12:35 am EDT, October 10, 2019

‘Nancy Drew’ 1×01 review: A supernatural sleuth for a modern audience

Nancy Drew just premiered on The CW, and we’ve got a full breakdown of the pilot episode. Is this a show worth keeping in your Fall TV lineup?

The CW has a great slate of shows airing this year, between the Arrow-verse, Legacies, Riverdale, and more. But if you’re looking for something a little different, Nancy Drew might just scratch that itch you haven’t been able to reach.

While this isn’t a straight adaptation of the popular series by Carolyn Keene, it does take the idea of Nancy Drew and modernizes it. I also appreciate that they’ve given us a post-high school setting and a supernatural element. The former opens up the story a little bit (and hopefully avoids some of the typical drama) and the latter keep you on your toes even more than the main mystery.

As with any pilot episode, Nancy Drew season 1, episode 1 suffers from a lot of exposition and some pacing issues. I feel like they threw us into the middle of the story here, looking in on Nancy a year after her mother passed. There’s a lot of history between Nancy and the other characters, and a lot of information we still need to learn, not to mention her legacy as a sleuth, which is definitely not secret knowledge.

I have hope, however, that the creators behind Nancy Drew know what they’re doing. If they’re already making major reveals (George’s relationship with Ryan, Nick’s status as an ex-con, the trunk in the attic, etc.), then I would hope there’s even bigger and juicier details to come.

So, where do we start when it comes to discussing the Nancy Drew pilot? Right now, the most interesting part of the show is its cast of characters…

‘Nancy Drew’ main characters

Nancy Drew

Let’s start with our titular hero, shall we? We get brief flashes of her past that do just enough to raise plenty of questions without giving us her entire life story.

We see Nancy watching as her parents uncover a trunk buried in their backyard, as well as that time she rescued a little girl, Rose Turnbull, from behind a hidden staircase (book reference!) when she was in seventh grade. Her mother gets pancreatic cancer and dies, providing the motivation for Nancy hanging up her magnifying glass:

“I don’t go searching in the dark anymore. Not after the darkness found me.”

This could have been hokey coming from just about anyone, but Kennedy McMann plays the role with something that feels incredibly authentic and vulnerable while still exuding strength. This is her first major role, and it’s obvious why she landed the part.

If I were to compare this show to anything else, I would say it comes pretty close to Veronica Mars. Nancy used to be popular, much like Veronica, but thanks to a tragedy, they’ve both fallen from grace. Both shows gave us a smart, curious, and independent female lead who had a history with the other characters that we were meant to unravel as time went on.

Nancy Drew series premiere

While Nancy isn’t as sarcastic or biting as Veronica, she has that same weird kind of charm about her. People simultaneously dislike her and respect her, and she always seems to find herself smack-dab in the middle of trouble. Plus, they employ voiceovers to great effect.

Unlike Veronica, Nancy has already graduated high school when we first meet her. She’s essentially been ostracized by those who remember her from high school (those friends and her boyfriend at the time are nowhere to be seen), and she’s working at a local diner.

The one bright spot in her life is a guy named Nick.

Ned ‘Nick’ Nickerson

Nick is new in town, hailing from Florida, and is clearly smitten with Nancy from the start. He playfully ribs her for not being interested in getting to know him and trying to keep her distance emotionally. He is clearly ready for something more, but Nancy is nothing if not stubborn.

When the group is taken to the police station to be questioned following the murder of Tiffany Hudson, we learn that Nick is actually an ex-con. He says he was a minor, the records were sealed, and he served him time. Still, the damage is done and now Nancy, Bess, and George know a little more about him than he wanted them to.

Nick’s a little bitter about the fact that Nancy doesn’t want to get to know him better, but when she finally admits publicly (or, at least, in the dining room of The Claw) that they’re kind of seeing each other, he seems content. I love the way he looks at her — with awe and respect — and you can tell that Nancy isn’t just in it for the sex.

