Nancy Drew, Episode 1 Review: “Pilot”

by Rachel Bellwoar

Lamenting that a town looks like the one from Jaws but doesn’t have a shark is a sure-fire way to get yourself killed and that’s what happens in the pilot of the CW’s new series, Nancy Drew. Based on the books by Carolyn Keene (or rather the ghostwriters who used the pseudonym, Keene), Nancy (Kennedy McMann) isn’t a teenager anymore and she isn’t doing much sleuthing. A waitress at The Claw in Horseshoe Bay (a change from the books, where she lived in the Midwest), Nancy was supposed to be heading for college, but her mother’s death caused those plans to be postponed.

Kennedy McMann (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Stuck in Horseshoe Bay another year, until she can reapply, her mother died from illness, not foul play, but it’s the closest thing we get to an explanation for why she stopped investigating cases. When a customer (Sinead Conner) gets murdered in front of the restaurant, though, any emotional struggle you might expect her to have, with getting back in the game, is absent. Technically the police chief (Adam Beach) considers her a suspect, so that could be a motive for getting involved, but his accusations feel more personal than a real threat.

CW’s shows can change a lot from the pilot, but right now the series seems to be going for a cross between Veronica Mars and Riverdale. The Veronica Mars comparisons are especially inevitable, given the show’s heavy use of voiceover, but that’s Nancy Drew’s first mistake. The show seems to think its characters are a lot more inscrutable than they actually are and the lack of trust in the audience and the actors to do their jobs means nothing gets left unsaid.

Kennedy McMann and Sinead Curry (Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Instead of trying to pin Tiffany Hudson’s murder on the supernatural (specifically a local ghost played by Stephanie Van Dyck named Lucy Sable), the show would make better use of its time beefing up its story. Maybe that’s hypocritical coming from someone who enjoyed the Gargoyle King arc on Riverdale last season, but Riverdale is designed to be over-the-top. I’ve never read the Nancy Drew books, but it’s not a name you associate with jump scares. It’s a name you associate with well-written mysteries.

With that in mind, the idea of incorporating local legends into the show is a solid one. Some of the best scenes this episode are when the show touches on maritime lore and mines its beach location. The Claw, in particular, is a wonderful example of production design by Mark White and art director, Jessica Fish, with a kitschy aesthetic that feels appropriate for a shore town.

Leah Lewis, Maddison Jaizani, Kennedy McMann and Pamela Sue Martin (Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Legends doesn’t have to mean full-on horror, though, and Nancy is going to have to step up her game if she wants to come across as a convincing detective. Whether it’s her lack of discretion (talking about breaking into a house in a public restaurant) or her need to wear a hat that doesn’t even hide her red hair (and then knowingly leaving it behind, when it places her at the scene), all of the characters are too forthcoming but either Nancy is in complete denial about wanting to work alone or she’s incapable of being secretive.

Leah Lewis stands out as Nancy’s boss at the restaurant (they also have history going back to high school), but there isn’t a relationship Nancy has that doesn’t feel one twist away from being spoiled. In a fun piece of casting, Pamela Sue Martin (who played Nancy Drew on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in the 70’s) appears in a guest role as a medium. As the moment I’d be more tempted to give her show a try than to continue watching this one.

New episodes of Nancy Drew air Wednesdays at 9 PM EST on The CW. The show premieres October 9th.

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