Riverdale is Your New Queer Obsession

by Henry Giardina

Cast of Riverdale on The CW

A few years ago, most queer kids had to brave the deepest corners of the Internet in order to hear their stories told. On platforms like Tumblr and Reddit, queer teens were telling their own truths in small, hilarious, often heartbreaking doses in the absence of a larger cultural outlet. If you were lucky enough to find a character that spoke to you on TV, it was probably in the form of a quirky sidekick, reality TV fairy godmother or the characters in shows that presented a hyper-stylized version of gay life lived firmly within the binary.

Thankfully, TV has finally started to get up to speed with queer culture at large. In fact, the pace of that culture is helping to change and shape the way we tell stories onscreen in the first place.

In the past few years, TV has seen a queer renaissance that no one could have predicted based on the output of a mere 10 years ago when more conventional shows were dominating screens. Queer creators like Jill Soloway, Lena Waithe, Billy Eichner and Tig Notaro are bringing more nuanced portrayals of queerness to the small screen with remarkable consistency. They’re also being given the funds to bring queer stories and characters to the forefront through shows that don’t trade on stereotypes and aren’t just aimed at LGBTQ+ audiences. In the best shows, you can see the way queer characters weave their own sensibility into the fabric of an otherwise conventional story, one side-eyed glance at a time.

Kevin Keller played by Casey Cott in the CW’s Riverdale

Photo: Art Streiber/The CW -- © 2017 The CW Network. All Rights Reserved
Case in point: The deeply queer landscape of the CW’s Riverdale, an entire series devoted to the characters of the Archie-verse. As a show that uses the broad character archetypes of the classic comic strip to explore the darkness and deceptions of small-town suburban life, it’s no wonder that Riverdale has already acquired a huge queer fan base. Exhibit A: Kevin Keller, one of the newest additions to the Archie-verse. Played to perfection by Casey Cott, the character of Kevin uses the trope of gay best friend to subvert our understanding and expectations of the stereotype. As a fully fleshed-out character rather than a collection of witty one-liners, Kevin is easily one of the most insightful characters on the show. Not only do LGBTQ+ viewers have someone to root for in Kevin, they get to see Kevin reshape Riverdale in his image, while exposing the story’s queer themes of outsider culture, the masks of respectability, and the deep bonds of chosen family.
As the town sheriff’s son, Kevin has to be careful about his image. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t taken the time to hip up ‘Innuendo,’ Riverdale’s one and only “tragic” gay bar. Even in the midst Riverdale’s complex spate of characters, Kevin stands out as someone whose intelligence and flawless taste has always made things difficult for him. From being the only one who shows the appropriate respect to James Dean during a drive-in showing of “Rebel Without a Cause” to his blasé familiarity with sexual fluidity, Kevin is a character whose sexuality exposes his individuality rather than obscuring it.