After a little back and forth, with Nick confessing his feelings and Nancy initially rejecting them, Nancy finds herself at his place following a fight with her father. She admits that she hates her life — the fact that her mother is dead and she is going nowhere — but that he makes it bearable. She wants to get to know him.

This is sweet, and I did enjoy this moment, but it’s quickly marred by the fact that Nancy figures out her father was Nick’s lawyer, which means she has access to Nick’s records. When she goes snooping, she finds out that he was charged with manslaughter. The key witness? Tiffany Hudson.

Nancy has to play it cool, even though he’s now her main suspect. You can see her warring with her feelings on this one. She doesn’t want it to be him, obviously, but she’s also mad she missed the signs.

It’s a good wrench to throw in their relationship, but the fact that it happened in the pilot episode tells me this is a huge red herring. I doubt Nick killed Tiffany, so the biggest issue here is when Nancy eventually confronts him about all of this. He’s not going to take kindly to being suspected or accused, and it could potentially ruin their relationship for good.

At the end of the episode, we see Nick working on a car. When he removes a panel in the back seat, he finds drugs. By the look on his face, I can’t tell if he’s surprised or if he’s second-guessing what he’s doing. I’m leaning toward the latter. Regardless, I hope Nick becomes more than just the ex-con. He seems like a sweet guy, and his character deserves something a little more to work with.

George Fan

George is already one of my favorite characters. She’s got the same spunk and fire that Veronica Mars has, but perhaps even more devastating. She’s knows Nancy from school and relishes every moment she’s able to get one up on the former Sea Queen.

This is a pretty typical dynamic we see quite often in teen shows, but instead of the main character being the one at the bottom of the social ladder, we get Nancy dealing with her fall from grace and George being the one on top for once.

We know George hasn’t exactly had an easy life. She’s described as the town screw-up, and we find out from the sheriff that her mom is thrown in the drunk tank at least once a month. We also learn that while Nancy didn’t spread those rumors about George’s sex life, she didn’t exactly stop them either.

I’m curious if those rumors were specifically about Ryan Hudson. At the end of the episode, we see George show up on his doorstep, saying, “I’m not in high school anymore.” Does that mean Ryan had sex with an underage girl? Did the whole town find out? What if Nancy’s sleuthing uncovered this little nugget of truth, and that’s truly why George hates her?

I’m curious to see if George and Nancy are able to become friends, or if they’ll always be at odds. It’s clear George has accepted her lot in life, but I hope she learns to dream bigger as the season goes on.

Ace

This was one of the biggest surprises in the episode. When we first meet Ace, he seems like your stereotypical empty-headed stoner. He eats the restaurant’s crackers and drinks all the wine, and he tries a little too hard to get the new girl’s attention.

I’ll admit that I thought Ace was a background character who would end up providing some comic relief, but by the end of the episode, I had no choice but to eat my words. It turns out, Ace may be undercover, as we see him taking photos of George and Ryan and sending them to the sheriff.

Ace seems to have been in place prior to Tiffany Hudson’s murder, which leads me to believe the police were investigating something or someone before she was murdered. Is Ace really undercover, or does the sheriff have something on him, and this is Ace’s way of working off some sort of debt?

Bess

Here’s another character who took me by surprise. Nancy believed Bess to be the city girl who’s taking a gap year from college in order to spend it staying at her rich aunt’s house on the coast. Throughout the episode, we’re meant to believe that Bess isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but she seems sweet and genuine.

She’s excited to help Nancy and George solve the mystery of Tiffany’s death, and she accidentally (and adorably) admits to a singular shoplifting charge. No one pays her any mind, but I’m beginning to believe that’s sort of the point.

When Bess returns home, she crawls into a van full of her belongings, reaches for a small baggie, and pulls out Tiffany’s wedding ring. Bess places it on her finger and admires it, seemingly without any semblance of guilt.

The questions here are obvious: Why is Bess living in a van, and what happened to her family? What compelled her to pull a ring off a dead woman’s hand, and what does she expect to do with it, since she can’t sell it or wear it without raising suspicions?

