WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A spin-off from Riverdale, Katy Keene follows the lives of Archie Comics characters - fashion icon Katy (Lucy Hale), singer Josie McCoy (Ashleigh McCoy), performer Jorge/Ginger Lopez (Jonny Beauchamp), and IT Girl Pepper Smith (Julia Chan) as they shoot for their dreams in New York City.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The first episode starts with the song Welcome to New York by Taylor Swift, and I couldn't help but think what an accurate song it is to describe this show. It seems to be set in an idealised version of New York which, other than a few real-life issues, seems to be a wonderland place where dreams come true.
Many times when shows are set in New York, the city exists almost like another character that is intertwined in the characters' lives. This was best displayed in Sex and the City, and it seems many shows since then have tried to replicate it. The glamour, the sophistication, the dreaminess, the New York of TV seems almost like a land on the top of the Faraway Tree.
But this is also the New York that Katy Keene introduces us to. A place where an aspiring designer, singer, and Broadway performer can hustle together as they try and make their dreams come true. Of course, they have a killer wardrobe (remember Katy makes clothes) and are always attending the hottest parties (Pepper has connections). And everything seems possible in this magical realm, which is aided by the fact that this is partly a musical and the characters sometimes break into song.
There is nothing new about Katy Keene, and perhaps that is what makes it appealing. It's comforting, it's warm, and it feels familiar. It reminded me a lot of the Sex and the City prequel, The Carrie Diaries that was also cancelled too soon, mixed with the New York years of Glee, and maybe a little Gossip Girl. It reminded me of unrealistic glamour of many of the shows of the 90s and early 00s that we grew up with. It felt like coming home.
I read a lot of Archie Comics as a child, and while I was familiar with the characters currently on Riverdale, Katy Keene was kind of an enigma. The Katy Keene comics were only available in limited runs, and I knew her more as a character in Archie adverts. So I was surprised that she was given a spin-off before the most natural spin-off, Josie and the Pussycats. Mainly because after Archie and Sabrina, Josie is the most known character in the Archieverse. And to be honest, this seems like a cop out, an attempt to have a Josie and the Pussycats sequel without actually making Josie the star.
This is especially interesting to note after Vanessa Morgan, who plays Toni Topaz in Riverdale, commented about the marginalisation of black characters on the series. And after Josie was so underutilised on Riverdale and the other Pussycats – Valerie and Melody were pushed to so far into the background that they disappeared from the show. So once again, we have to question how black characters are treated in the Archie universe, so much so that even if they are well-known and developed, they still can't lead a spin-off.
If it was not for Josie, you would completely forget that Katy Keene and Riverdale exist in the same universe, they are so removed from each other. If Riverdale is a teen noir, then Katy Keene is a rom-com, and it seems to know its place as that. But it is jarring when Riverdale characters cross over, and it is so evident how the tone shifts. Even Alexander Cabot Snr who attempts to be a Hiram Lodge-esque villain, pales in comparison to the crazy Riverdale tycoon. Katy Keene works well when it plays it safe and works within its confines, and doesn't reach too far as Riverdale does.
The cast is led by Lucy Hale as Katy Keene. Lucy Hale is known for playing the role of Aria on Pretty Little Liars, and she seems to have that same sort of charming innocence about her character. However, I don't think that her portrayal is strong enough for a lead character. I enjoyed her as Katy, but she didn't have that mysterious glamour that the comic character did and would have been so well portrayed by someone like Shay Mitchell. However, there is no doubt that Lucy Hale can sing well and is often so good at playing a character that is beautiful but overlooked, which fits into the struggling artist aesthetic that the show is going with.
Katy's storyline is intriguing as she works up the ranks as a personal shopper at a luxury department store while attempting to make it as a designer. We are enthralled in her life as she flits between three very attractive, very charming love interests. Every episode there is a new crazy hurdle that Katy has to go through, and because the stakes are not too high, we are constantly on the journey with her. However, the most interesting part of Katy's story was the mystery surrounding her mother and her past at the department store, and I wish the show had spent more time on this.
There is a scene within the first few episodes where a character says to Josie: "This isn't A Star is Born," and strangely, I wondered if the writers knew this because her storyline seemed very similar to the Lady Gaga movie. She sings, a cute guy hears her and immediately offers her a chance to be a superstar. He has an addiction problem and the story goes on. One thing I really do appreciate is that because she has more screen time in Katy Keene, Josie has more space to grow as a character and become more than the two-dimensional character that she was in Riverdale. I would have loved to see what more they would have done with her character.
As for the other two leads - Pepper and Jorje - the writers seem to be unsure of their characters. Pepper is the mysterious one; we never know if the story she is spinning is true or part of a greater scam, and it adds to the unpredictability of her character. Jorge, however, seems to progress and regress so often that we get whiplash. Although, his relationship with his family and how they learn to embrace his sexuality and his passion as a drag performer is what makes his character interesting.
Katy Keene is at its best when it is leaning into its campiness and doesn't try too hard. It is a feel-good show that is great for watching after a day of stressful work, when you just want to unwind.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Katy Keene airs Saturdays at 20:00 on M-Net (DStv 101)