Katy Keene creators break down 'aspirational' new show — and get a sneak peek of the premiere
Katy Keene is here to bring a little sunshine back to the Archie-verse.
“Katy Keene is stepping out of the noir shadows of Riverdale and into the spotlight,” teases co-creator Michael Grassi. “We’re entering worlds like fashion, music, Broadway, drag. It’s a show about dreamers.”
When the show premieres Feb. 6, the televisual Archie-verse, based on the beloved Archie Comics characters, trades pulp and horror for optimism and romance, following fashion designer Katy (Lucy Hale), singer Josie (Ashleigh Murray), and pals as they come of age in the Big Apple.
Lead character Katy Keene was a popular, if lesser-known Archie Comics characters, and Riverdale fans will recognize Josie (of Josie and the Pussycats), now chasing her music dreams five years in the future. In EW’s exclusive preview of the debut episode, above, the two are bonding during Josie’s early days in NYC.
For Grassi and co-creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, it was the next natural step in their television take on the Archie Comics. “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 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.”
EW called up the co-creators to talk the show’s more uplifting tone, what we can expect from season 1, and their various pop-culture touchstones from A Chorus Line to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Watch the exclusive clip above for more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve covered horror, noir, and pulp within the Archie-verse — is there a way that you would quantify Katy Keene similarly in terms of aesthetic or genre?
MICHAEL GRASSI: When were coming up with Katy Keene‘s point-of-view it was important for us to be aspirational. We thought of it as a big city romance, following this group of friends that haven’t made it in their career. They’re single. They are broke. But it’s also the most wonderful time in their lives because they’re together and they’re all chasing their dreams together.
ROBERTO AGUIRRE-SACASA: One thing that does link the shows is that Katy Keene, like Riverdale and like Sabrina, is timeless. The same way that Riverdale is retro and Sabrina‘s retro, Katy Keene is retro as well. It’s set in New York. We call it the New York of the imagination. It’s not exactly reality. It’s heightened reality. But I would say that though they’re very different shows tonally, they have that in common. They exist in their own special bubble. Our touchstones are everything from Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to Girls to Sex in the City to Fame to A Chorus Line. It was all these retro touchstones.
Both Riverdale and Sabrina have elements of the supernatural, as well as pulpier mystery elements at their heart. Why did you guys want to play it more straight with Katy Keene?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: Well, in our first conversations with the head of Warner Brothers, Peter Roth, there is a version of this show that is more like a thriller, that’s kind of like Looking For Mr. Goodbar or about artists and stalkers, and Peter said, “No, no, no, no. We want something optimistic.” We did, too, but we felt like we’d done such strong genre. We gut checked ourselves, and we started thinking more about the show as a romance, and instead of serial killers, you have dates and affairs and things like that. We were doing that with Riverdale, and we wanted to do something different.
It’s timeless, but you have said that it’s five years ahead timeline-wise from Riverdale. Why did you want to make that time jump?
GRASSI: One of the big things about the show is that for Josie, who’s on Riverdale, we always wanted to tell stories with Josie and her music. That sometimes was challenging in a universe where we were also dealing with murders and cults and gargoyle kings. We really wanted to tell, what is it like to move to New York and pursue music? That’s a story that was more in-sync for Josie to be in her mid-twenties and meet this group of friends. If Riverdale‘s a show about being in high school, Katy Keene’s a little bit more grown up. It’s about being in your twenties and all the messiness that comes with that and all of the big heartbreaks. We often talk about it as a second coming-of-age story.
Since Katy is an aspiring fashion designer, how crucial was costuming and having that design team on board for you as a starting point?
GRASSI: It’s huge. It is such a tremendous, big element of the show, and it’s so important. A huge part of the show is not only what all of the characters are wearing, but Katy is always designing clothes for all of her friends and herself. It’s almost like there’s not a problem she can’t solve by designing an outfit for one of her friends. Another thing, too, that we always talk about is that Carrie Bradshaw is just always sitting there with her laptop. Katy’s always at her sewing machine. It really is a central hub in the heart of the show, and we have an incredible costume designer. Her name is Jenn Rogien and she takes these ideas that are in the script and just brings them to life in ways that we couldn’t even fathom. The comics are so fashion-driven — a lot of the looks that are in the comic books were submitted by actual readers of the comic book. It’s a huge variety of different outfits that readers submitted, and we often look to them for inspiration for what our characters are wearing. It’s really magical to see, not only the characters come to life, but all of this wardrobe.
Jorge’s (Jonny Beauchamp) journey in the pilot reminds me a lot of Paul’s story from A Chorus Line. For him, is that a narrative that you guys are growing on and that’s really important to you?
AGUIRRE-SACASA: When Michael and I started working on this, we made a list of all the movies [that inspired us], and we both love Broadway so much. When we started talking about Jorge and the idea that Jorge might be an aspiring Broadway actor but also a drag queen, we did think of the character from A Chorus Line. I remember seeing the movie A Chorus Line probably 20 times when I was a kid because I was obsessed with Broadway and that’s what I thought it was.
Since you’re further ahead in the timeline you could arguably, and are going to, be bringing in more people from the Archie-verse, but why for you was Josie the number one person you wanted to bring over full-time from Riverdale?
GRASSI: Ashleigh is such a tremendous talent, and we just wanted to see her have a little room to grow. It felt like moving to New York City and pursuing music was just right for this character and giving Ashleigh the platform that we’ve always wanted to give her. We think of Katy Keene as an origin story. None of these characters have made it yet, and this is about the climb. It’s not about the mountaintop. It’s about all the winding roads and paths that you take on your way to success and all of the mistakes. We just wanted to see Josie enter this world and start that climb in this New York of the imagination.
AGUIRRE-SACASA: It’s so funny, too, because I remember when Ashleigh auditioned for Riverdale, she was in New York. She had been working as a waitress. She had just quit her job at a restaurant because her manager had stolen her tips. She was temping, and she auditioned for Riverdale and got the part and her life changed. When Ashleigh told us about that, that was like, that’s Josie’s story in New York. That’s the story of moving to New York, trying to be an artist. One thing Michael and I talk about all the time is that the show is called Katy Keene, but we wanted it to be bigger than just fashion. We did want it to be music and Broadway and writing and filmmaking. You’ll see, their world keeps getting bigger. Because it felt like there had been fashion shows very iconically like Ugly Betty, and we wanted it to be a little bit broader than that. When we landed on Josie, the show unlocked for us.
Looking ahead for this whole first season, what would you tease for all of these characters’ journeys and what we can expect?
GRASSI: They are all chasing a huge dream, but the biggest thing that we come away from all this is that their friendship is more valuable than anything. Their friendships will be tested in huge, primal ways throughout the season. It’ll be really inspiring to see how they’re all there for each other.
AGUIRRE-SACASA: It’s such a romance. It’s a literal romance with love interests. It’s a romance with New York. But as Michael said, really, it’s the romance of friendship and the friendship that these four characters have. As much as we’re charting their professional lives and their romantic lives, and we are — again, dating is a huge part of the show — it really is their friendship that’s the heart of the show, the four friends drinking wine in their living room. And going through all these crises and dancing.
Katy Keene premieres Thursday, Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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