Fred Andrews was a white knight in the town of Riverdale, where serpent-themed biker gangs, drug-peddling nuns, and mafioso-adjacent kingpins run rampant. Over the course of three seasons, Luke Perry imbued the parental character with the kind of warmth that brought color to the town’s dreary atmosphere, its air weighed down by constantly broiling secrets. While I missed his star-making role in Beverly Hills, 90210, I became a fan of Perry — who died earlier this week at the age of 52 — through Riverdale. Although a supporting performance, the gravity of his role and portrayal made his character an avatar for justice in pop culture.
Through Fred Andrews, I learned the power of a subtle smile.
Riverdale is a show about power, and, often times, it comes from its characters’ ability to hide their shady dealings. The black of these teenagers’ pupils offer portals to their darkest secrets. The show’s main four — Betty Cooper, Archie Andrews, Jughead Jones, and Veronica Lodge — are good kids at heart who get into some (very) bad things. While they flit and flat, exploring the confounds of love, lust, and murder, their parents are revealed to be heightened versions of them, as are all parents to their kids. Archie Andrews always tries to do the right thing, like his dad, even if he goes about it the wrong way. There's something of a moral compass in him, but it's not fully formed.
In the first episode, we're introduced to Fred Andrews, a construction business owner who puts his entire body in the dirt, not just his hands. He gets a surprise visit from Veronica’s mother, the sharply dressed Hermione Lodge who is later revealed to be someone that he shares a past with. Fred's greeting to her is warm, inviting, and stern. She’s looking for a seasonal position and tries her best to power her way into the job. Initially, Fred is distant, but even in his apprehension, there’s altruism — a man who, sometimes against his better judgement, wants to give people the benefit of the doubt.
It might sound platitudinous, that his heart of gold made the absence of his character felt whenever he wasn’t in the frame. Perry's honest portrayal of Fred Andrews helped the character become more than a knowing father to Archie Andrews and a voice of reason to the main cast, but also a patriarch for viewers at home who are just trying to live their lives just a little bit better. His piercing gaze looked for the truth in Archie’s lies, and in doing so, he saw into our souls too. His campaign for mayor in Season 3 was built on honesty instead of insults, transparency with motives instead of lies. On paper, Fred sounds like a saint, literally too good to be true. But Perry's performance grounded the guardian's loftiness with the late actor's grizzled past. There’s a bad boy edge just behind the smile.
One of the show’s most jarring choices comes at the end of the first season when Fred gets shot in the chest, sending Archie, and the rest of Riverdale, into a dark pit of violence and gloom. It’s almost symbolic; Fred Andrews, Riverdale’s bearded saint, swallowed in darkness from a man wearing a black hood, an omen and harbinger of death. Without his presence, Archie begins to make reckless decisions that involve carrying a gun for retribution, creating a cringe-y hunting squad, and recklessly putting himself and those around him in danger. When Fred finally returns, so does the show's moral center.
With Fred around, Riverdale felt a little more grounded, a tad more balanced. Perry’s portrayal of a father struggling to be a role model for his son in a town full of sin pulled us into his comforting orbit. The other three fathers of Riverdale — Betty’s dad Hal Cooper, who turned out the be the murderous Black Hood, retired Southside Serpent gang leader F.P Jones, and Devil-incarnate Hiram Lodge — all have varying degrees of darkness lurking beneath their brows. But not once throughout Riverdale’s three seasons do you question the truth of Fred's character. When he consoles his son, it’s from a place of understanding, solidified by Perry's firm but warm embrace.
Fred Andrews became my favorite character because of his constant wisdom, both knowing and unknowing. Even when he wasn't giving advice to his son and the other denizens of Riverdale, Fred was something of a holy presence.
It feels weird knowing that the show's all-knowing father figure won’t be in his house when the show needs him to be — drinking coffee in the kitchen and waiting for Archie to walk in, ready to ask his son about his day and offer him a tired smile. With Fred gone, Riverdale is a little dimmer now.