After nearly running the well dry on Young Adult-friendly comics, The CW has turned it sights on iconic YA fiction -- to surprising success. Nancy Drew, which debuted last week, and screened with a Q&A at New York Comic Con, is a fairly sharp departure from the source material, but will slot in perfectly on the network.
Just as the first season of Riverdale mashed the classic, clean-cut Archie Comics characters with a Twin Peaks-inspired aesthetic and some, let’s say, bold narrative choices, Nancy Drew clearly takes inspiration from seemingly disparate sources. Rather than the kid-friendly approach of 2007's iteration of the character played by Emma Roberts, the CW's show opts for something that’s more like Veronica Mars with the sheen of a supernatural crime thriller. Though all of these inspirations seem like they'd make for a jarring adaptation, it actually works quite well, and is yet another sure hit for CW's slightly edgy line of youth-oriented shows.
Newcomer Kennedy McMann stars as the iconic detective, but there are a few things that immediately give away that this is not a Nancy Drew we've seen before. She's a bit older, a bit more mature, and her town -- changed to Horseshoe Bay from River Heights -- is seemingly haunted by ghosts. But here's the twist -- they're real.
"In a lot of these old books there is the supernatural, there is a ghost in the walls, or a gorilla in the window," creator and executive producer Stephanie Savage said in the Comic-Con panel. "But it's never a gorilla or a ghost, it's always a dude trying to creep Nancy out. But what I thought we could try was just putting ghosts in the show."
Savage went on to explain herself and explicitly confirm that the ghosts in The CW's Nancy Drew are not going to be a Scooby Doo-style supernatural fake, but the real deal.
As such, the show operates partly within the horror genre, which gives the decades-old character an entirely new atmosphere. The first season's driving mystery, the death of a local rich socialite's wife, immediately prompts speculation about murder at the hands of the town's most famous urban legend of a ghost, Dead Lucy. Fairly quickly, the show establishes the cast of recurring characters, including her widowed father Carson (Scott Wolf), complicated romantic partner Ned (Tunji Kasim) and coworkers.
Narratively, the show first proceeds as one might expect. There seem to be three primary pillars to Nancy's story: her relationship with her father, her romantic relationship and her drive to solve the crime. All three frequently intersect, but it's the crime-solving that really pushes the story forward. Of course, every person is a suspect for Nancy, but it's all confused when she makes the discovery at the end of the episode that the ghosts just might be real.
Like many mystery-focused shows, most notably the first couple of seasons of Veronica Mars, each episode of Nancy Drew will feature a specific, self-contained mystery while the season at large pursues solving that very first murder.
"The way the show is structured, we have these long-arc mysteries that will take us through the season," co-creator and EP Josh Schwartz said. "And then throughout each episode there will be mysteries they have to solve inside of these episodes."
Though the storytelling structure largely follows similar ground, the aesthetic does not. Bathed in deep shadows rather than the genre's typical red-blue neon lighting, it is quite literally a much darker show than its relatives on the channel. Pilot director Larry Teng said his influences came from a different place: movies.
"We were scheming to present something that felt a little more mature for the network, something that was definitely more cinematic," Teng said. "We referenced a lot of [David] Fincher for the color palette of the show. Part of it was to make the scene more composed and presentational, give it a sense of scope, so the scares really had context. We studied a lot of films...'90s thrillers were also in there, [like] I Know What You Did Last Summer."
From a bold storytelling choice to a much more developed look, Nancy Drew looks to be another step forward for The CW.
Created by Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz and starring Kennedy McMann, Maddison Jaizani, Leah Lewis, Tunji Kasim, Alex Saxon and Scott Wolf, Nancy Drew airs on The CW Wednesdays at 9 ET.
KEEP READING: The CW’s Nancy Drew Reveals Series Premiere Synopsis