After the success of Riverdale, it’s not surprising that the CW looked for other well-known properties to darken and expound upon. Enter NANCY DREW, which premiered this week, and was developed by CW staples Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, along with Noga Landau. The drama finds the famous literary girl detective entering adulthood and dealing with the death of her mother, surrounded by peers who she doesn’t consider friends. Toss in sex and the supernatural, and NANCY DREW is adapted into a show typical for the network’s fare.
is an obvious character to undergo this treatment. She’s already been adapted into television and movies multiple times, each with their own take on the sleuth. She also evolved over the years in her book series, changing with the times. So there isn’t a definitive version of the heroine that the series must live up to. Instead, for a character that has already proven highly malleable, there’s a long leash as to what can be done with her.
Virtual newcomer Kennedy McMann stars as the titular character in this version. In keeping with the network’s other programming, Nancy is surrounded by a group of friends, not totally unheard of in the written works, but also not nearly so present in most iterations. They include her current hookup, Ned Nickerson (Tunji Kasim, Nearly Famous), old nemesis and boss George Fan (Leah Lewis, Guidance), rich girl and fellow waitress Bess Marvin (Maddison Jaizani, Versailles), and a new addition to the lore, perhaps to make the cast more gender balanced, burnout dishwasher Ace (Alex Saxon, The Fosters).
And in keeping with CW formula, there are a couple of adults tangentially involved. These include Nancy’s dad, lawyer Carson (Scott Wolf, The Night Shift, Party of Five) and his love interest, Detective Karen Hart (Alvina August, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), as well as socialite Ryan Hudson (Riley Smith, Proven Innocent).
NANCY DREW has a ton of clichés for a teen drama, even if the main characters might not quite be teens anymore. They are more advanced in their careers than most people their age, with George running the diner and Ned having his own autobody shop. There’s at least one who engages in inappropriate behavior with a much older adult. There’s forced drama between them, with Ned boasting a criminal past, even though there’s zero tension that he might actually be dangerous. And the small town setting allows for huge coincidences, like the fact that Nancy’s father represented Ned in court and keeps his file readily accessible to her.
But that’s not all that NANCY DREW has working against it. It just feels flat. While I don’t think any of the actors, taken separately, are horrible, none are stand-outs, either. The pacing is weird, the twists feel forced, and the story feels gimmicky. The supernatural element comes across as forced in. The romantic aspects are unbelievable. The murder mystery and town lore isn’t compelling. Not to mention, a big chunk of the pilot is just a huge exposition dump, which isn’t a great way to start a series. Backstory is told to us right off the bat, rather than doled out over time as the tale progresses.
Even Nancy’s mother death, which could be formative, is hokey, used as an excuse for the cheery Nancy to go dark, making her backstory the lighter substance of what the character usually is, though I can’t imagine anyone being cheery in the environment presented, clashing with the tone of the show. Veronica Mars did this same type of story so much better, and with a new season of that having dropped just a few short months ago, this will definitely suffer by comparison.
In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t like NANCY DREW. While I may not be the show’s target demographic, I usually enjoy shows in this vein, new and old, including Riverdale, Dawson’s Creek, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Vampire Diaries, and even Gossip Girl. I appreciate a good soapy spectacle, even if it’s a bit fluffy. However, NANCY DREW just doesn’t have enough attractive elements going to reach even someone predisposed to like it, so I can’t recommend it.
If you want to anyway, NANCY DREW airs Wednesdays on the CW.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.