The highly-anticipated ‘Riverdale’ spinoff, ‘Katy Keene’, made its debut last night on the CW network. The cast of beautiful dreamers is the latest to bring characters to life from the iconic Archies comic books – a series that began in the 1940s.
With a storyline modified for the current times, Katy Keene tells the story of and an eclectic crew of color creative types who find each other in the asphalt jungle of New York City. Ashleigh Murray reprises her role as ‘Josie’ from” Riverdale,” joined by cast members Jonny Beauchamp (Jorge/Ginger), Julia Chan (Pepper Smith), Katherine LaNasa (Gloria Grandbilt), and Camille Hyde (Alexandra Cabot). Lucy Hale portrays the title character Katy Keene, and actor Zane Holtz rounds out the cast as K.O., Katy’s live-in boyfriend.
A couple of weeks back, I was among members in the press invited to prescreen the pilot and participate in a meet and greet with the cast of Katy Keene. I asked them to share their perspective on joining the show and give us an overview of the characters they play. I was especially interested in speaking with Johnny Beauchamps, who takes on the re-imagined role of Ginger – modernized for 2020 as a drag persona.
Admittedly, I had not watched the popular Riverdale before, nor its first spinoff, Sabrina (the teenage witch.) Both shows seemed to be targeted toward a very different age and demographic than that of which I belong, so I had just never tuned in. As I researched the show in preparation for the cast interviews, it was only then that I realized the entire franchise of Riverdale, Sabrina, and now, Katy Keene were all from an interrelated world of Bill Woggon’s Archies comic book series.
With this new knowledge, I became very intrigued as it just so happens that as a kid, I loved Archies Comics and read them all the time. I shared that with the cast and Katherine LaNasa, who portrays a Miranda Priestly-esque Department store head honcho, expressed that she too loved the Archies Comics growing up. She feels that her adoration for the books possibly played a part in her landing her role as Katy’s not-so-nice boss Gloria Grandbilt:
“I was also a huge Archies Fan too, I mean during that time it was all we had if you weren’t into video games. Even then, it was just like Pong, so for me, Archies Comics were my thing, and we would collect them and covet them. I think in some ways, that’s what helped me get this role. I totally knew and understood the vibe of Gloria. She was like this vintage, retro almost like 1950s styled woman who speaks in snappy dialogue, and she’d totally avoid using technology, loves an old rotary phone, just for the style of it, still uses a pencil to write notes … I was conscious of those things, so that’s how I played her.” –Katherine LaNasa
As I watched the pilot, I did so through the filter of being an African American gay man of a certain age, writing for an LGBTQ site. I wondered if the show could resonate with that demographic. Minutes into the show, I decided that question was answered with a resounding yes, as the wide-eyed, idealistic cast represents something familiar in all of us. It reminded me of the dreamer I was as a highs school student transitioning into adulthood, starting to understand who I was, while realizing my small town couldn’t contain me. Suddenly I was New York City-bound, heading to the place where dreams come true, but naively overlooking the ratio of success that probably would indicate far more dreams were crushed that realized.
Lucy Hale, the luminescent-skinned star of the show, brings a perfect personification of Katy Keene to life once you take a look at the illustrations in the original comics. The former star of Pretty Little Liars nails the look and demeanor of her character. Katy’s another New York hopeful with big dreams and a passion for making fabulous clothes. She’s locked into a dead-end job though where her talents are neither welcomed nor encouraged. I asked Hale if she felt a responsibility to play Katy a certain way since she is an established character that comic book fans will know and likely have an opinion about:
“The physical look of my character is something we definitely wanted to keep true to the role. We still maintain a comic book feel, but we bring her forward. She’s stylish, of course, and we’ll throw in iconic outfits from the comic books that fans might recognize. As for playing the character, they really gave me a blank slate and let me create the kind of girl I thought Katy would be today. So I imagine her like a glass half full-kinda, a loyal friend, loving and optimistic, making it in New York City.” – Lucy Hale
Johnny Beauchamp’s who takes on the role of Jorge and drag persona, Ginger, expressed his connection to his character – a performer in New York City who gets rejected at auditions for being too feminine. In real like Beauchamps knows how grueling the audition process can be in general,
“What my character Ginger goes through in the show is real for so many performers in NYC. I don’t know if would have the gumption to be as tough as Ginger, who goes in to audition after audition and not only is she not getting the jobs, but she’s also being subject to really nasty things being said to her because of gender and sex, etc., as she’s being told, “no we don’t want you in our chorus.” It’s like they forget there’s a human being under that leotard. But Ginger gets stronger from it and eventually has the guts to respond, “Well, maybe I’m just too fierce for your chorus anyway, and you don’t know what to do with me, but I will make it! – Johnny Beauchamps
The undeniable heartthrob of Katy Keene is Canadian born actor Zane Holtz who informed me that landing his role on the show brought him full circle from a few years back when the Riverdale series was announced:
It’s funny, I remember hearing about the casting and pilot for the original Riverdale show, and I was a litter older than those characters who were all in high school, so I was like, aw man, that would have been fun. But then this show came up a couple of years later, and now it’s worked out so being a part of that universe is very rewarding, a childhood dream come true.” –Zane Holtz
Reprising her role as Josie from Riverdale, actress Ashley Murray joins the cast of Katy Keene as it’s starry-eyed, aspiring singer-songwriter. Her delicate beauty immediately brings to mind the face of Tika Sumpter of The Haves and the Have Nots. In many ways, she serves as an anchor of the show –a familiar face from Riverdale who Keene viewers already know. Her character moved to New York, leaving behind her all-girl band The Pussy Cats, to give it a go as a solo act. Murray shared with me what it’s like to transition as the same character from one show to another:
“I know we’re referred to as a ‘spinoff’ but in many ways, Katy Keene has its own identity at the same time. I really love is how our costume designer will do these amazing things like incorporate accents of my character that have meaning from Riverdale, like accents she’ll add into Josie’s clothing on Katy Keene. For example, she often adds animal print accents in Josie’s clothes, even if a small amount, paying homage to the Pussy Cats band who Josie left back in Riverdale. So it keeps my character connected between both worlds.” – Ashley Murray
I shared with Michael Grassi, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, that I was pleasantly surprised by the show and how the characters felt familiar – and not in a bad way. That’s part of the beauty of Katy Keene. We, the audience, are invited along through a landscape of familiarity, no matter your age or background – there is a character we all may relate to. The common denominators of hope, pursuing dreams, love, loss, chasing careers, heartbreak, and triumphs are all represented.
With a similar formula to the magical comradery of the Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, and a hint of Glee and Katy Keene delivers a show gay boys will love with its share of glitter, grit and seemingly unbelievable yet plausible big city adventures.
Katy Keene is presented by the CW Network. Check Local Listings For Show Times