Is Riverdale getting too dark and gory for you? Well, The CW might have just what you need with Katy Keene — debuting Thursday, Feb. 6 at 8/7c — a light and breezy Riverdale spinoff starring Lucy Hale as the titular fashion designer chasing her dreams in New York City. A glammed-up combo of Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada, Katy Keene is definitely a hard turn away from Riverdale‘s grim and bloody subject matter: Think less serial killers and cult leaders and more cute rom-com antics and all-night BFF chat sessions. As a Riverdale viewer, I don’t mind getting a break from the Black Hood, et al… but after seeing how utterly lacking in conflict Katy‘s first three episodes are, I almost wanted the Black Hood back.
Actually, aside from a few cheeky references, Katy Keene is quite separate from Riverdale, telling a new story set five years later, with Katy working as a stylist in a swanky department store while stitching up her own designs at night. Riverdale‘s Josie (Ashleigh Murray) is her new roommate — now with red hair! — joining Jorge (Jonny Beauchamp), who dreams of Broadway stardom while performing in drag at a nearby bar. Rounding out the tightknit friend group is creative gadfly Pepper (Julia Chan), who drops more names than The Good Place‘s Tahani and manages to say things like “I just gave a TED talk on the feminist power of Snapchat” with a straight face. They’re all best friends and “obsessed” with each other, giving each other heartfelt advice while upbeat girl-power songs thump away on the soundtrack. The tone here is aggressively, almost desperately optimistic and aspirational. We’re all having fun here, right? Right?!?
I do appreciate Katy Keene‘s youthful energy, and that ineffable spark of young people following their hearts in the big city. (Like many, I can relate to those lean years with lots of friends crammed into a tiny apartment.) But this show needs friction. Everything is too low-stakes and easy for Katy and her pals. Any setbacks they experience are either quickly undone or turn out to be blessings in disguise. There are virtually no consequences, so there’s nothing to invest in emotionally. Again, I don’t need the life-and-death stakes of Riverdale here, but something in between would be nice. (This is New York City! There is conflict out there!) It’s admittedly fun to watch Katy and company glide through life without a care, but it’s all so lightweight, it practically evaporates.
The all-smiles fantasyland that is Katy Keene is best epitomized by Katy’s hunky boxer boyfriend K.O. (Zane Holtz), who might be the most blindly supportive boyfriend in TV history. He’s like a teen girl’s blueprint of what a boyfriend should be: endlessly loving, with plenty of muscles and no discernible personality of his own. Katy basically walks all over him, changing her mind back and forth again, and he just grins and tells her how amazing her shoes look as they trample his body. His unfailing devotion to Katy almost becomes a running joke as the series progresses; I’m considering watching more just to see if he ever grows a spine.
The young cast of hopefuls do get to shine here: With her fresh face and big eyes, Hale looks like a living cartoon, so she’s a perfect fit as Katy. Plus, it’s nice to see Murray get a chance to spread her wings and show off her vocals after being sidelined on Riverdale for so long. They need a strong villain to play off of, though, and generically mean rich girl Alexandra Cabot (Camille Hyde) doesn’t quite cut it. I found myself wishing for more screentime for The Other Two‘s Heléne York, who plays Katy’s bitchy coworker Amanda. She’s sharp enough to provide a worthy foil for Katy, at least… but in the world of Katy Keene, it seems, any and all sharp edges have been rounded off to a safe dullness.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: The CW’s Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene is fun and fizzy, but it’s too lightweight, lacking any kind of emotional stakes.