Well, it’s finally here. The day that haters on the Internet have been waiting for, and the day that fans of TV’s last remaining bonkers teen drama have been dreading: Riverdale is over.
In the series finale, Betty (Lili Reinhart), now 86 and the last remaining Riverdalien still living, took a trip down memory lane to relive the final day of senior year with her friends. In doing so, it was revealed the fates of our favorite characters: Archie (KJ Apa) moved to California and built a family, Veronica (Camila Mendes) became a big-shot Hollywood producer and studio executive, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) opened Jughead’s Madhouse Magazine, and Betty herself was a bestselling author and magazine editor before adopting a daughter and eventually becoming a grandmother. Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) and Toni (Vanessa Morgan) were both artists and activists before having a son named Dale (played by Morgan’s real-life son River), Kevin (Casey Cott) and Clay (Karl Walcott) moved to Harlem and lived long and fulfilling lives, and Reggie (Charles Melton) went pro in basketball before settling back down in Riverdale to have a family of his own.
The series ended in the most Riverdalian way possible, by reflecting on the madness of its own lore while finally rewarding these characters by giving them wholesome and fulfilled lives, far beyond the bounds of what would have been possible for them just a season before. Even though it’s incredibly sad to see this series bow out, as Jughead said in the finale, Riverdale will always be a home to come back to.
Before we put Riverdale to bed once and for all (hopefully to be dusted off in the near future when more people realize its campy brilliance), it’s the perfect time to definitively rank every season of The CW’s Archie Comics adaptation. In many ways, every season of Riverdale is strikingly unique, each being marked by its own brand of crazy teenage drama, the sudden existence of magic, or an inexplicable rewind to the 1950s. In each and every outing, Riverdale stepped outside the bounds of its own genre and canon, delivering something new every year.
It’s a nigh-impossible task, but below, we’ve ranked every season of Riverdale to celebrate its undeniable legacy within the teen drama genre and TV as we know it.
7. Season 4
As was the case when ranking Riverdale‘s season premieres, scoring Season 4 against the other seasons is just a little unfair. Rocked by the loss of a core character after Luke Perry’s tragic passing and paused mid-season by COVID shutdowns, Season 4 was fighting an uphill battle to even get made, let alone stack up to its peers. However, the story that does manage to get told within the 19 episodes that made it to air is enjoyable enough, especially as the mysterious Auteur takes center stage. Even with the interesting overarching mystery, elements like Jughead’s stint at Stonewall, Cheryl keeping her brother’s taxidermied corpse in her basement, and Veronica having a long-lost sister whose name is literally just “sister” in Spanish all created an uneven outing that, while still as campy and fun as the rest, didn’t quite come together in the end.
6. Season 2
In many ways, Season 2 of Riverdale is the most Riverdale the show has ever been—at least, when thinking of the most meme’d aspects of the series. It truly has everything, for better and for worse. Archie becomes a revenge-obsessed, violent delinquent; Betty joins the Southside Serpents by performing a strip tease for a bunch of old gangsters, all while wondering if she possesses a “serial killer gene;” Cheryl sends Josie a pig heart in a box because she has a crush on her and can’t deal with those feelings; it’s a lot. But where it begins to lose itself to the madness, it finds an undeniable charm and rhythm to its weekly woes and wonder, building on the comparatively more grounded season that came before it. We haven’t quite gotten to the epic highs and lows of high school football, but Season 2’s bananas brilliance still shines through its more uneven aspects.
5. Season 3
Speaking of the epic highs and lows of high school football… if Season 2 shed the slightly more grounded reality of Season 1 and ventured into darker territory, then Season 3 took that darkness and doubled down, while adding its signature campy edge. After all, what could possibly be a more self-aware and hilarious commentary on its own genre than the central villain of the season being an organ-harvesting cult with the recruitment leader being a grown adult pretending to be a teenager in high school?
Riverdale has always been in on the joke, often daring itself to become more and more bonkers with each following season, and Season 3 commits to all of its antics with a tongue-in-cheek seriousness that it doesn’t quite match again until Season 6. Archie spends a significant chunk of this season in jail, and when he isn’t locked up, he survives a bear attack, all while listening to Veronica plead on the phone that they will be endgame. Paired with the madness that is the Gargoyle King and The Farm cult, Riverdale Season 3 goes where other teen TV shows have never even dreamed of going before.
