to rush it, we didn’t want to sandwich it into all the other plotlines, and we just wanted to take our time and think about it. We briefly thought that maybe something would happen at the end of the season that would signal it and that felt a little cheap. We thought let’s just hold it so that we can think about it over the hiatus and reflect on it. That was absolutely the right decision and it allowed us to absorb what had happened and really think about what kind of story we wanted to tell.”
As for why he decided to write Perry’s exit as a death onscreen, Aguirre-Sacasa explains that was a very conscious choice. “Very early on, we landed on the idea that Fred should have a heroic death and that would be impactful for Archie,” he says. “It felt like that’s a way that Fred could have gone. After that, we said this episode really isn’t going to launch any huge stories for this season. It was really going to be focused on that and the emotional effects of that passing for everyone.”
There had been some talk about including some other Riverdale storylines in the premiere but each time he decided against it. “There have been sadly a lot of tribute episodes in television — one of my favorites is the Friday Night Lights episode where the football player’s father dies, called ‘The Son,’” Aguirre-Sacasa says. “We wanted to tell a very grounded, truthful story. That became the organizing principle or the marching orders.”
And while Doherty’s cameo was short, having her involved in this tribute episode was important for the showrunner. “Over the seasons, Luke and I had talked a lot about trying to get Shannen on the show and the timing never worked out or the part was never quite right,” he says. “When we were working on the episode, we knew that there would be some characters outside of our cast of characters that would be involved. We thought that rather than have another actor play that we thought it would be nice if it was someone that he cared for in real life and he cared so deeply about Shannen. It resonates for Fred, it also resonates for Luke, and Shannen speaks to that. And she really wanted to be a part of it from when we first talked to her about it.”
When Riverdale picks up in the next episode, it’s going to return to business-as-usual with storylines left on cliffhangers back in the season 3 finale. But Aguirre-Sacasa promises that “Fred casts a long shadow” and his death will continue to impact the series moving forward.
“On the show, he’s always been our moral center,” he says. “We frequently describe him as the one good parent on Riverdale and the best influence on Archie. In a noir crime-ridden world which is what Riverdale is, he’s got dignity and honor and really good values. Archie does too but we’ve seen Archie for three years looking to see what kind of man he’s going to be — in the end it’s trying to do what his father did which was help his community, help his town, help his friends make the right choices. Archie wants to live up to that. He’s always wanted to follow in Fred’s footsteps but now feels that burden even more so. But Archie is still going to be Archie and he’s going to struggle with grief and struggle with how to live up to Fred’s memory.”
One of the ways that the showrunner wanted to honor Perry’s memory was to include footage and photographs of him in the episode. The footage came from already-aired episodes in the past, but the photographs are actually from Perry’s life.
“One of our executive producers, Sarah Schechter, was very close to Luke and his family and we involved them as much as we could,” Aguirre-Sacasa says. “They read the script and they provided those great photos. I love seeing him in his baseball uniform.”
The process of making this episode was “brutal” on the cast — “especially KJ,” Aguirre-Sacasa reveals — but in the end, “everyone was really proud to gather to tell this tribute to Fred and to Luke… That was cathartic.”
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.