Katy Keene Episode 1 Review – Chapter 1: Once Upon a Time in New York City

Katy Keene, the third entry in the CW's Archieverse is a comforting musical fantasy with engaging characters.

This Katy Keene review contains spoilers.

Katy Keene Episode 1

“This one’s for all the dreamers out there.”

So declares Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray, reprising her Riverdale role) towards the end of Katy Keene‘s pilot episode. She’s not summing up this third entry in the ever-expanding TV Archieverse, but she may as well be. Unlike Riverdale or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina there are no murders or Satantic headaches to be found here, just a quartet of twentysomethings living in New York City and pursuing their dreams. It’s pure escapism in every way, and way more charming than it has any right to be.

Perhaps best described as Sex in the City meets Fame by way of The Devil Wears Prada, the series stars Lucy Hale as the titular character, a talented fashion designer who spends her days working at Lacy’s — NYC’s most iconic department store. Back-burnering her own ambitions, she spends most of this pilot episode working to impress her vicious, driven boss Gloria Grandbilt (Katharine LaNasa) into granting her a prestigious personal shopper job.

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Her longtime boyfriend is aspiring boxer K.O. Kelly (Zane Holtz), a handsome lunk who, in this installment, teeter tots between being wildly supportive and dismissive of Katy’s career. The biggest drama in the premiere is whether or not Katy will move with K.O. to Philly, so yeah, Gargoyle King stakes are nowhere to be found here.

The other leads are, besides Katie and Josie (who is still seeking stardom minus The Pussycats) are Jorge Lopez (Jonny Beaucamp) a talented dancer who years to originate a role on Broadway. At night he works at the Molly’s Crisis nightclub, performing as drag queen Ginger Lopez. There’s also Pepper Smith (Julia Chan) the “most-connected person in New York” who would set off my bullshit alarm even if where her storyline was going already wasn’t leaked.

Having just moved to NYC, Josie immediately is discovered busking in Washington Square Park by the handsome and successful Alexander Cabot (Lucis Laviscount). After immediately hitting it off with Josie, he invites her to record the next big charttopper…something that makes her roommates nervous until she reminds them that she comes from “the murder capital of the world.” I mean, she’s not wrong. After a recording session that seemingly goes amazingly, Alex plays the song for his wealthy business magnate sister Alexandra (Camille Hyde) and the Cabot board, who promptly decide that it is a dud and Josie doesn’t have the “undeniable” talent to make it in pop music.

She’s not the only one getting harsh life lessons thrown at her either. Jorge auditions twice for a new Broadway (once as Jorge, once as Ginger) only to get rejected both times. After the casting director tells him that he needs to be more “tough,” Jorge incredulously responds “for Mannequin: The Musical?,” resulting in the biggest laugh of the episode. And then, after helping a prince’s commoner girlfriend make some inspired fashion choices, Katy is passed up for her much-wanted promotion by a resentful Gloria.

With this just being the pilot, we know that there’s going to be plenty of wins and losses for this quartet. Indeed, by the time the credits roll Katy has a new job helping to dress the windows at Lacy’s and even is proposed to by K.O. We will see how these storylines play out as this first season progresses. For now though, Katy Keene is a valentine to an idealized New York City that hasn’t really existed for a very long time, if ever. You don’t watch a show like this for substance, but rather to escape and lose yourself in someone else’s dreams for awhile. We can all use that right about now.

Fashionable Facts

– I’m thrilled to be covering Katy Keene for Den of Geek! Just as I do for the other shows in the Archieverse — Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina — I will be dividing my weekly coverage between a run down/analysis of each episode’s events then featuring trivia and assorted musings in this section. Since this show is a self-described “high-fashion fairytale,” the stakes are much lower than on its companion Archie series. And honestly? This is a huge part of Katy Keene‘s charm. This series is pure wish-fulfillment. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here…and in sharing this journey with all of you!

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– The character of Katy Keene originally appeared as a supporting character in Wilbur Comics (a book that pre-dated Archie) in 1945. Created by Bill Woggon, Katy initially gained popularity through an ingenious gimmick in which readers were encouraged to submit fashion designs for Katy to wear. This has since become a trademark of the character. Until this year, Katy was largely kept separate from the main Archiverse. She will be romantically linked with everyone’s favorite ginger player in Archie and Katy Keene later this year.

– This show mashes up several characters from the Archieverse. Katy, Gloria and K.O. all originated in Katy Keene. Ginger Lopez is a minor player in the main stable of Archie Comics. Pepper comes from the pre-Pussycats Josie comics, with Alexander and Alexandra spawned from later books featuring the characters as well as the Josie and the Pussycats animated series’.

– This pilot was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who also runs the other Archie TV shows) and Michael Grassi.

– Katy Keene takes place five years after Riverdale, which is still on the air. Try not to think about the logistics of this too much or your head will hurt.

– Is this the first time a discussion of code switching has been featured on national television? Here’s hoping that this series continues great dialogue about the LGBTQ+ community.

Mannequin: The Musical is an inspired idea that should be produced immediately. It’s also not lost on me the character of Francois (Nathan Lee Graham) is inspired by Mannequin’s Hollywood Montrose character.

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– At the audition, the director announces that Shiela, Bobby and Paul advance. These are all character names from A Chorus Line, which this entire sequence feels like an extended homage to.

– Gloria asks Alexandra “how is that adorable Siamese cat of yours doing….Sebastian, isn’t it?” Referencing her magical pet from the comics. (Archie comics in the 1970s loved magical cats).

– In the Cabot board’s defense, Josie’s song was a bit of a dud.

– Katy wears an I heart K.O. shirt. Not her best design work.

Riverdale‘s penchant for ridiculous character names has carried over to this show. Prince Errol Swoon, anyone?

– Fake brands too (Lacy’s).

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– Finally, as someone who lives in Philly but regularly travels to New York City and has dated there, I really can’t stress enough how minimal the distance between these metropolises truly is. Hop on a Megabus and you’ll get to Philly in 90 minutes K.O., sheesh.

Chris Cummins is a writer, producer and Archie Comics historian. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.


4.5 out of 5