In the beginning there was Riverdale: a crimey-wimey, absurdist take on a small town teen drama based on the wholesome Archie comic books. Then there was Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Riverdale’s Satanic inverse starring a teen witch who can’t stop fighting gods. Now there’s Katy Keene, the third Archieverse show and the second to air on The CW as a marginally more adult urban fantasy packed with high fashion, big drama, and enough sequins to leave an aftershock of spots in its viewers eyes.
It’s as close to New York as a cake sculpted to look like the city’s iconic skyline would be, but who doesn’t like cake?
Katy Keene stars Lucy Hale as Katy Keene, a department store assistant with dreams of being a fashion designer. Her friends are Jorge Lopez (Jonny Beauchamp), a dancer and drag queen with dreams of being on Broadway, Pepper Smith (Julia Chan), a woman-about-town who dresses very well, and Riverdale‘s freshly transplanted Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray), who dreams of being a recording artist. There’s also her boyfriend KO Kelly (Zane Holtz). His dreams are boxer dreams. Everybody got dreams.
“Follow your dreams” is the theme of Katy Keene, with barely a scene going by without a character declaring what their dreams are or how they’re going to accomplish them. It makes for hokey television, but there’s something unselfconsciously enjoyable about a show that leans in to relentlessly positive messaging. As Katy and her friends triumph and fall in ubiquitously fabulous outfits, the show takes on the feeling of watching an especially woke child act out grown-up scenes with Barbie and her friends. It’s not deep or remotely realistic, but it is extremely fun.
No show in the Archieverse could be accused of aiming for realism, but Katy Keene‘s fantastical interpretation of twentysomething life is heightened by the fact that it is the first of the three shows to take place in a “real” location. Katy Keene makes sure to put its characters in recognizable areas around New York City — Josie McCoy sings in Washington Square Park and Katy looks through the windows of Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Ave — but delivers only the fantasy of what those areas represent.
The New York of Katy Keene is one part history book stereotypes, like the idea that being from the Lower East Side means you’re a “gutter girl” from Gangs of New York instead of a cool rich person who can afford Manhattan rent; one part Gossip Girl, in that a store like Lacy’s is still the center of fashion in a post–Barneys world; and one part Sex and the City, with regard to its main characters’ completely wild income-to-wardrobe ratio.
It’s as close to New York as a cake sculpted to look like the city’s iconic skyline would be, but who doesn’t like cake? While every other show on TV competes for the contents of its viewers’ tear ducts and sends them trawling the internet for explainers as soon as the credits roll, Katy Keene just wants to serve them a nice, sparkly slice of something sweet. And even if most of the slice is fondant, it’ll still look great on Instagram.
Katy Keene is now streaming on The CW.