On the heels of the five-part, six-series superhero crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths, the CW is adding a brick to its other set of interconnected shows. Katy Keene premieres tonight, joining Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which is a Netflix series, but shares showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) as the third show in the Riverdale-verse.
Despite oblique references to each other, Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and haven't made the leap to full-fledged crossovers (and aren't likely to, given that they reside on different networks), so when Katy Keene was first announced, it appeared to be the best opportunity yet to begin swapping characters around for heavily-promoted team-ups -- especially since Josie (of "Josie and the Pussycats" fame) gets ported over from the halls of Riverdale High. Yet a smart decision will make it more difficult for the show to fall back on the same type of crossovers the network has relied on within the Greg Berlanti-verse: Keene will take place five years beyond Riverdale's current timeline.
While existing characters may make winking appearances on the two shows — as they already did last night when Riverdale's Veronica Lodge visited New York for a college interview — Katy Keene's futuristic setting assures that producers will be forced to avoid arbitrary reasons for characters to randomly interact in order to juice ratings.
The interconnected DC shows have been doing steady crossovers between an escalating number of shows for a half a decade now, and while imagining a bunch of disparate superheroes on different Earths casually being friends and calling each other in to save the day is really cool, after so many team-ups or pop-ins, it strains credulity within is own universe, let alone ours. (Especially when it exists in a narrative vacuum that gets reset at the end of said crossover.)
Katy Keene's five-year time jump, while admittedly not as massive as people literally living on different planets, provides a built-in barrier to lazy storytelling moves. You want Archie Andrews in New York five years in the future? Then that idea must begin with a reason why. What led him to go there? What kind of character growth has he gone through in the intervening years? What sort of insight or growth are we supposed to gain from his appearance? That sounds like a lot to ask, but it can all be taken care of in a scene or two without overwhelming the entire episode's purpose. But the show does have to think about it, rather than simply saying Archie was just stopping by on a drive from Riverdale to Boston for a trip that never gets developed further.
Having to explain what happened in a five-year interim for a character that is still in their “present” on an ongoing show opens up interesting storytelling tricks. Riverdale loves a good plot tease, and what better way to hint at a possible tragedy or major life event than having characters obliquely reference them. Are Veronica and Cheryl Blossom widely-known rum distillers with an office in Midtown? Has Archie grown his family's construction business enough that they won a bid for a job in Queens? Any of those would be better than an "event episode" in which a few characters attending Yale hop on the Metro-North for a night out in the city.
This choice also has the inherent side effect of forcing more realistic storytelling. Once people leave high school and enter the real world, more often than not, they lose touch. Committing to the idea that no, Josie and Archie or Katy and Veronica probably aren't hanging out that often as they figure out their own adulthoods is far more true-to-life than the normal TV treatment of everybody staying in close contact throughout college, or magically reuniting afterwards. While that's a necessity within shows, as it makes sense that Riverdale can't very well have it's core characters separated for years on end, a sense of reality between characters in the same universe but in different shows or cities is a refreshing concept.
Aguirre-Sacasa's shows have largely avoided flat story decisions in the past (one of them deals with Satanic connections and a witch boarding school, while the other once had a character getting mauled by a bear and almost dying), so this opportunity is well within the writing room's wheelhouse. It doesn't even require a hard and fast commitment to circle back to specific character developments in other shows once they're mentioned in Keene, but it opens up the opportunity to do so if it things fall into place.
It could end up that Riverdale renders this entire situation moot by also instituting a five-year time jump at the end of its current season as that show's main cast members graduate from small town life, go off to college, and begin their lives in places like… New York City. It cerainly wouldn't be the first show to do so — One Tree Hill and Pretty Little Liars are just a couple that have instituted big time skips instead of suffering through the college years. It's probably the move that makes the most sense, long-term. But it's not the most exciting possibility.
Crossovers that take place across different Earths and timelines? That's been done. Crossovers where all the characters are living on the same timeline but we're seeing it out of order? That's storytelling to strive for. Time will tell if Katy Keene and Riverdale go there.
Katy Keene premieres Thursday February 6th at 8:00 PM ET on The CW.
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Whitney McIntosh has written about television, sports, and pop culture since 2012. For sometimes-intelligent thoughts on all of these, you can follow her on Twitter