A Look at Katy Keane
When the CW began its work in what could eventually be called the Berlanti version of DC comics, I was initially high on it. It offered fresh insights on some of the much smaller players in the comic book world, and looked at it with imagination. But year by year and series by series, each one began more dismal, derivative, and worst of all dull. When Arrow finished its run after eight seasons, I could barely bring myself to care.
Riverdale was much more of the same. Initially, I thought that its dark look on what was usually an overly pastel series was refreshing and engaging. But it didn’t take much work for them to become way too bleak. I left in the hiatus of Season 3, and have not been back since. So, really watching a spinoff of this world, albeit one set in a fictionalized version of New York seemed like yet another waste of time.
Or so you’d think. Because I knew nothing of the character Katy Keane in whatever world she fits in, I decided to focus on the actress playing her: Lucy Hale. Two years ago, I became briefly enamored with the serio-comic Life Sentence, an engaging series that featured Hale as a lead who was diagnosed with cancer, seemed about to die, then went into remission — which revealed all of the cracks in her family that her illness had painted over. I admired its pluck, but it didn’t have anywhere near the luck of its lead character — and, of course, it wasn’t based on a comic book or supernatural series, which on the CW automatically two strikes on it.
Hale plays the title role: a store window and buyer at Lacy’s (it’s the Archie world; everything’s a wink to reality), whose secret desire is to be a fashion designer. Her only family was her mother, who died when she was very young, so she’s made her own family. There’s her boyfriend, KO, an aspiring boxer. There’s her roommate, Ginger Lopez, an aspiring Broadway dancer whose also a drag star. There’s Pepper Smith, a gossip columnist and would be club order, noveau riche and cash poor. Into their world comes Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray from Riverdale) the lead singer of the Pussycats, who has left ‘the murder capital of the world’ to try and become a pop singer. She runs into a talent producer named Alex Cabot, who seems to be the man of her dreams, professionally and romantically — except that he has a twisted relationship with his sister.
What I find most encouraging about Katy Keene is the utter lack of darkness that possesses. In the opening minutes of Riverdale, Cherry Blossom’s twin brother was found shot dead, and we learned that Archie had been having an affair with his music teacher at the time. We’re three episodes into Katy Keene and the darkest thing that’s happened so far is that KO accidentally set their apartment on fire when he learned their oven was more of a closet. The majority of the struggles are more of the life struggles of trying to make it in New York. This may be very low key for the era of Peak TV, but that’s part of the series charm. Especially for one on the CW where literally every choice seems to deal with the fate of mankind.
The other thing I like about this series is that it’s actually lighthearted. Considering that the DC series basically became unfathomably message-like after awhile, and so much of Riverdale’s comedy was gallows humor, I find much of the action on Katy Keene to be fun. One could see the foursome living in the apartment as the equivalent of the next generation of Sex and the City (only they actually talk about their careers and families as well their relationships) and that this version of New York is far more realistic, even as it fictionalizes nearly every possible name. (Ginger auditions for the hip-hop musical Jefferson!, to take the most obvious example) I’ve been wondering when someone taking all these shows from comic books would remember that they could remember to make a joke every now in then.
Katy Keene is not perfect, by any means. We’re still working on learning the backstories of the people other than Katy, and its still working on bringing up adversaries that are worth a damn. But it has the abilities to make these emotions ping. It hurt when Katy finally decided to break up with her boyfriend of five years and all that he stands for because they want different things. What’s more, this series will actually have the time to pull things off — the series was renewed for a second season before the first one even began. I’m not expecting greatness, but I am getting fun, and for a network that utterly made mincemeat of Nancy Drew before it started, I’m actually encouraged. Just please, can we hold off the inevitable Riverdale crossover until next year? Keep the shine for a little bit.
My score: 3.5 stars.