I was a Nancy Drew kid growing up in the late 90s and early 00s. I had a whole shelf of them in the little bookcase in my bedroom. I remember waiting until the house would go quiet and turning on the light next to my bed and devouring them.
I probably can trace that childhood obsession with Nancy Drew to my love of crime media: true crime podcasts, crime dramas, procedural series. My other obsession was ghost stories and urban legends.
Needless to say, when The CW announced their take on the Nancy Drew series I was pretty intrigued. Nancy is, probably, one of the most well known fictional detectives. I would say definitely the most well known female one. Given The CW’s love of taking classic teen characters and giving them modern makeovers (pairing the show with Riverdale is genius), it was one of the pilots I was most excited about seeing in the 2019-2020 season.
Honestly? I really liked it. The first episode just has the really great haunting and tense air from the characters, the ghost story, and the actual murder. Nancy is 18-years-old, coping with the death of her mother, swearing off on sleuthing, and just trying her best to get by until she can apply to colleges again next year. When the mystery of a murdered heiress along with the connection of the ghost story of Lucy Sable is dangled in front her, Nancy takes it.
With it, there is a strong start to the series. The mystery is interesting with an ever spiraling web of lies for Nancy to unknot. Plus all the characters have their own secrets, though some are easier to guess than others (George having an affair with the dead woman’s rich husband was a pretty easy read early on). The ghost element of the series, which is very present and very creepy at the end of the pilot, adds an interesting twist to the classic character. (Plus they just go ahead with it rather than dancing around it. Looking at you, Riverdale.)
The pilot was well-paced, moving along at a good clip while also giving us character dynamics and clues to keep us interested. Watching Nancy, usually a loner detective in this universe, have to work with others is an interesting direction especially mixed with her clear grief over her mother’s passing and her sadness at where her life is going.
Kennedy McMann, who stars as Nancy, gives a strong performance. Her Nancy is smart and tough but with an aching vulnerability and deep seated sorrow that allows for some great vulnerable moments. Her wry narration gives the whole series a noir-ish feel, which I like. I find McMann to just be singularly great in the role, settled in so seamlessly and naturally that it will definitely become a defining performance later on in the history of Nancy Drew media.
Also great in the pilot is Tunji Kasim as Ned “Nick” Nickerson, Nancy’s love interest in the series and in the books. Kasim and McMann’s chemistry is off the charts. Even with his troubled past and criminal record, Kasim gives Nick this great gentle affability. I can’t wait to see Kasim and McMann play more off each other in future episodes.
The other characters don’t get a ton of development in the pilot. That’s okay because they all have their own secrets to hide. So the more Nancy learns about them, then the more we do as well. I can say that the entirety of the cast gels well together with some really good chemistry between them. Despite some moments of heavy-handedness, the pilot is a great start to the series. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
PILOT GRADE: A-
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