Within the first five minutes of The CW’s new adaptation of Nancy Drew, it is clear that this not the same teen girl detective that your Baby Boomer parents know and love, though she does still drive an adorable, shiny blue roadster. The 2019 version of Nancy Drew is an 18-year-old former beauty queen whose Ivy League plans and sleuthing hobby are put on hold after the sudden death of her mother. “I don’t go searching in the dark anymore,” Nancy, played by newcomer Kennedy McMann, says ominously. “Not after the darkness found me.” In addition to a heaping dose of adolescent trauma, our heroine has a deadpan voice and a penchant for sardonic wit. She also has sex. Lots of it.
Shortly into the show’s pilot, viewers are treated to a teen drama trademark—a fully clothed, under-the-covers sex scene between Nancy and Ned “Nick” Nickerson (Tunji Kasim), who has been recast as a casual hookup with a criminal record rather than a doting boyfriend. There are quite a few of these steamy-lite montages in the first two episodes of Nancy Drew.
This should come as no surprise given that it was created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, the duo behind The O.C. and Gossip Girl, and practically the inventors of the attractive-twenty-somethings-playing-sexed-up-teens formula for a hit TV show. Schwartz and Savage are essentially the patron saints of bingeable, guilty pleasure melodrama. Unfortunately, their latest attempt fails to match the charm of their earlier work, though McMann, who has never starred in a major television show or movie before, is a formidable anchor for the series.
Nancy Drew is set in the fictional New England town of Horseshoe Bay, Maine, which one character, a wealthy out-of-towner, describes as like the town in Jaws, “but with no shark. At least the shark made things exciting.” But beyond the idyllic red-white-and-blue color palette and picturesque pine-tree-lined bluffs, Horseshoe Bay is plagued by dark secrets surrounding the mysterious death of a local girl. Lucy Sable, like Nancy, was crowned winner of the Sea Queen beauty pageant in 2000, just before she disappeared, leaving behind only a tiara and a shred of a pink dress.
Some of Horseshoe Bay’s more superstitious residents believe that the ghost of Lucy haunts the vacation town. Indeed, Nancy appears to be tormented by (surprisingly) frightening visions of the dead beauty queen, often signaled by an eerie chorus of children’s voices chanting a refrain that will inevitably be stuck in my head for days to come: “Lucy Sable once was able to look upon the sea. But someone got her in the water and that’s where she’ll always be. Count to five, enjoy the view, hope the killer doesn’t get to you.” All of this effective spookiness is promptly undermined, however, by the fact that the townspeople couldn’t come up with a more creative name for their ghost than “Dead Lucy,” which is repeated frequently and with grave seriousness.
With her college aspirations derailed and the debt remaining from her mother’s medical bills, Nancy is working at a seafood restaurant when she finds herself an unlikely suspect in the murder of a socialite. Eager to clear her name and unable to resist the pull of her one-time passion for detective work, she sets out to solve the mystery herself. Through Veronica Mars-esque voiceover narration, viewers access Nancy’s innermost thoughts as she pieces together clues and begins to suspect all of those around her. Other suspects include Nick, and her three coworkers—high school nemesis George Fan (Leah Lewis), ditzy rich girl Bess Marvin (Maddison Jaizani), and burnout dishwasher Ace (Alex Saxon). Her father, played by Scott Wolf, is her lawyer, though their relationship is strained by the loss of Nancy’s mother.
It’s impossible to watch Nancy Drew without drawing comparisons to Riverdale, only strengthened by the fact that it airs directly after the popular high school soap about characters from the Archie comics. Both shows are adapted from source material that was popular in the 1940s and ’50s. Both reimagine beloved, squeaky-clean teen protagonists as modern-day teenagers who have sex, talk back to their parents, and, oh, regularly commit felonies. They have in common a pulpy, neo-noir tone and possibly supernatural elements. The dialogue in Nancy Drew is similarly cheesy, and, at times, forced and unnatural for the sake of explaining unnecessarily complicated plot developments.
Most crucially, though, the two CW shows share the irritatingly effective habit of ending each episode with a montage set to a top-100 pop song and packed with no less than ten cliffhangers, ensuring that, despite my better judgment, I have no choice but to tune in every week.
Nancy Drew premieres on Oct. 9 at 9:00 p.m. ET on The CW.