Similar to what The CW did with “Riverdale” a few years ago, “Nancy Drew” (Wednesdays, CW) has been updated for modern times, and out of the gates, it’s refreshingly less silly than what “Riverdale” turned into. The mix isn’t precisely what I look for: It’s much more contemporary than it is a throwback, and it has a supernatural element that cuts into Nancy’s meat-and-potatoes clue gathering. But it’s not bad, and I can imagine enough people will like this version of Nancy that it could define the sleuth for this generation.
This third TV version (following 1970s and 1990s entries) is created by Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz (the duo behind “The O.C.,” “Gossip Girl” and “The Runaways”), with Noga Landau co-writing the pilot. It might owe a nod to the current Dynamite comic in that it contemporizes Nancy.
In the title role is Kennedy McMann, who has the iconic red hair. But she’s much edgier and more mature than I’d expect, even though she graduated from Horseshoe Bay (Maine) High School only one year earlier. I imagine Nancy as more precocious, with the fact that she solves cases before the police do being mildly irksome to the boys in blue. But in this version, she might as well take the exams and get a job on the Horseshoe Bay police force; she’s obviously qualified and no longer a kid.
When we meet her, Nancy is getting in a quickie with mechanic boyfriend Ned “Nick” Nickerson (Tunji Kasim) before her waitress shift. Her traditional friends, Bess (Maddison Jaizani) and George (Leah Lewis), aren’t her friends in this version (Nancy flat-out says as much); they are her mildly antagonistic co-workers. Nancy is on the outs with her lawyer dad, Carson (Scott Wolf), who has secretly been seeing police detective Karen (Alvina August) since Mrs. Drew died of cancer less than a year ago (as seen in flashbacks).
None of Nancy’s relationships are all that warm – but at least they aren’t soapy and plastic as with “Riverdale.” Everyone’s shifty enough to be a suspect in the mystery of who killed a socialite, Tiffany (Sinead Curry), right outside the diner at the end of Nancy’s shift. In terms of balancing “everyone’s a suspect” with believable relationships, “Veronica Mars” is the standard-bearer, and “Nancy Drew” is not at that level.
It’s also not exactly in the same genre as “Veronica.” It might hew closer to “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” with which it shares dark yet colorful cinematography (a style popularized in this decade by “Riverdale”). After all, the biggest suspect in the opening mystery is a ghost.
Horseshoe Bay’s local spirit is Lucy Sable, who jumped to her death on the rocks in 2000 after being crowned the school’s Spring Queen. On cellphone video by which Nancy intended to capture the fireworks, we see Lucy’s ghost coming out of the mist and attacking Tiffany in the diner parking lot.
The rational explanation is that someone is dressed as a ghost. That’s a good enough setup right there, but then the episode ends with straight-up supernatural happenings. The attic ladder in the Drew house drops of its own accord, and Nancy investigates. OK, so maybe the thunder knocked the ladder loose.
But then the attic wallpaper starts to peel of its own accord, revealing the creepy children’s poem about Lucy Sable etched into the boards. At this point, the supernatural is clearly part of the “Nancy Drew” universe, and I don’t think that’s for the best. (But I suppose if I want non-supernatural “Nancy Drew,” there are those two previous series, plus several movies, including one from this very year.)
A final montage shows a piece of evidence pointing to every person who was at the diner when the murder occurred. Subsequent episodes will perhaps show the moments surrounding Tiffany’s murder from different perspectives, and that could be fun. In this era of peak murder-mystery TV, this series is not a standout, but it’s respectable. I think The CW will pick up its share of old and new “Nancy Drew” fans.