Let me tell you about a character in Archie Comics named Kevin Keller. He is my favorite Archie Comics character of all time, with Reggie and Betty tying for a close second. Introduced in 2010 as Archie Comics' first gay character, Kevin was welcomed to Riverdale with open arms, quickly becoming close friends with both Jughead and Veronica. He quickly became president of his class, and one of his first acts was to build a 9/11 memorial on the school grounds. A military brat who'd travelled around the world, Kevin was interested in journalism and comic books, ran track, frequently engaged in eating contests with Jughead, entered a Jeopardy-like game show on national television, worked as a lifeguard, and counselled a former bully of his who was going through a rough time at home.
Very few of his stories focused on being gay, with even fewer centered on homophobia; his sexuality was acknowledged and 99.5% of the time simply accepted without second thought. No one significant really thought it was any big deal that Kevin Keller liked boys. In Afterlife With Archie (the zombie apocalypse AU), while Kevin does endure some homophobia from Reggie, he's also a badass archer who routinely takes out zombies with just a bow and arrow.
That is to say, the Kevin Keller of the comics is a far cry from the catty gay stereotype who appears on Riverdale for the sole purpose of being the gay BFFs with whatever female character is standing nearby.
If you remember Chuck Austen's depiction of Northstar as a catty gay BFF during his run on X-Men, that was damn subtle compared to what Riverdale is doing to Kevin.
My main complaint about Kevin Keller (other than his awful, awful hairstyle. Why is he not blond, again?) is that he has no personality beyond being a stereotype that seems like it was ported in from Will & Grace or some other 90's sitcom. From the moment we meet Kevin Keller in the Riverdale pilot, he's serving as Betty's crutch, encouraging her to go after Archie. Every other line of his, and sometimes more, is reference to his sexuality, either lusting after a straight guy (Archie) or introducing himself based on his orientation. Veronica quickly exclaims, "We should be best friends!" (Or similar). He then needlessly and tactlessly questions Veronica about her embezzler father, with bluntness I'm sure the writers intended us to find charming, but just makes him look like he's scrounging for gossip. His actor, Casey Cott, tried to justify the appalling writer for Kevin by claiming, "Kevin is the one person in the town that says what he’s thinking and speaking the truth. Kevin is a fan of drama and likes to see how people will react to different things." In other words, he's just confirming what we already know: Kevin is a drama queen. What a revolutionary portrayal of a gay character.
Would it really have been so difficult to give Kevin some characterization outside of playing pet gay to Betty and Veronica? Couldn't he have a letterman jacket at the beginning and leave Betty's bedroom to rush off to swim team practice? Couldn't he be interested in community service and go off to play with dogs at the animal shelter? Something, anything so he can be more than a dead horse stereotype. Why can't he simply be a well-rounded person? Why does every gay character's personality have to be built entirely around being gay?
Cheryl Blossom has a line of dialogue acknowledging Riverdale's complacency in portraying gay stereotypes, as if drawing attention to the unironic use of a cheap gimmick makes that cheap gimmick any more palatable. Newsflash, Riverdale writers: it does not. Bizarrely, Mic attempts to portray this line as a subversion of the gay best friend stereotype, though is obviously is not. Indiewire points out the fundamental problem with the line in combination with Kevin's portrayal: "Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) is every girl’s gay best friend to an extreme previously only seen in the worst romantic comedies, but does acknowledging the stereotype in play with explicit lines of dialogue make it any better? Not really."Cheryl has a similar line where she points out the obvious pandering of Betty and Veronica's "faux-lesbian kiss." But again, it's the same problem: admitting that you're pandering doesn't pardon you for pandering in the first place. Especially when that same girl-on-girl kissing shot was hyped to hell and back in the promos.
Kevin's "plot" in the pilot continues with him running to Betty to squeal about being propositioned in the bathroom by Moose and giggles about the size of Moose's penis. Also, he wears a pink shirt to the dance, because what other color would a gay man wear? He then runs to hook up with Moose, because I supposed the Riverdale writers haven't realized that the promiscuous gay character who has sex at the drop of a hat is also a tired trope. He then spouts off sassy gay "witticisms" about how much he likes boning with closeted guys.
Look, I'm not demanding gay characters be celibate, but there's a happy medium between that and having sex with any passing guy who asks. That instance, combined with Kevin's general portrayal, does not give me confidence for how Riverdale will continue to characterize him.
Sorry, Kev. I don't know how you received a more nuanced, less stereotypical portrayal in one of the most conservative comic books of all time, but the CW somehow managed.
I'm going to watch the second episode tomorrow, and watch the third when it airs on Thursday. Fingers crossed that the writing for Kevin's character improved and for bisexual!Moose, as I'm so exhausted with TV shows not portraying bisexuality as a legitimate option.