Can 'Riverdale' make 'Katy Keene' happen?
The repeat references to the canceled spinoff are keeping these characters alive, but can it revive the NY-set series?
The CW has an eye for comic book material with the option for multiple spinoffs as witnessed by Arrow and its many TV companions. The Archieverse has also proved fruitful, but without the same strike rate as the superheroes on this network. Riverdale debuted in 2017 and is still going strong with its current season leaping seven years into the future to breathe new life into the narrative. Meanwhile, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which aired on Netflix) has just come to a close and New York-set Katy Keene was canceled after a season. However, the Riverdale writers have been regularly mentioning Katy (Lucy Hale) and her friends in Season 5 with several guest stars popping over from the cancellation void whenever Veronica (Camila Mendes) needs a favor. At the end of the mid-season finale, Veronica is still in New York City and more appearances have been teased by Riverdale showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. For this reason and because it has been nearly a year since Katy Keene designed her last frock, here is a renewed plea to give Katy and her pals another chance beyond Veronica’s contact list.
Unlike its Archieverse counterparts, the world Katy Keene inhabits features far fewer monsters and murderers. An antidote to the serial killer storylines and darker aspects, Katy and her friends are striving to hit the big time in music, fashion, and acting. This isn’t to say that this spinoff doesn’t deal with some hard-hitting storylines (particularly exploring LGBTQ issues) or the frothy fun side of this world — see the many musical interludes. Instead of serial killer fathers and hell-based antics, sartorial emergencies and music industry conundrums dominate the young artist’s attempts to make their dreams come true. Josie (Ashleigh Murray) moved from Riverdale to NYC to pursue her singer-songwriter dream and formed another iteration of the Pussycats. Introduced to Katy via Veronica (of course), this provides a tether to the original series without too many strings attached. So far, Josie has not made a reappearance in her former hometown, which is long overdue.
If Riverdale can feel a tad dark at times when it leans into horror influences (see the mid-season finale going full Funny Games), Katy Keene is a breath of pop culture fresh air taking the iconic department store setting to new heights. Developed for the CW by Aguirre-Sacasa and Michael Grassi, the series is a mix of romantic entanglements and career aspirations. Katy’s Fifth Avenue workplace is a play on Macy’s while looking like Bergdorf Goodman with a splash of B. Altman (but minus Midge Maisel). This brick-and-mortar retail hot spot has died a slow death in real life and yet television keeps the shopping fantasy alive. Tapping into a similar retro aesthetic as its counterparts, Lacy’s is in a time warp reminiscent of the whimsical Pushing Daisies pie shop.
Reality does seep in as other features of this series are more reflective of the fashion-conscious New York depicted in shows like The Bold Type and The Flight Attendant. The desire to look runway-ready is due to Katy’s dream of becoming a designer in her own right, which feeds into the highly covetable costumes. Sabrina Spellman’s (Kiernan Shipka) signature red garments favor a timeless silhouette whereas Katy’s penchant for this shade is dialed into playful hearts and cherries. The latter could stumble into Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) territory and while the maple queen would likely purchase garments from Katy’s line, the vampy Old Hollywood vibe is not part of Katy’s overall personal look. Every designer needs a brand identity and through costume designer Jenn Rogien (the pilot was designed by Liz Vastola), it is clear that Katy’s embraced a strong chic visual motif. If Riverdale and Sabrina are influenced by a ‘50s and ‘60s style direction, then Katy Keene is drawing on these decades through to the 1970s — Josie’s penchant for vintage ripped attire matches her profession.
Part of the Katy Keene charm is the warmth its characters feel toward each other that eschews a lot of the frenemy narratives. Sure, Pepper’s (Julia Chan) scams cause friction, and conflict is required to keep audiences intrigued, but the bond between this group of friends is a big draw. As with other New York-based shows, parties are a factor offering plenty of occasions to dress up. The Meta Gala (aka the Archieverse take on the biggest night in fashion) is a playful tongue-in-cheek nod to this annual event. Without the Met Gala taking place in 2020, the Meta Gala was a much-needed alternative. I binge-watched this series during a particularly stressful month — the official motto of 2020 — and it was a balm. The balance of frivolous storylines, celebrating LGBTQ characters, guest stars like RuPaul Drag Race favorite Shangela and Bernadette Peters, and portraying hate crimes (and the aftermath) also gave a reason to watch amid the packed TV landscape. There is a reason Aguirre-Sacasa was on The Hollywood Reporter’s inaugural “50 Most Powerful LGBTQ Players” list last year. Both Riverdale and Sabrina tick similar boxes, but lack the sincerity of their Big Apple counterpart.
So what are we to make of the near-weekly mentions of Katy and her pals on Riverdale? When The CW canceled the series last summer, initial reports noted it was getting shopped around in a bid to find a new home. Nearly a year later and while no alternative platform has been found, Riverdale is keeping the spinoff alive. Even before the time jump occurred, Katy’s on-again-off-again beau K.O. (Zane Holtz) stopped by in the Season 5 premiere to face off against Archie (KJ Apa) in a boxing match to claim a place in the Naval Academy — yeah, I don’t think that’s how recruitment work either. K.O. isn’t the only love interest to cross paths with Archie from Katy Keene as Jorge Lopez’s (Jonny Beauchamp) firefighter ex Bernardo (Ryan Faucett) made an appearance in “Fire in the Sky” to help train Archie’s rag-tag bunch of volunteer firefighters.
While Veronica didn’t pop up in the freshman series, her father Hiram (Mark Consuelos) stopped by in the Season 1 finale in a bid to buy Jorge’s parents’ store. This is one of the cliffhangers yet to be resolved and considering the Riverdale time jump, it is hard to accurately note how long ago this actually was. Veronica’s connections to New York are many including her mother’s new starring role on Real Housewives and husband Chad Gekko (Chris Mason). Chad appeared as a potential Pepper investor when she wanted to create Andy Warhol-type art space — that she referred to as Pepper’s Plant. You might not recall this character being the same person as Veronica’s Wall Street bro and that’s because they are played by different actors.
During the seven-year gap, we find out Veronica had been working at Lacy’s before going back to the Uncut Gems-inspired diamond selling excitement — though she is still tight with Katy. In the recent “Lock & Key,” Lucy Hale makes a voice cameo when she phones her friend to tell her about Chad’s overt attempt to make his wife jealous. Veronica calls Katy by her full name throughout the convo and Katy’s sighting occurred at Lacy’s cafe during lunch with window dresser Francois (Nathan Lee Graham). When Veronica heads back to New York to obtain signed divorce papers she tells Archie she will stay with Katy Keene in Washington Heights. Alas, this sleepover doesn’t take place and no one from the spinoff makes an appearance. So far all of these namedrop moments feel more purposeful than a wink to this former show and each one is a reminder of the joyful show that got the ax. If the series hadn’t already occurred this would read like setting up a backdoor pilot (much like when Hale appeared in Season 4 to introduce this character).
Ratings (or lack of) was a major factor in the Katy Keene cancellation and it is hard to make a successful series in a landscape as crowded as the current streaming and network landscape — even as a spinoff. It is unclear how much COVID-19 played into this decision, and the extra protocols and filming conditions have no doubt contributed to these business decisions. Despite positive reviews and getting referred to as a “modern-day fairy tale,” the viewing figures did not match. Daring to dream big is part of Katy Keene’s tapestry and if a second chance exists for these characters, I hope this goes beyond Veronica’s influence.
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Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.