CW’s Nancy Drew pilot doesn’t get new TV series off to a promising start

Review by C.J. Bunce

At last a new Nancy Drew television series has arrived, but except for the odd screencap (a quick shot of Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase, or Nancy Drew and The Secret in the Old Attic) it has little resemblance to the novels the series is based on.  Billed as a brilliant teen detective by the studio, CW’s Nancy Drew presents a heroine that is anything but, if the rest of the series is anything like the pilot episode.  If you like disinterested young adults begrudgingly solving crimes that would be solved quicker by reasonably motivated teenage kids with half a brain, then this is your show.  This is not the smart, driven hero detective beloved by generations of readers.

The pilot reveals yet another series-long mystery set-up, instead of a mystery-of-the-week a la The X-Files.  Coincidentally the pilot introduces the same kind of body-in-a-box mystery as the far more engrossing new series, Fox’s Prodigal Son (but compelling writing and acting is pulling me back for more of that series).  It even shares the same story of a split family and parents somehow conspiring (or not) over a corpse in a trunk, while tricking the younger version of the series lead that it was all a dream.  Nancy Drew unfortunately also shares a lead character much like the brooding under-achiever in this year’s new AMC mystery series NOS4A2, a series that handled strange mystery and a confused young woman protagonist more believably.

Nancy Drew is played by 23-year-old Kennedy McCann.  Sometimes a series will cast young adults for teenage roles and make it work, but McCann just doesn’t look like a high schooler (nor do her friends).  Nancy’s boyfriend is played by Tunji Fasim, and her key circle includes diner (think Twin Peaks, Riverdale, etc.) co-workers played by Maddison Jaizani, Leah Lewis, and Alex Saxon, with Nancy’s dad played by Scott Wolf, and his lover/city detective played by Alvina August.  The mystery begins with Nancy and her co-workers present as the last to see a local socialite alive–Nancy finds her dead in the diner parking lot, and everyone is hauled downtown to get interrogated.  The backdrop shuffled in is some local lore about a teenager who committed suicide by diving off a local cliff years ago, and Nancy coming to terms with her father after her mother recently died.

Nancy’s actions aren’t consistent with any teenager who has ever read a book or watched television.  She’s a suspect in a murder, so her first move is breaking into the victim’s home, and she knowingly leaves her hat behind?  The voice-over narration that works for some crime story protagonists doesn’t work here–the inner-monologue of Nancy is missing those admirable Sherlock Holmesian qualities or deep thoughts and cleverness the novels are known for.  Where is the super sleuthing, the excitement and thrill of the chase for clues, or the “brilliant detective” the show boasts?  (The time for that was apparently taken up by her two sex scenes).

The series wants to be Twin Peaks and Riverdale–the town is that Maine seaside everytown Stephen King sets so many tales in (one character seems to admit it is based on the seaside village of Amity in the novel/movie Jaws).  And it has that requisite teenager that died mysteriously before the series begins.  A recent Dynamite Entertainment comic book series similarly struggled with pegging down who exactly is Nancy Drew.  Is it really that difficult to adapt a classic character for modern viewers?  Riverdale changed a lot but kept the spirit of its leads, as did Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  Will the forthcoming next comic adaptation Katy Keene suffer similarly in its television debut next year?

If you’re after the next Veronica Mars, this is not it.  Vapid, one dimensional characters, none seeming real, wrapped up in a Scooby Doo ghost story complete with a medium and seance (carried out by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her 1970s Nancy Drew actress Pamela Sue Martin).  Is that a real ghost?  With so many quality competing programs I’m unlikely to be back to find out.  A bit like those earlier CW shows of the 1990s WB vintage, with a pilot written like one of the poorer episodes of Riverdale, the new Nancy Drew airs on the CW Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Central.

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