"Nobody’s perfect, but Katy Keene comes pretty close," Judy Berman says of The CW's Riverdale spinoff. "A lovely young New York native, she spends her days charming VIPs in the personal shopping department of a Bergdorf-esque institution called Lacy’s. By night, she’s a budding designer, banging out whimsical pink and red garments—dramatic capes, smart bouclé dresses, sequined wrap dresses—for herself and her friends on a sewing machine passed down from her mom and grandmother. She lives in a big, shabby-chic apartment with two other aspiring artists and parties at the same club where K.O. Kelly, the chiseled sweetheart who’s been her boyfriend since high school, works as a bouncer. On paper, this all sounds kind of cloying. But breezy Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene... is essentially a fairy tale—and every fairy tale needs its princess. Thankfully, Lucy Hale (whose precocious poise made her a slightly odd fit as artsy high schooler Aria Montgomery in the long-running teen thriller Pretty Little Liars) makes an unusually appealing one. A stylized update of a World-War-II-era Archie Comics character, she’s also every idealized TV career woman rolled into one: Carrie Bradshaw without the empty philosophizing, Midge Maisel without the baggage, a Mary Richards for our time."
Katy Keene does an elegant job of reversing the Riverdale equation: "On that show— also on the CW, also executive-produced by Greg Berlanti, and sharing source material as well as a vision — high schoolers speak in the lofty parlance of well-read thirtysomethings while dealing with nightmarish problems," says Daniel D'Addario. "On Katy Keene, characters living on their own as newly independent adults retain both the optimism and the indecision of their high school selves, a framing that feels refreshingly true to how one’s early 20s play out."
Katy Keene would dangle on the precipice of cloying sweetness if its performers weren’t so charming (and effortlessly diverse) across the board: "As the title character, Hale is saddled with most of the series’ heavy lifting, and she makes it seem weightless, even with childhood flashbacks and numerous voice-overs," says Gwen Ihnat. "Hale hasn’t been able to land another successful starring role since Pretty Little Liars ended in 2017 (the unfortunately disease-themed Life Sentence only lasted 13 episodes in 2018). But she’s completely engaging as Katy, a twentysomething trying to carve out her life even as she’s faced with fate-altering career and relationship decisions (the charmless K.O. is probably not long for this world, not when there are actual princes lurking about). She’s a devoted and loyal friend, willing to stay up all night sewing because Ginger needs a new sequined outfit, taking her own dress off her back if a Lacy’s customer wants to try it on, doggedly determined to stay in New York until her many dreams are realized."
Katy Keene is in desperate need of friction: "I do appreciate Katy Keene‘s youthful energy, and that ineffable spark of young people following their hearts in the big city," says Dave Nemetz. "(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."
Katy Keene is too normal: "A show about New York doesn’t need to be nasty," says Darren Franich. "You want to feel a little grime, though, and Katy Keene has all the authenticity of a postcard purchased at the airport. Katy and KO smooch at Coney Island. Every firefighter is a hottie date prospect. 'New York,' Katy narrates. 'They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.' Dialogue like that got banned decades ago. (Roberto) Aguirre-Sacasa is a retro guy, I get it. I might not believe that two youngish musicians are still bonding in downtown record stores over Bob Dylan albums, but it’s nice to think so, even if the male songwriter looks like he walked out of a Tal Bachman biopic. When Riverdale works, it finds a best-of-both-worlds mixture of faded-photograph sincerity and sinful fun. Katy Keene wants to do something similar with the big city."
Katy Keene was designed to be romantic, optimistic and aspirational: "If you were really in the know, you knew Katy Keene. She was an ‘it’ girl — she was a model, an actress, and all of those comics were really, really fashion-driven,” explains co-creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. “When it came time to think of a different show we thought, ‘Oh, we’ve done horror with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and pulp and crime with Riverdale.’ It felt to me like this could be a more romantic, optimistic, aspirational show, and Katy Keene could be the character that anchored it.”
Katy Keene is meant to be a "big city fairy tale": "We set Katy Keene in what we like to call ‘the New York of the imagination’ — in that it’s the real New York, but it’s the New York that’s vanishing before our very eyes," says co-creator Michael Grassi. "It’s a New York where artists can live in Manhattan and pursue their dreams and afford an apartment in Washington Heights; it’s a New York where places like CBGB still exist; and it’s also a place where the city is ripe with opportunity, whether that’s a career opportunity or a romantic opportunity.”