katy keene
The CW
Entertainment

'Riverdale' Spinoff 'Katy Keene' Is the Silly Show You Should Be Watching

I'm going to go right ahead and admit that I stopped following the shenanigans going on in Riverdale quite some time ago. The gritty/campy take on the Archie Comics lore lost me with all the talk of the hard drug known as Jingle Jangle, and, as far as I know, it's only gotten more fucking insane. Sure, I'll check in whenever they do a musical episode based on a cult Off-Broadway hit, but it all just became Too Much for me. So keep that in mind when I explain why I'm hooked on Katy Keene, a Riverdale spinoff that's got all of the cheesy flare but none of the murder. (So far, at least.) 

Katy Keene comes from the mastermind of the Riverdale universe, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Michael Grassi, who is also a veteran of the Archie mothership. It's a show about a group of friends pursuing their dreams in the Big City and it's goofy and romantic and earnest as all hell. Watching Katy Keene involves turning off your brain and deciding that things are going to be nice for a while. But you may still be asking: Who is Katy Keene? And what is Katy Keene? And why should I watch Katy Keene? Thus, I've got you covered.

Who is Katy Keene? 

While Katy Keene might not be as recognizable a name as Archie Andrews or Veronica Lodge or Jughead, she's been part of the Archie stable since the 1940s. Historically, she's a fashionista whose titles have included Katy Keene Pin-up Parade and Katy Keene Fashion Book Magazine. Her looks, especially in the '80s, were wild. In the context of the show, she's an aspiring designer played by Lucy Hale, of Pretty Little Liars fame. Katy lives with her friend Jorge (Jonny Beauchamp), who moonlights as drag queen Ginger above his parents' bodega. In the pilot, they welcome new roommate Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray) -- as in "the Pussycats" -- to their abode. They also have a British friend named Pepper Smith (Julia Chan), who is an It girl with slight Anna Delvey vibes. Katy, whose dearly departed mother was a seamstress, works at Lacy's -- lol -- department store as an assistant to the Miranda Priestly-esque personal shopper Gloria Grandbilt (Katherine La Nasa). 

When does Katy Keene take place? 

Okay, so this is what's weird. Katy Keene ostensibly takes place five whole years after the current season of Riverdale. So technically, Katy Keene takes place in the future, assuming that Riverdale is not set in the past, and honestly, I'm not really sure I know the answer to that. Except, it doesn't really matter. Sure, the show will throw in references to modern pop culture but it also exists essentially without time, but aesthetically, it may as well be happening sometime between the '40s and the '80s. 

Where does Katy Keene take place?

New York, ostensibly. But just as the actual year in which it takes place seems irrelevant, Katy Keene's version of New York is also charmingly vague. The show bills itself as a "fairy tale," and thus exists in a fairy tale New York. (Not The Pogues one, though.) Okay, yes, there are some hints of real life. Actual fashion designers are name-dropped. The characters talk about how they are struggling to make rent. But that's just a tiny part of the dreamy, glossy, quasi-bohemian life Katy Keene is trying to conjure. Remember how in Gossip Girl Dan Humphrey was looked down upon by his peers for being "poor" yet he lived in a giant loft in either Williamsburg or DUMBO? Well, Katy Keene is described as a "gutter girl" for hailing from the Lower East Side. (The LES hasn't been cheap in years.) But this is Katy Keene where Manhattan is still cool and Brooklyn seemingly doesn't exist. To heighten the sense that we're in some kind of glittery alternate universe, the Katy Keene writers have come up with cutesy names for venues that sound very close to the names of actual NYC locations. Katy and her pals frequent Molly's Crisis, a drag club that's the equivalent of real life piano bar Marie's Crisis. In one episode, they go to Studio 34, a knockoff of iconic club Studio 54. (Studio 54 is now a Broadway theater, so…)

katy keene
The CW

What would you compare Katy Keene to? 

Katy Keene is a nice cup of tea of a TV show. The stakes are pleasantly low. While there is some Gossip Girl in its DNA -- Katy's outfits seem like they could be ripped from Blair Waldorf's closet -- it doesn't lean into that show's nastiness. The vibes are more akin to the criminally underrated The Carrie Diaries, the Sex and the City prequel about Carrie Bradshaw's teenage years interning for Interview magazine. In nearly every episode, Katy encounters pushback from Gloria, who gives her a near impossible task that she ends up completing in fabulous fashion. Meanwhile, her friends have their own dramas. Pepper is struggling to keep up appearances despite being broke. She's also trying to build her own version of Warhol's Factory. Josie is pursuing her dreams of becoming a pop star, but is caught between two (very hot and very rich) siblings who are toying with her emotionally. Jorge's parents don't know about his drag persona, so he's trying to keep that a secret while dealing with a multitude of boy problems and struggling to get cast in a Broadway show. So far, the most intense storyline has revolved around Katy's decision whether or not to accept a proposal from her long-term boyfriend, a wannabe boxer named K.O. Kelly. (Spoiler alert: She says no, which in my opinion is a great move because he's pretty boring. Aim higher, Katy!) 

Are the guest stars good? 

Yes! Katy Keene rivals The Good Wife/Fight and Law & Order universes for best random appearances by musical theater legends. Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins plays a busker who Josie starts singing with in the pilot. Bernadette Peters is a rich eccentric with cocktail umbrellas in her hair. Hadestown star André De Shields hires Josie to work at his record shop. The Other Two's Heléne Yorke is Katy's hilariously bitchy work nemesis, while legend (and original Rent cast member) Daphne Rubin-Vega is Jorge's mom. 

Are there musical numbers? 

Hell yeah. Josie is almost constantly singing, while Ginger often takes the Molly's Crisis stage. But the most delightfully insane numbers are the ones where the whole gang just starts singing in their apartment. In a recent episode, they bust out Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" while getting ready to hit the town. But that's nothing compared to an upcoming episode in which they bust out "My Strongest Suit" from Elton John's musical Aida, which was once covered by the Spice Girls. While I have no doubt that the cast records the vocals -- you can listen on Spotify -- the sequences are clearly lip-synced and not always well. But that's part of their charm! It's the goofy hypothetical if what if your friends dealt with their problems by bursting out into choreographed song?

Is there anything else I should know? 

In an upcoming episode, Vogue's "73 Questions" series is parodied as "83 Queries." That is all.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.