I love how Nancy Drew took another stereotypical character (the beautiful airhead) and gave her another dimension that I didn’t see coming. I’m interested in every single one of these main characters, but Bess has me asking the most questions.

Carson Drew and Karen Hart

Lastly, we have Nancy’s father and her mother’s best friend. I know we’re meant to be angry at Carson for not spending enough time with his daughter, but I had a hard time hating him. Maybe I’m just getting more mature in my old age, but I really felt like he was trying his hardest. I’m sure his wife’s death hit him pretty hard, and he probably threw himself into his work to cope, but I genuinely believed him when he said he was trying.

He made a mistake not telling Nancy about Karen, but the fact that he’s keeping calm in the face of his daughter’s allegations and trying to sit down with her to have a real talk about everything going on tells me that his number one priority is repairing his relationship with Nancy.

So far, Karen seems to be a fairly one-dimensional character. She’s a detective working on the murder case, and she’s been seeing her best friend’s widower behind his daughter’s back. I don’t blame either one of them for finding comfort in each other or trying to protect Nancy, but whatever happens next, I hope they both take responsibility and avow to do better going forward.

I genuinely hope these two never had a thing while Carson was still married. If so, it’s going to mar both of their characters for me. I like how Karen looks out for Nancy (leaving her hat behind was so stupid — it would’ve taken a fraction of a second to grab it) and loves her like a daughter.

I don’t know if Nancy will ever not find Carson and Karen’s relationship weird or crossing some sort of boundary, but I do hope she’ll come to accept that it’s real and genuine.

‘Nancy Drew’ 1×01 mystery

Now that we know who the main players are and what questions have been left dangling in the air, it’s time to get to the main mystery of the episode.

Nancy Drew series premiere

As they’re closing The Claw, Nancy puts her phone in the window to record the fireworks. Soon after, Ryan Hudson, heir to his family’s business empire, shows up with three of his buddies, hoping for a quiet place to have a little chat. George isn’t quite acting like herself, and she asks Nancy to help her take food out to Ryan’s wife, Tiffany, who’s standing in the parking lot.

When the power goes out, Nancy checks on Mrs. Hudson and finds her dead on the ground. George, Bess, Ace, and even Nick show up to take in the scene. The cops soon arrive, and everyone is taken to the station, except for Ace, who has an alibi.

In hindsight, we know Ace probably didn’t kill Tiffany, as he does appear to be undercover. The remaining three suspects do have motive, however: Bess wanted the ring, George wanted Ryan, and Nick wanted revenge. As I said earlier, I think Nick’s motive, while the strongest, is the least likely. I also doubt Bess is a killer, even if she is a thief. George is the most likely suspect out of the group (she’s the screw-up and has reasonable motive), but I highly doubt any of them did it.

Once we get to the station, we see that Nancy’s reputation has lingered. The sheriff didn’t like when she stuck her nose where it didn’t belong back when she was a kid, and he sure as hell doesn’t appreciate it now. I can’t tell if he’s a competent officer with a grudge or if he really is channeling Sheriff Lamb from Veronica Mars. I hope it’s the former.

What I love about Nancy’s scenes here is that she talks to the sheriff like a professional. She admits that her fingerprints will be on the dinner plate and that she found her. She realizes the ring was stolen and runs through the likelihood of this not involving foul play. She knows procedures and has her own theories. She knows what she’s doing, and it’s clear she has some real talent for this.

The sheriff plays Tiffany’s 911 call, and this is when things start getting weird — and a lot more interesting. It’s clear she was murdered, but we don’t get any clues who could have done it. However, we do hear some chanting in the background, which happens every time Dead Lucy may have a hand in something fishy.

We learn about Dead Lucy at the top of the episode. She wore her Sea Queen crown for a single night before she was pushed to her death along the bluffs. The locals believe she haunts the town, and we later learn that she’s blamed for every little mishap.

Normally, I would dismiss this plot point altogether. Nancy Drew is not typically played as a supernatural whodunnit, but it seems like The CW is leaning into this element quite heavily. When Nancy leaves the station, we hear more chanting and a phantom crown appears above her head when she’s looking at her reflection in a store window.

