By Joe Glass
Much like Rich, I have had the pleasure of reading the pilot script for Riverdale, The CW's take on the Archie Comics world written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. And like Rich, I was completely blown away by it.
My first thought was 'Is this for real?'…and it very much is. This is Archie in a post-Scandal/How to Get Away with Murder TV landscape, and The CW know it. This show will cause waves, not least among the long-standing Archie fans who are maybe expecting a weekly dose of bright, classic Americana. This is not going to be Happy Days. This is The OC in Middle-America, with the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll amped up far beyond anything that show ever achieved.
But I'm more specifically wanting to talk about the LGBTQ aspects of this show…or more accurately G for gay I suppose, as the rest of the spectrum of sexuality (aside from heterosexuality) is not really seen that much.
There is a kiss that may get tongues wagging, but even in the show they point out how dated it is to think that such a thing would be shocking. This is an excellent point and shows a level of cultural awareness in the show which is very pleasing, but I am hoping that the other aspects of the spectrum will get covered eventually. After all, in the comics Jughead was just revealed to be asexual, something which is incredibly invisible in media to date, so it would be nice to see this included in the show. But hey, this is just the pilot I've read…I hold confidence that they will touch on more.
So what do they touch on? Well, Kevin Keller is a BIG part of this show. The best friend of Betty, and fast-friends with Veronica in a brilliantly shallow and retro moment – I say 'brilliantly' because it serves to build Veronica's character fast – the shallow socialite ideal of having a Gay Best Friend, which is done in the show in an almost mocking, self-referential fashion.
But this is not your comic book Kevin Keller. Certainly, when Kevin was first introduced he was fairly passive, and blessed with an almost perfect gay experience, from openly accepting parents, little to no backlash from his peers, and boundless happiness and enthusiasm.
This Kevin is different. I would argue this Kevin is maybe more real. He is sarcastic, bored, and, it would seem, VERY sexually active. He trawls Grindr for a hook-up in the very first scene we see him in, and when he is getting little joy beyond offers of trysts in truck stop toilets suggests he maybe stay at Betty's house to watch gay porn.
This is a Kevin whose father belittles and abuses him for being a 'sissy', whose mother would rather get angry at her son than the father who berates his son for simply being who he is. This is a Kevin Keller whose character feels like a younger relation to HTGAWM's Connor Walsh.
Is this a good thing? Well, until the previously mentioned Mr. Walsh, gay sex is still something rather hidden away on TV. Instead, we tend to have gay characters who are rather sexless, who don't talk about their romantic or sexual desires at all (whereas the heterosexual characters will talk about them incessantly). And whilst we now have Connor Walsh to show a sexually active young, gay man on prime time TV, we can't expect true, honest representation of that aspect from one character. And given that we already have a Kurt Hummel from Glee in the TV landscape, maybe it is about time to be honest that GAY TEEN BOYS have these thoughts and desires too and sometimes action upon them recklessly too.
I would hope that Kevin's home life will be focused on too, and that we might have something on air to show the awfulness of that situation, and either provide a ray of hope, or at least a sense of visibility, to the hundreds if not thousands of teens who go through the same thing.
In terms of equality of representation, Kevin's sexuality and actions upon those desires are given pretty much equal screen time and visibility in the show as the heterosexual encounters of the same nature. Not as graphic (as relatively softcore graphic as they are) as How To Get Away With Murder, but certainly not hidden away more than the heterosexual trysts – at least in the script. When filmed, it could be a wholly different story.
However, by the end of this script, Kevin does have a romantic interest. And it is certainly suggested that this is a hot and heavy one, as they quickly discuss their preferred roles in the bedroom.
But certainly, thus far, Riverdale is presenting a fantastic use of gay representation, at least in terms of sexual desires and teenage recklessness. There is set up to explore more aspects, in a truthful, maybe at times harsh, light that is needed in teen televised drama. I also am hopeful that they have scope to explore other aspects of the LGBTQ spectrum, but as yet that is not as blatantly clear.
In short, we've had the sweet, idyllic Kevin Keller – bring on Kevin Keller the teenage horndog.
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor and creator/writer of LGBTQ+ superhero comics The Pride. The Pride is available in full on Comixology, and also from its own online store here. He is also the co-writer of horror-comedy series Stiffs, set in his Welsh valleys home. It has a monkey that talks and kills dead people. It's fun, you should read it. Available on Comixology and here.