What Time Period Is Riverdale Set In?

Gonna put on my best Bernie Sanders voice right at the top here: I am once again asking you to stop asking me what time period Riverdale is set in.

It’s not because the setting of The CW’s wildest show isn’t a good question — it is! The big mystery in Season 4 and the beginning of Season 5 was about a bunch of teens who were making creepy VHS movies. Who has access to that many blank VHS tapes in this day and age? And why does everyone in Riverdale have VHS players? Not only that, but why does no one ever seem to use cell phones, and instead mostly rely on phone booths and landlines?

Tell you what? It doesn’t matter, because Riverdale since the beginning was built to feel timeless, taking place in any and every era it chooses. It is small town America, with the darkness of real America lurking around every corner.

That all said, the question of what time period Riverdale is set in has once again reared its ugly head for a number of reasons. The big reason? After this past week’s episode “Graduation,” the series is initiating a 7 year time jump. So logically, one would think that if the high school graduation aired in 2021, then the next episode, “Purgatorio,” would take place in 2028.

Oh, my sweet summer child. Sit down over here and let me once again explain the insane time hole that Riverdale is stuck in; and by the time we’re done, you’ll understand why it utterly and truly doesn’t matter.

For the most part, Riverdale has eschewed putting specific dates on things. We know, for example, that Jason Blossom (Trevor Stines) disappeared on July 4 in the first episode, “Chapter One: The River’s Edge.” But at least initially, there wasn’t a year attached to that. Further complicating matters, Sophomore Year, in typical TV fashion, stretched over the first two seasons, though holidays repeated and time otherwise seemed to be progressing in a regular fashion. Season 3 was a bit more straightforward, taking place over Junior Year. And Season 4, plus the first three episodes of Season 5, encompassed Senior Year.

But if you start to dive a little closer, things become complicated, very quickly. I documented this a little more fully when discussing FP Jones’ (Skeet Ulrich) birthday back in 2019, but here’s the short version. In the episode “The Midnight Club,” all the parents (played by the “teen” actors) were Juniors in high school, in 1992. However, in Season 3’s “Chapter Fifty: American Dreams,” FP is turning 50 years old. Some quick math there — assuming FP was either 16 or 17 in 1992 — shows that either “American Dreams” takes place in 2026 or 2027, or something extremely weird is happening here. It’s possible FP was held back, of course, but then he was a 23 year old high school Junior, which is bizarre in and of itself.

Another issue, which is a little more tenuous, is that FP and Alice (Mädchen Amick) had a love child named Charles (Wyatt Nash), who — in Season 2, which ostensibly takes place in 2017 or 2018 — was revealed to have been born 25 years earlier. Alice could have been rounding up or something, but again the math doesn’t check out.

Want another date? Sure you do! Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Munro) was born on February 12, 1970. Yet somehow he was also in high school with Alice and FP, despite that making him 22 years old in 1992 (maybe they were all massively left back? Was high school twice as long in the ’90s?)

How about this one: Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) was born on October 2, 2001. In Season 1, he celebrates his sixteenth birthday. That means Season 1 takes place in 2017, which is exactly when it was broadcast. That’s great news, on the surface. Bad news if you count that setting Season 1 definitively in 2017 means none of the previous things we’ve mentioned make any sense, at all.

Speaking of 2017, Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) hosts the seventy-fifth annual variety show in Season 1, which tracks with the founding of Riverdale High in 1942. Confusingly, though, the Riverdale seventy-fifth annual Jubilee celebrating the founding of the town also happens in 2017, despite Riverdale being founded in 1941. This may just have to do with when during the year these things took place, and when they threw the initial Jubilee/Variety Show. But still: confusing.

A small note, but one that is important if we’re continuing to attempt to progress through time in a linear fashion: in a supreme act of corporate synergy, in “Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Hills Have Eyes,” pretty much everyone in town went to go see Love, Simon. Lucky them, they got to see the Greg Berlanti directed movie (he also produces Riverdale) a week before the rest of the world. But here, it’s more crucial to note that movie came out in March, 2018, same as the episode.