Later that night, she finds a video on her phone. She didn’t manage to record the fireworks, but she did see Tiffany freaking out in the parking lot while a figure appears behind her. Was Tiffany reacting to the chanting, which we also heard in the video, or was she reacting to her off-screen murderer? We don’t find out because the video glitches and then cuts to black (how does that even work?).

I’ll be honest and say a part of me is expecting Nancy Drew to pull a Scooby Doo. Everything appears to be pointing toward a supernatural villain, when in fact it’s a real person and an ingenious use of a pulley system. I don’t want this to be the case — I would love for Lucy’s ghost to be real — but I’m not 100% convinced there’s an actual supernatural element here, even given that creepy ending.

Nancy tries to convince herself she doesn’t do the whole murder/mystery thing anymore, but she soon finds herself breaking and entering into Ryan’s house (“Just like riding a bike!”), where she finds a cleverly hidden compartment. Inside is a mariner’s good luck charm and a note that reads, “For your protection. — H.G.”

George is the one who tells Nancy to dissolve the seal around the necklace in saltwater, which should reveal a clue. Inside, there’s a little seahorse, just like the one on Nancy’s Sea Queen crown from a year ago. The back of the locket contains an address that leads to a medium, and before Nancy can argue more than two words, the group sets out to follow their next lead.

I know this is Nancy’s show, and I’m more than happy to have her take the lead here, but I was delighted when George and Bess accompanied her to the medium (played by Pamela Sue Martin, a former Nancy Drew herself). The three of them are not friends, but they’re also kind of in this together. I like that Nancy doesn’t have all the answers, and it makes the other girls more than just background characters and suspects.

When they head to the medium to ask some followup questions, I’m even happier that they’re together. Nancy and George are non-believers, but Bess is ready to get in touch with Tiffany’s ghost. However, when they start the seance, the medium begins chanting, “Find the dress.” It’s not Tiffany’s voice coming through — it’s Lucy Sable’s.

At this point, it’s getting harder and harder to deny something supernatural is going on here, especially once we follow Nancy back home and the power goes out for a second time. The stairs to her attic drop down, and like a great detective (with nerves of steel), she goes to investigate.

She hears a noise and sees the wallpaper is beginning to peel away. Underneath it are the words from the song about Lucy:

Lucy Sable once was able
to look upon the sea,
but someone got her in the water
now that’s where she’ll always be.
Count to five, enjoy the view
hope the killer doesn’t get you.

The song ends with the children singing, “One, two, three, four, five, you’ll never get out alive.”

Yeah, that definitely won’t give me nightmares. And neither will the fact that Nancy finds the trunk her parents were uncovering all those years ago. Inside, is a bloody prom dress.

“Why is it always the ones you love most who have the most to hide?” she asks, right before Lucy Sable herself shows up behind her.

Like I said before, it’s getting harder to deny something supernatural is going on here. At this point, I believe a person killed Tiffany Hudson, but that doesn’t mean Dead Lucy isn’t somehow connected to what’s currently happening in Horseshoe Bay. If nothing else, Nancy now has two mysteries to solve.

Final thoughts

There was a lot to establish (and recap!) in Nancy Drew season 1, episode 1, but I think the show did its best to give us plenty to hang onto. The characters are interesting and relatively three-dimensional, and Nancy has proven to be a complex narrator. What we want most out of a show like this is a good mystery that keeps us guessing until the end, and right now, they’ve certainly set the groundwork for that.

The supernatural element is a delightful (read: terrifying) surprise, and I do hope it’s a legitimate addition to the show. This will keep Nancy Drew more interesting and provide another lens through which we can view any mystery. We’ll have to constantly ask ourselves if any death is natural or supernatural.

I, for one, am excited about Nancy Drew‘s possibilities. It started off strong, even if it fell into some common pitfalls that come with the pilot episode territory. I’m expecting future episodes to be a little smoother from here on out.

Watch the ‘Nancy Drew’ season 1, episode 2, ‘The Secret of the Old Morgue’ trailer

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