4. Season 7
In many ways, Riverdale’s final season feels like the black sheep of its run. Whisked back to the 1950s and unaware of the events of the previous six seasons, these characters and this place are still familiar, but there will always be a nagging sense of incompleteness within the series due to never actually wrapping up what we spent six years watching. However, when not accounting for the slight annoyance of that decision, this season is a hell of a good time. Riverdale’s seventh season leans into its earnest teen drama, forgoing the organ-harvesting cults and superpowers to tell grounded stories about teenage whims and wiles. And while the series doesn’t fully leave the ridiculousness behind (there is still murder and madness to be had here, folks), its heartfelt portrayal of these more comic-accurate Riverdaliens is still eternally entertaining for its 20-episode run.
Though Season 7 threw most of Riverdale’s canon out the window, the dramatic irony and self-awareness present here make for a rather interesting examination of these characters in particular. When this show has done nothing but torture its central characters to greater and greater extremes, there is nothing more subversive than allowing them a final season where the most pressing questions are whether or not their crush will ask them to the sock hop—and if they can solve racism before they graduate. After all they have been through, ending up in Pop’s together forever is the happy ending these people truly deserve.
3. Season 5
Season 5 is another instance where it’s mayhaps a little unfair to judge it against its peers, since its opening episodes are all Season 4 hold-overs, but once that time-jump hits, Season 5 is a genuine delight. Not only does this season take our favorite Riverdaliens and place them seven years into the future with new jobs and new lives and new experiences under their belts, but it also introduces new faces to this familiar town; one being Erinn Westbrook’s Tabitha Tate, who quickly establishes herself as the heart and soul of the show from her very first appearance.
Even though the high school shenanigans of the first four seasons were fun, it’s a joy to see the adult versions of these characters, especially as they’re forced to come together to save Riverdale High School. At the behest of counselor Toni (Morgan, in a pointedly more involved role), veteran Archie, FBI agent Betty, stock broker Veronica, writer Jughead, and heiress Cheryl all become teachers or coaches at the school, bringing them back to their old stomping grounds for some classic Riverdale drama. With a serial killer, mothmen, and Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos) to contend with, Season 5 dives head-first into adulthood, and brings its signature Riverdale ridiculousness with it.
2. Season 1
Beyond beginning with one of the best teen drama pilots of the past decade, Riverdale’s first season is a near-masterclass in teen drama excellence. The introduction to this sleepy town opens up a world of grounded teen drama mixed with over-the-top murderous plots and ploys, all connected by the tether that is showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s signature wordy and clever dialogue that lends itself to the fantastical dimension that Riverdale exists within. This show has always been ridiculous and off-the-wall from the very beginning (need I remind you of the Sticky Maple episode?), but that detachment from any sort of tangible reality has also always been what made Riverdale stand out from the rest. Riverdale exists in a world where teenagers always have the answers, an acoustic guitar can save the day, and a group of kids can actually make noticeable and meaningful change in their world. While the pilot remains a fan-favorite, the season finale was also a truly moving spectacle, especially as Archie punches the ice* to break Cheryl free from Sweet Water River.
Underneath all of its campy brilliance, Riverdale has always had a warm, beating heart at the center of it all, and Season 1 struck a perfect balance, and marked a wonderful entry into its twisted teen drama.
1. Season 6
Season 6 is truly Riverdale’s magnum opus. It has everything you could ever want from this show: bonkers dialogue, magic and mystery, an interesting villain worth loathing, the core characters all working together in various ways, and superpowers. Literally what more could you possibly ask for?
Aside from being generally the most fun season to watch episode-to-episode, Season 6 is Riverdale at its most experimental, at its most playful, and, somehow, at its most grounded. Because, despite the fact that the season begins with a 5-episode event that takes place in an alternate universe, and all the main characters develop some kind of superpowers by the end to defend Riverdale from a ghost train and an impending comet, the relationships between each character and the growth everyone displays is all so heart-achingly human. As Archie and Betty finally realize their feelings and contemplate marriage and a family, as Jughead and Tabitha open up to each other and work together, as Veronica realizes her worth and Reggie takes a stand, as Cheryl finally comes into her own while mourning her relationship with Toni, everything falls into place, and becomes the best version of these characters and this town. Despite the fact that Season 7 ditched it all in favor of its comic-accurate camp, Season 6 will always stand out as Riverdale’s finest outing.
Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and mournful posts about the loss of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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