It makes sense to chase what has been proven to work before and if The CW has learned anything in the last decade, it’s that Winchesters are forever (or at least 15 years), superheroes pay, and everyone loves Riverdale.
It’s that last lesson that feels like a particular motivating factor in one of the network’s promising new fall premieres: Nancy Drew. While the smalltown murder mystery drama with an apparent supernatural twist is ostensibly an adaptation of the classic book series about a smalltown girl detective, and it does integrate narrative elements from the novels, the TV series is following the beats and stylistic markers of The CW’s previous smalltown murder mystery drama with an apparent supernatural twist: Riverdale.
When we meet Nancy Drew (Kennedy McCann) in her pilot, she is not in a good place. The death of her mother the previous year sent her life into a tailspin. Her grades went down, she fumbled the whole college application thing, and she stopped solving mysteries altogether. Currently, she’s working at a (Pop’s-like) local diner with no concrete plans for the future, and sleeping with mechanic Ned “Nick” Nickerson (Tunji Kasim) while steadfastly avoiding his attempts at emotional intimacy. (She’s got more than a little Betty Cooper in her.)
Nancy may be done with sleuthing, but that doesn’t mean sleuthing is done with her. When a female socialite is found dead outside of the diner minutes after Nancy served her dinner, Nancy, Nick, and Nancy’s three co-workers (and, let’s face it, future friends) are witnesses to and suspects in the murder. When Nancy begins using her skillset to investigate what happened, the clues suggest the murderer isn’t mortal, but rather Dead Lucy, the local prom-queen-turned-ghost.
Nancy Drew has the makings for a solid ensemble cast, all with their own distinct, unexpected motivations and character traits laid out in this first episode. Bess (Maddison Jaizani) is this show’s Veronica, a seemingly affluent city girl only in town for the summer. George (Leah Lewis) is the pilot standout, played with an engaging combination of wise-beyond-her-years sass and thinly-veiled vulnerability. She is identified by the chief of police as the town screw-up, but, as the diner owner, is also seemingly a teen businessowner, is the pilot standout.
Filling out Nancy’s squad is quasi-boyfriend Nick, who is sweet, but, with a criminal past, Nancy’s dad (Freddie Prinze Jr., replaced by Scott Wolf following the pilot) warns to stay away from, and Ace (Alex Saxon), emanating the kind of easy-going attitude only white dudes are only ever privileged enough to pull off in the face of a murder investigation. There’s also CW actor alum Riley Smith as Ryan Hudson, the husband of the murder victim whose smugness and connection to the victim makes him an easy person to point the finger at, but whose identity will no doubt prove more complex than that.
Visually, Nancy Drew looks great. Horseshoe Bay immediately feels like the stuff of storybooks: atmospheric and Instagram-ready, with the diner uniforms’ primary colors motif, fog-filled streets, and the CW’s traditional line-up of preternaturally beautiful people. As we learned at the Comic-Con panel, the writers and production team incorporated imagery from classic Nancy Drew book covers and even the original Nancy Drew board game.
Nancy Drew may not be doing something totally original, but there are far worse blueprints to follow than Riverdale‘s. When the show premiered in 2017, it was a visual breath of fresh air, with its saturated colors and its earnest commitment to nonsensical, yet oh-so-energetic narrative.
Amidst all of the reboots, revivals, and adaptations, Nancy Drew is an iconic feminist character more than ready for a modern-day translation. Like Riverdale before it, the Nancy Drew pilot is confident and fun, which can’t be said for most TV pilots. It’s one to watch come fall premiere season, whether you’re a Riverdale fan or not.
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