A teen-focused drama with a mysterious murder, an atmospheric setting, an over-saturated color palette, and a vaguely supernatural feel that makes everything extra creepy? Welcome to Riverdale!
Whoops. Actually, welcome to Horseshoe Bay and the world of the CW’s new teen mystery saga, Nancy Drew, which should honestly be a big hit if there is any justice in the television universe this fall.
It’s everything we loved about Season 1 of Riverdale back when that show was about family secrets, messy relationships, and a single unexplained death, rather than murder cults and speakeasies run by high school students that somehow manage to have liquor licenses. There’s even a town-wide obsession with a teen that (presumably) drowned under mysterious circumstances.
In short: It’s a pilot that emerges almost fully formed, full of fun and with a firm grip on exactly the sort of show it wants to be. And, spoiler alert: That show looks like it’s going to be a bonkers great time.
Theoretically based on the classic series of novels, Nancy Drew doesn’t pretend that it’s got much in common with them beyond a plucky, mystery-loving heroine. (Though I’ll admit I squealed a little when someone referenced a “hidden staircase.”) This Nancy is a bit more jaded than her literary counterpart, thanks to the untimely death of her mother, an event that rocked her to her emotional foundation. As a result, she’s abandoned her love of solving mysteries, forgot about applying to college, and is spending a pseudo-gap year slinging clam chowder at The Claw, a diner that’s basically the Maine version of Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe.
In our world of remakes and reboots, it’s a little surprising that no one has attempted to put a modern-day spin on this classic feminist character before. But Nancy Drew does a more than respectable job of reinventing its titular heroine for the modern age. Nancy (Kennedy McCann) is almost immediately likeable: Intelligent, smart-mouthed and immensely capable, but with enough flaws to make her interesting. Her reckless behavior and emotional standoffishness are especially relatable as she continues to process her mother’s death—and her father’s attempts to deal with it all by throwing himself further into his law practice and an starting an obviously inadvisable relationship with his wife’s best friend.
But just because Nancy’s vowed to give up on her former sleuthing lifestyle, that doesn’t mean that Horseshoe Bay’s mysteries won’t still find her in their own ways. When a wealthy socialite with a jerk-ish husband shows up dead outside The Claw, Nancy and the co-workers who will obviously become her BFFS are all suddenly suspects in her murder.
After all, nothing brings people closer together than facing a murder rap.
There’s Bess (Maddison Jaizani), a rich city girl slumming it in a small town for the summer, whose attempts to teach the locals about the idea of salad forks are somehow both sad and hilarious. George (Leah Lewis) is daughter of the town drunk and the manager at The Claw, where it’s obvious her constant sass seems aimed to mask the myriad of scars she carries inside. Ace (Alex Saxon), the diner’s cook, just sort of exists on the fringes of the story here in a nondescript white guy kind of way. And, finally, there’s Nancy’s sort-of boyfriend Nick (Tunji Kasim), a kind mechanic with a criminal past.
Much like Riverdale before it, the mysteries at the heart of Nancy Drew largely exist not for their own sakes, necessarily, but for what they say about Nancy and her friends. While the death of Tiffany Hudson will no doubt drive a significant portion of the season’s plot, but at the end of the day it’s just the backdrop for the series to explore the many secrets, motivations and emotional issues of its characters. (And that goes for everyone from Nancy to her friends to her dead mother.)
We learn that Bess isn’t as rich as she seems, that George was romantically involved with the husband of the woman who just turned up dead, that Nick has a motive for murder and that his past his even murkier than we originally thought. But it’s Nancy’s parents who seem to have been keeping the biggest secrets – including a trunk full of a dead woman’s clothes.
Because Nancy Drew isn’t just a murder mystery—it’s also a ghost story. One where the ghost might actually be the one doing all the murder. Maybe. We’re not sure yet. But there’s definitely more going on than initially meets the eye in this town.
According to local lore, a prom queen named Lucy Sable died under mysterious circumstances on the cliffs on a rain-soaked, fog-filled night. Her disappearance back in 2000 is the stuff of legend: Kids sing songs about her vengeful spirit, and her ghost is credited with all sorts of problems around town, from lost items to infidelity. No one can prove the so-called “Dead Lucy” is real, but everybody pretty much believes she is anyway.
And it’s sort of hard to argue the point when Nancy’s busy discovering creepy rhymes about the ghost scratched under the wallpaper in her house, and we’re seeing strange and terrifying apparitions appear behind her at various key points in the episode. It’s unclear whether Nancy Drew actually wants us, as viewers, to really believe in the truth of ghosts generally or in Dead Lucy, specifically. But the series’ supernatural element does add an unexpectedly delicious frisson of fear to the premiere – as well as open up many creepy paths for the show to follow in future.
Is Horseshoe Bay actually haunted? It could be. In fact, I kind of hope it is. Heck, even Riverdale hasn’t given us actual ghosts yet.
Though it’s not clear whether we’re headed for a story about the horrors of the undead or merely one in which small-town residents prey on one another’s fears and prejudices, this Nancy Drew feels a breath of fresh air in a TV landscape full of cookie cutter remakes and revivals. It may not be an original concept, but it’s certainly an original spin on a franchise we already know and love. It’ll be fun seeing where it goes from here.