Review: Nancy Drew 1×1 (US: The CW)

Don't Riverdale the titian-haired teen detective

Nancy Drew

In the US: Wednesdays, 9pm, The CW
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When it comes to books, today’s kids never had it so good. The range of fiction for children and young adults has never been so vast. Back when I was a kid, the choices were much more narrow, meaning my generation ended up reading more or less the exact same books as each other, and to some extent, previous generations.

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books were old when I was young, but we still all read them. Originally devised in the 1920s and updated with new books over the generations by a succession of authors using the pseudonyms Franklin W Dixon and Carolyn Keene, they featured teenage detectives solving crimes while dealing with standard teen issues – parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, parties and kidnappings.

Such perennial favourites were they that they had a 1970s TV series dedicated to them that naturally everyone my age watched. Perhaps because it featured teen heartthrob David Cassidy of The Partridge Family fame, but perhaps also because of its spooky title sequence.

However, what worked in the 20s, 50s and even 70s might not necessarily work now, as many a TV writer adapting classic formats has discovered. That hasn’t stopped people trying to find the magic formula.

There have been many attempts of late to adapt the Nancy Drew books in particular, with movies and TV pilots all trying to take the titian-haired teen detective and bring her up to date, leave her as she is with the world around her changed, and turn her into an adult.

Now we have the latest effort, which attempts to do for the Nancy Drew books what Riverdale successfully did for the Archie comics – bring her up to date and make her relevant to a young, spoilt-for-choice, modern audience, by Twin Peaks-ing her.

Here, though, it’s a good deal less successful

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew – psychic detective

Adapted by teen drama dream team Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (The OC, Marvel’s Runaways, Gossip Girl, Hart of Dixie, The Carrie Diaries) and Noga Landau (The Magicians), Nancy Drew picks up various elements of the original books, throws them up in the air, hurls elements of Twin Peaks, Pretty Little Liars, Scooby Doo and The Magicians after them – and sees where everything randomly lands.

This Nancy Drew (Kennedy McMann) is at least young, albeit post High School, and titian-haired. Still a formerly famous amateur detective – the show drops the names of some of her most famous book successes – rather than move away to a successful career in the big city, she’s instead ended up staying in her home town, following the death of her mother. Now a waitress in a local diner, she’s not going anywhere fast.

Then one night while she’s working in the diner, the wife of a customer is killed outside the diner while he’s having a “business meeting” with shady characters inside. The last person to see her alive? Nancy Drew.

Will she solve the case and find the guilty culprit? Will it turn out to be one of her rich and/or diverse co-workers, who all have a selection of shady secrets and secret relationships? Might it even be Nancy’s new boyfriend Ned “Nick” Nickerson (Tunji Kasim)?

Or is it the ghost that has been haunting Nancy since she was a child?

Yep, a ghost.

Tunji Kasim as Nick and Kennedy McMann as Nancy
Tunji Kasim as Nick and Kennedy McMann as Nancy © Robert Falconer/The CW

Drew backs

Nancy Drew is almost painful to watch. The jarring collision of so many poorly executed elements and so many bad takes on the books’ original elements fail to add up to anything more than a derivative piece of nonsense that tries to be everything else on The CW, Freeform and Hulu but fails horribly.

As Riverdale showed, bold reinterpretation of source material can achieve good results. But ghosts? Making Ned/Nick an ex-con and Nancy’s fuck-buddy? Having the police on the verge of fitting up Nancy? Making Nancy’s dad (Scott Wolf) downright weak and pathetic? Making Nancy anything other than fun and determined?

Why? I mean there could be reasons for these ‘bold’ choices but the show doesn’t appear to have any, other than they worked for other TV shows and could work for this one, too.

At the very least, if you’re going to do Nancy Drew, at least make it a decent murder-mystery or a crime story. But this is weak, season-long stuff, coupled with a supernatural edge that’s even weaker. It could be there’ll be a secular explanation at the end of the season, but about the only good quality about it at the moment is the inclusion of original TV Nancy Drew Pamela Sue Martin as the local psychic.

The characters are all Pretty Little Liars annoying and cliquey. The storyline is weakly executed and the collective graves of Carolyn Keene are being trampled on as much as the onscreen ghost’s.

Far from creation through destruction, all we have here is destruction.

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