Fans of Riverdale have reveled in creator/Archie comic writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s twisted take on once cutesy characters like Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead. In CW’s scintillating teen drama, Betty and Veronica are less likely to cat fight over the affections of that doofy redhead, and more likely to call out slut-shaming and exact weirdo revenge with hot tubs and maple syrup. Instead of downing burgers and being a silly sidekick, Jughead is getting the girl (Bughead forever!) and leading an amateur investigation into the murder of slain high school jock Jason Blossom. And Archie’s there too. Yet as much as I relish in every ep of Riverdale, can we take a moment to lament for Kevin Keller?
On Riverdale Kevin was introduced right away as the gay best friend of Betty Cooper, urging her to “take that ginger bull by the horns” and confess her crush on Archie. Then, as soon as Veronica Lodge swanned in like a Disney villain in all capes and cat-eyed liner, he was hers too. Per the TV trope of “gay best friend,” Kevin is ever-ready to quip when a cut in the tension is needed. Like when the girls—and Kevin—are breaking into the school after hours, and Cheryl Blossom busts them. Kevin derails the smoldering threats with a sharp sartorial compliment, “And where did you get those thigh-high boots? They’re amazing.”
And that’s been fun, in large part because actor Casey Cott is a delight, and master of the stealthily hilarious reaction shot. Rejecting some gay stereotypes, Cott doesn’t play Kevin as high camp or even particularly flamboyant. But the series lax attention to him too often relegates him nonetheless to the funny gay who loves fashion and is perfect for girl talk. It sticks him in a stereotype, where his peers are all busting beyond theirs, be it good girl or rich bitch. Most of Kevin’s lines are either about ogling guys (“Archie got hot!”), commenting on fashion, or gushing over “gay” media like The Talented Mr. Ripley. On one hand, it’s great that Riverdale has some LGBTQA representation—especially since they chose to not go with the version where Jughead’s asexual—but coming from an openly gay creator, I admit I expected something more thoughtful than this toned down archetype, especially considering Kevin Keller’s comic roots.
Kevin Keller made his debut in a Veronica comic back in 2010. So, he’s pretty new to the Riverdale crew that dates back to 1939. Still, the series’ first openly gay character quickly became a fan favorite, and went on to get his own comic runs (Kevin Keller and Life With Kevin), which also made Kevin the first openly gay character to get a solo series in mainstream comics. Then, in Life with Archie: The Married Life Kevin wed his boyfriend Clay Walker, suffered the loss of his husband because of gun violence, and went on to become a U.S. Senator battling for gun control. Then that series ended with Archie dying as he threw himself in front of a bullet meant for Kevin! Meaning that in the comics, Kevin was much more than the joke-cracking gay sidekick. He was a character with his own world, relationships and arc. Thankfully, as Riverdale has progressed, there’s signs that the show’s Kevin will evolve to more than the cheeky accessory of Riverdale’s woke girls.
The first episode concluded with Kevin fooling around with Moose, which was a promising beginning that suggested Riverdale wouldn’t shy away from teen sex or Kevin’s story. But his moments have been few and far between amid 8 40-some-minute episodes to date. What seemed the start of a canon-defying romance between Kevin and Moose was quickly resolved with Kevin telling his sexually confused crush, “Listen Moose, you’re hot. Yes. My type? Definitely. But you’ve got more demons than The Exorcist. We are all on the spectrum but my gay-o-meter says you should stick with what you know best… girls.”
He briefly lamented that Moose had an “official” girlfriend in Midge, telling Veronica and Betty, “And sexuality is fluid, but can someone named Moose actually be that fluid?” And with his supportive Sheriff dad he confronted the frustrating scarcity of other openly gay boys at his small town high school.
Sherrif Keller:Isn’t there a nice gay kid at your school?
Kevin Keller: Yes, there is. Me.
Then in episode four, Kevin suffered the indignity of seeing Moose making out with Midge very publicly at the drive-in. Which had to hurt considering their own trysts featured dark woods where bodies get dumped. But it’s also at the drive-in that Kevin’s plot began to gain momentum.
After catching the eye of a smoldering bad boy, clean-cut Kevin gets a steamy make-out scene:
The problem with making out with randos is you don’t know their deal. Joaquin is thrown when he realizes he’s been kissing the sheriff’s son. When Kevin asks, “Is that a problem?” His new crush reveals a crushing detail: a tattoo labelling him a gang member of the Southside Serpents. “I won’t tell if you won’t,” Kevin offers with a glint of panic, and then there’s more passionate kissing! But trouble brews besides.
After three more episodes, this thread finally resurfaced when Joaquin helped Kevin, Archie, and Moose crash a Southside Serpents club to investigate the sabotage of Fred Andrews’ big construction job. There was much drama between former teen heart-throbs Skeet Ulrich and Luke Perry, and, yes, we all want more of them staring each other down while being dashingly disheveled. But the big reveal came later, when Joaquin popped by FP Jones’s trailer. It turns out Jughead’s dad has ordered this young serpent to keep tabs on the sheriff’s son. And, gang, Joaquin doesn’t feel good about it.
FP: How’s it going with the Keller kid?
Joaquin: It’s good. He thinks we’re legit.
FP: Good. We’re going to need that inside line with the sheriff. (Joaquin looks uncomfortable.) What? We got a problem?
Joaquin: He likes me, you know? For real.
FP: (laughs) Awe, you’re breaking my heart. We’ve all got a part to play.
First off, I believe they are legit. Because of how wounded Joaquin looks as he admits Kevin likes him. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I think he really likes his “Preppy” too.
Secondly, this reveal—including the “surprise” that FP has the Jason’s varsity jacket last seen in the burned out getaway car—leans into the red herring thread suggesting FP killed Jason Blossom, presumably over the drugs he was supposed to transport for the Serpents. Jughead calls this out to his estranged father’s face, backed by Betty. But that’s too easy for the killer to be Riverdale’s most obvious dirtbag, so there’s no way it was FP. I wager he’s just trying to keep the cops off the scent that the serpents’ drug dealings, and nothing more.
Still, this plot development is nonetheless exciting from a Kevin fan perspective because it’s not explicitly about him being gay. Yes, Kevin’s boyfriend is spying on him. But Joaquin met Kevin before he knew his connections to the Sheriff. So it’s suggested that neither his sexuality nor his being attracted to Kevin is fake. And Kevin’s not being blackmailed for being gay, or judged for it. These are just two young lovers whose relationship is being poisoned by deceitful adults. Their being gay is a detail, but unimportant to the plot. And that’s actually pretty groundbreaking.
Riverdale is finally treating Kevin like its other central characters. Finally, he’s another teen caught up in the twisted web of Riverdale’s secrets and lies. This is the kind of representation I want to see more of. Where queer kids get to be included, but not solely to play gay tropes or role models. Let this gay kid be a kid, and make mistakes that allow him to grow beyond the shadows of his gal pals.
Now, I’m bummed that Kevin’s new beau is bad in more than his look. But I’m elated that Riverdale is finally allowing their lone gay regular some depth beyond requisite queer-coded interests, and PSA-moments of self-acceptance. With all the wild ways other characters are being offered to screw up and grow—teen pregnancy, various break-ins, vigilante murder investigations—I want to see Kevin get his share of the scandalous and dramatic. And finally it seems like Riverdale is beginning to give him more than a splash of spotlight.