Review: Nancy Drew: Season 1

 Everyone loves a mystery.

From the entirety of The CW’s lineup, there is one show I watch that isn’t a part of the Arrowverse. That show is Nancy Drew. I binged the entirety of the first season last year when I had a trial subscription to the streaming service that bough the show here in the Netherlands. With the 2nd season of the show close to wrapping up, I went back to that 1st season for a multitude of reasons. One of them is that while I was watching its sophomore outing the thought didn’t feel like the same beast as when it first started to air popped into my head. I wanted to what degree this notion was true as well as see if it might be better for newcomers to skip season 1 and just start off with season 2.

With all of this said, let’s dive in.

In the town of Horseshoe Bay, Maine, “retired” 18-year old detective Nancy Drew is spending her gap year working as a waitress while she deals with the grief of her mother death and estrangement from her dad. Her self-imposed exile of sorts gets interrupted when one night Tiffany Hudson, the wife of local businessman Ryan Hudson is murdered outside of the restaurant. Nancy, alongside her co-workers George, Bess, and Ace and boyfriend Nick are brought in for questioning by the local police. When the police chief tries to pin the murder on Nancy, whom he's despised for years, she comes out of her self-imposed retirement to solve the case and clear her, and her friends, names. Along the way, Nancy discovers a potential connection between the death of Tiffany Hudson and Lucy Sable, a girl who was killed nineteen years ago but whose murder was never solved. Thus Nancy vows to solve both murders which set her off on her greatest, and most dangerous, case yet.

That’s a rather vague description of the pilot episode, I know, but Nancy Drew is a (murder) mystery show. Can’t risk giving too much away! And honestly, the pilot isn’t the show at its finest. Every series first few episodes/season is wobbly. That’s because the cast and crew alike are still figuring out all of the smaller details and the nuances. Aspects that are present early on are completely absent for the rest of the series and Nancy Drew is no stranger to this.

The big change is the tone. The first few episodes, the pilot especially, you can just feel the producers trying to mimic Riverdale. For example, the first (proper) introduction to Nancy is her having a quicky with her boyfriend before her shift starts. It’s an aspect I did not appreciate but luckily it faded over time. The more the season progressed it found its footing and lots of this type of content, as well as cringe and angst, left the show or were reduced considerably. I’m happy this happened but it does attribute to the pilot getting off on the wrong foot and turning people off that perhaps would’ve enjoyed the show if they had stuck around longer.

The 'Drew-Crew'. From left to right: George, Nick, Nancy, Bess & Ace.

Another notable change is the narration which I feel is worth discussing as it ties into the season’s progression. During the first half of the season, Nancy Drew does the whole inner-narration thing that’s so typical of mystery shows. The further the season progresses the less this happens until it's gone completely. This change is indicative of the show’s evolution and what I think is the series most pivotal change. While the seasons starts out as the Nancy Drew show, it more or less becomes an ensemble by the end of it. Sure, Nancy is still the series focal point of the series but more time is spent on her group of friends. They start to help out with Nancy’s investigation and before long they form a tightly knit group that’s a ‘one for all and all for one' mentality.

This would not have worked as well as it does weren’t for strong character writing and the performances of the actors. The side characters start out as potential suspects for Nancy’s investigation and in that setting, they didn’t really get much time to shine. They felt more like obstacles for Nancy to overcome, suspects ticking off a box. Once the show progresses, this aspect becomes better and the series dives deep(er) into its characters. Peels back the layers and give way to depth, complexity and likeability. Combine this with the principal cast giving very good performances and clearly growing into the roles and you have a strong core of the show.

Even if the characters, their interactions and their growth, is the core of the series Nancy Drew is a murder mystery show. So, how does it stack up in this department? Pretty well, if I do say myself. Unlike what I had expected from The CW, Nancy Drew season 1 doesn’t go the case-of-the-week approach. It’s more like Veronica Mars in that virtually each episodes investigation has something to do with the Tiffany Hudson/Lucy Sable case. While this made the season very focused I do have to say I wished there were some more one-off cases for the Drew-Crew to solve. We hear a lot about Nancy’s previous cases and how she’s helped out so many of Horseshoe Bay and I would’ve liked to see some of that in action.

Lastly, let’s get into the spooky. The ‘twist’ of this adaptation of Nancy Drew is, aside from focusing on an older Nancy, that the show has a supernatural element to it. It’s a bit weird at first, got to admit, but it grew on me. It’s incorporated better than expected. Less is more when it comes to horror and the series smartly uses this to its advantage to pull it off visually. That the show makes use of a lot of practical effects also helps it greatly. The supernatural aspects aren’t used as a Deus Ex Machina, an easy solution, to solve each case where it plays a role. There are a few moments here and there where I think the solution came a bit too easy or that the supernatural element overplayed its hand but overall, it works very well and remains properly grounded and doesn’t break your suspense of disbelief.

Conclusion

Nancy Drew on The CW is a good and enjoyable series. While the first half or so episode of its first season was rough around the edges. It very much tries to mimic Riverdale and it’s not for the show’s benefit. Once the show found its footing in the 2nd half of the season though, when the cast and crew have grown into their roles and the show starts to develop its own identity. It’s a well written, well-acted murder mystery show with a supernatural flavour and with some very interesting and layered characters at its core.

I would recommend giving Nancy Drew a try though if you do, I would recommend not to turn the show off too early. The show gets better later on, though the first few episodes are still quite enjoyable.

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