“Katy, in my next life, I want your optimism,” Ginger Lopez (Jonny Beauchamp), drag queen alter ego of dancer Jorge Lopez, announces during the third episode of the CW’s new dramedy Katy Keene (showing on BBC iPlayer). Technically, Ginger is talking about her dear friend, the ever-idealistic and impossibly talented Katy Keene, played by Pretty Little Liars mainstay Lucy Hale. However, Ginger could have just as easily been describing Katy the show — premiering Saturday, July 25th — a relentlessly positive New York dream.
Each piece of Katy's promotional material will tell you it technically operates as a Riverdale spin-off. The New York fairy tale, which is inspired by a post-World War II-era Archie Comics title of the same name, even stars one of Riverdale’s most underutilised talents: Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray). Josie left her hometown last year to find her path to musical stardom. That road has brought Josie, our audience surrogate, to the doorstep of Katy, a young designer with a bright smile and bigger ambitions. While Josie’s home base of Riverdale is beset by gangs, drugs, and murders, all she finds in New York is glamour — even when the wine is cheap and sipped out of plastic stemware.
That high-hope, low-budget sensibility is a big part of what makes Katy feel special. Unlike many Manhattan-set series, the apartment Katy shares with BFF Jorge (and, now, Josie) never feels unrealistically large. Instead, the true-to-life claustrophobia of living in a New York City shoebox is palpable in the cinematography and influential to the plot. Still, Katy’s central location remains joyful. The cheery space is adorned with the little pieces of care and style that someone like Katy, Jorge, and Josie would add to their home, no matter how small it is. In Katy's universe, it is obvious that beauty isn’t defined by wealth.
For Katy Keene's target audience of millennials and Gen-Z viewers, that’s a healthy reminder.
To keep the new series from getting too saccharine, the lives of Katy and her friends aren’t perfect all of the time. Josie struggles to find her way through the topsy-turvy labyrinth that is the NYC entertainment business. The result is a second-string storyline that often feels like forgotten footage from Empire. Jorge brings the greatest solo-plot heft as a Latinx queer performer trying succeed in an industry that has labeled him “too much.” It is impossible not to feel for Jorge, or root for him. Katy also contends with the duelling interests of her work in retail, her personal goals as a designer, and her romance with beefcake boxer K.O Kelly (Zane Holtz).
If anything bogs you down while watching Katy Keene, it will be Katy's relationship with beautiful lunk K.O. We quickly find out the pair have been together since high school and have therefore experienced their fair share of struggles. Especially since, at this point in the story, Katy has grieved through the death of her beloved mother, single mom Katherine Keene (Samantha Smart). Katy and K.O.’s love should be battled hardened. Yet, it often feels as through these are two people who are experiencing the difficult parts of a love story for the very first time. In fact, it seems like they’ve never spoken about the future beyond vague aphorisms about limitless triumph in the big city. Katy and K.O.'s issues feel more like a narrative engine than a believable character evolution.
But this is a show about finding your way in the Big Apple, and Sex and the City cemented romantic trouble as a pillar of the genre. Although Katy does have the do-it yourself version of Carrie Bradshaw’s (Sarah Jessia Parker) covetable closet, Katy has far more in common with Freeform’s The Bold Type. Both series follow best friends through the highs and lows of Manhattan’s most cutthroat industries. Both series are fuelled by romantic rollercoasters without being defined by them. Yet, The Bold Type thrives in its hunger for dealing with harsh real-life hardships — like sexual assault and possibly dangerous genetic markers — while also finding time to celebrate friendship. Katy Keene, on the other hand, knows the problems of the world exist, but would much rather solve them in an hour or less.
That’s why when one Tony-winning guest star tells Josie, “I guess I could use some youthful idealism here,” you’ll nod in agreement.