In an era when Hollywood is routinely rebooting or reviving classic properties, the new Nancy Drew television series paired with The CW network appears to be a natural fit. At San Diego Comic-Con, the show offered up the world premiere of its pilot episode followed by a panel with three executive producers and the five core young cast members. After seeing the episode and hearing from the panelists, I’m excited to see what Nancy Drew has to offer for a full season this fall.
The pilot episode effectively carries out its most important purposes: getting the audience invested in Nancy as the central character, finding compelling ways to introduce the ensemble cast around her, and introducing the murder-mystery investigation that drives the overarching serial story. As is typical for an origin-story episode, the pilot puts Nancy in the role of a reluctant heroine who has set aside her passion for solving mysteries – but gets back into her old skills pretty quickly once circumstances force her hand. Each of the characters around her are complex and layered, and all of them (including Nancy) are keeping secrets. Though in the pilot they are naturally a long way from becoming a Buffy-style Scooby Gang, the seeds of teamwork and friendship are sown for the audience. So too are the seeds of all manner of shenanigans that are likely to arise amid the deceptions and investigations during Nancy Drew’s first season.
Importantly, the Nancy Drew panel featured three women as executive producers. Stephanie Savage has been a producer and writer on shows including The O.C., Gossip Girl, and Runaways, working on them with Josh Schwartz, who is credited on IMDB as the creator of this Nancy Drew series. Noga Landau previously worked as a writer and story editor for The Magicians, and shared her love for Nancy Drew going all the way back to Scholastic book fairs in school as a child. Melinda Hsu-Taylor has been a producer and writer on Lost, Falling Skies, and The Vampire Diaries, among other series. She spoke about her personal experience of isolation as a person of color growing up in Maine, and how she connected with The Lord of the Rings because it showed that people with different backgrounds and experiences could work together to succeed. It was important to Hsu-Taylor to send the same message with Nancy Drew, both within the stories shown onscreen as well as with ensuring diverse hiring for the cast, writing staff, and behind the camera talent.
The panel discussion emphasized that Nancy Drew is built heavily upon the existing canon of the books, while also reimagining the series as a contemporary story for The CW. Nancy still solves mysteries, her mother is still dead, and she has a contentious relationship with her father (played by Freddie Prinze, Jr., in the pilot screened at Comic-Con, but by Scott Wolf when the series airs in the fall). The producers noted that some of the best Nancy Drew novels involved a supernatural element, which the series includes in the form of a ghost story that haunts the small town even before the inciting-incident murder. Familiar characters are reimagined, too: George is played by Asian-American actress Leah Lewis, and Ned Nickerson (going by “Nick” rather than “Ned”) is played by Tunji Kasim, a Scottish actor of Nigerian heritage. Kasim praised the show as “bold and timely” for how elements of the books are “inverted and reinvented” in Nancy Drew. Each of the actors on the panel spoke about their commitment to honoring the legacy of the character from the books while also bringing their own perspective and approach to the role for the television series.
In another nod to contemporary storytelling, as the series progresses Nancy will rely more on a team of allies than solving mysteries by herself. The producers noted that each character has an arc over the season, and the characters will have to work hard to form their friendships from the mostly distant relationships first shown in the pilot episode. While remaining centered on Nancy, the show also will take advantage of the opportunity to include lots of intersections among different components of the ensemble cast during the season. Although the pilot reveals a number of secrets and deceptions to the audience but not to Nancy, the producers noted that she will soon catch up in what she knows. Nancy Drew does not intend to rely on dramatic tension to keep viewers invested, but instead will focus on the relatability and humanity of the characters – and their flaws, such as Nancy’s tendency to have blind spots, positively or negatively, toward those she cares about.
If the pilot is any indication of the values and storytelling in Nancy Drew, and the camaraderie among the cast is representative of their performances in the show, then I have high expectations for the series this fall. Based on Comic-Con, Nancy Drew appears to favor creativity and timeliness over nostalgia, and it will be interesting to watch how that balance unfolds further over the course of the season.
Nancy Drew Exclusive Screening and Panel
Nancy Drew is a brilliant teenaged detective whose sense of self has come from solving mysteries in her hometown of Horseshoe Bay, Maine—until her mother’s untimely death derails Nancy’s college plans. Devastated by her mother’s passing, Nancy swears off crime solving, but when a socialite is murdered, Nancy finds herself embroiled in a ghostly murder investigation. A supernatural presence begins to haunt Nancy’s investigation, and she discovers that the current crime has an astonishing connection to the unsolved murder of a local girl. Whether the ghost is here to help or hinder Nancy remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: Nancy’s going to have to unravel the clues from both the living and the dead to solve the crimes. Join series stars Kennedy McMann, Leah Lewis, Maddison Jaizani, Alex Saxon, and Tunji Kasim, along with executive producers Noga Landau, Melinda Hsu-Taylor, and Stephanie Savage for an exclusive sneak peek of the first episode followed by a panel discussion. Moderated by Damian Holbrook of TV Guide Magazine. Nancy Drew will air Wednesdays this fall on The CW.