“Katy Keene” may be set in the Archie Comics universe. But it’s a long way from “Riverdale.”
That point is made, first, by a series-opening sequence in which Katy (Lucy Hale) announces “Welcome to New York!” while watching her roommate, a drag queen (Jonny Beauchamp), perform; only moments before, the Taylor Swift song “Welcome to New York” had been playing as Katy went about her job at an upscale department store. Later in the pilot, Josie (Ashleigh Murray), now an aspiring vocalist who operates without her backing Pussycats, announces she has little to fear in the big city: “I am from Riverdale. It’s the murder capital of the world.”
Indeed, the problems in “Katy Keene’s” New York seem more prosaic than in the drug-and-violence-strewn small town of “Riverdale” — and the show is better for it. Katy, here, is a would-be designer seeking to balance work, friends, and a relationship with a fellow (Zane Holtz) with whom she seems to share more past than future. She’s one among a group of friends trying to make it in a New York that’s a fantasy, but an appealing one — a playland with just enough grit to make attaining one’s dreams seem like a struggle worth enduring.
Hale, previously of “Pretty Little Liars,” is an endearing guide; her Katy is never defeated but easily flummoxed, with a very slight shade of Carrie Bradshaw to her witty, undercutting sense of the inherent drama of being herself. And the ensemble — the friends surrounding Katy as well as the coworkers seeking to deflate her dreams — are, to a one, well-cast.
In all, this show does an elegant job of reversing the “Riverdale” equation. On that show— also on the CW, also executive-produced by Greg Berlanti, and sharing source material as well as a vision — high schoolers speak in the lofty parlance of well-read thirtysomethings while dealing with nightmarish problems. On “Katy Keene,” characters living on their own as newly independent adults retain both the optimism and the indecision of their high school selves, a framing that feels refreshingly true to how one’s early 20s play out. And the loopy, serendipitous Manhattan of the series carries just enough real risk — of romantic disappointment, of career stall-out, of just not figuring it out at the same pace as one’s peers — to remain worth watching.
In all, “Katy Keene” represents a pleasant instance of the CW getting the balance exactly right for a comforting, engaging watch, keeping what works on “Riverdale” and ditching the murder. One hopes it stays that way.