Another set date: at the beginning of Season 3, on September 4, 2018, Archie Andrews (KJ Apa) is sent to jail for murdering someone during the Love, Simon episode. Side note: the murder had nothing to do with Love, Simon. But again, a set date, and a set year.

Speaking of which, we have a run of dates at the end of Season 3, and beginning of Season 4:

  • May 19, 2019: Hal Cooper is killed by Penelope Blossom (Nathalie Boltt)
  • July 2, 2019: Fred Andrews (Luke Perry) is killed by a hit and run driver
  • July 4, 2019: The town gathers for a parade to honor Fred

Hal dying matches up with when the episode aired, while the tribute to Fred — and Luke Perry — aired a little later, as the Season 4 premiere “In Memoriam.” One more date that matches up? When Jughead “died” on March 18, 2020 — again, matching up with when the episode “Ides of March” aired.

Okay, one more date to throw out there that’s a little wobbly, but perhaps defensible. In “Graduation,” Riverdale High digs up a time capsule that was buried, according to Principal Weatherbee, 75 years earlier by the first Senior Class. Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) reads off the date of the paper in the capsule as June 12, 1945, which doesn’t quite match up with the founding of Riverdale High. If the first students came in as Freshman, they would have graduated in 1946, not 1945. Of note, Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan) confirms the year with a copy of the school newspaper. However, it’s possible that the first Senior class entered as Sophomores, versus as Freshman so all good. That said, if it’s 75 years after 1945, it’s actually still 2020 when the gang graduates. Which makes sense! Despite the episode airing in 2021, it’s finishing off Season 4, so graduation happening in May or June or 2020 is right on par.

So far, so good, but it’s about to go totally off the rails in a second. That’s because last night (February 4), Camila Mendes, who plays Veronica Lodge, appeared on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. There, she showed off a clip from the post-time jump era of her sitting down with her new husband Chad Gekko (Chris Mason). The very first words out of Veronica’s mouth?

“It’s 2021, Chad, haven’t you heard?”

The clip goes on to pit Veronica against Chad as she reveals she used to be called “The She-Wolf of Wall Street,” and seemingly gave up being a trader when she got married. But more to the point: what in the world is happening here?

If it’s 2021 in the clip, that means seven years earlier, it was 2014. But based on all of the data above, we know the show started in 2017. Even if somehow that 2017 stretched over two years like Junior Year, and graduation day was in 2020, I still don’t think 2021 is seven years later. It also is possible that this scene takes place one year later. But even with the accelerated pace of Riverdale, did Veronica really graduate college, become a noted stock trader, get married, and give it up, all in a year?

Maybe Veronica is just like us, and still writing the previous year on all her checks, except in this case, six years earlier? Maybe she had too much wine? Or maybe she was pulled off the trading floor because she bonked her head and had amnesia for six-seven years? That would certainly explain why she never came back to Pop’s for the gang’s one-year reunion last episode.

Or more likely, it just doesn’t matter. This is a show that’s full of bear attacks, leather-clad serial killers, people living in the walls, haunted dolls, and so much more. One time an organ-stealing cult leader dressed like Evel Knievel and tried to escape on a homemade rocket. What’s a little time madness between friends?

In fact, I would argue that this is part of the joy of watching Riverdale. While outsiders see news that Archie is joining the Army and can’t believe their eyes, frequent viewers know this is just the tip of the iceberg. As satisfying as it is to see the talented actors and actresses on screen dive into meaty dramatics, it’s equally satisfying to see how well the show continues to spiral insane nonsense higher and higher. Yet somehow it makes it feel part and parcel with the plot, barreling forward past simple concepts like “time” and “space” with equal disregard for logic (don’t even get me started on how Riverdale is a sleepy, small town, with several night clubs, two high schools, packed snuff film raves, etc, etc).

The point is, having no idea what time period Riverdale is set in is a feature, not a bug. See you next week in the far, far future of Riverdale: 2021.

Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.

Where to watch Riverdale


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