Nancy Drew is undeniably a classic. I must have been in the fifth grade or so when my Nancy Drew stage kicked off. My American Girl Doll, Molly, had a Nancy Drew book as part of her bedtime set that contained the first four chapters. I hunted down a me-sized copy of the book to match, and so my fondness with the clever girl detective started. I can’t help but to smile when I see those bright yellow bound hardcovers in bookstores and libraries, waiting for the next generation of kids to discover her adventures.
Nancy Drew was probably part of my draw into watching Veronica Mars, one of my absolute favorites. Every girl detective that shows up in media now with some cleverness and pluck feels like a natural fictional descendant of Nancy. So when word came out that the CW was developing a gritty Nancy Drew, adaption, I knew it needed to be on my list of things to check out this TV season. With three episodes out now, it’s become the show I stay up late to catch as soon as it’s released on the CW app for streaming with no concern regarding how late I’m staying up on a week night. Here’s the reasons I think you should check out this Nancy Drew adaption.
WARNING: THE REMAINDER OF THE ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST THREE NANCY DREW EPISODES.
1) Nancy’s storylines have matured, but so has the ideas about her target audience.
I once saw Nancy Drew books described as some of the earliest versions of YA books, and in those early days they were expected to be squeaky clean. Any violence was pretty tame, there was no “strong” language, and while Nancy and her female friends all had steady boyfriends, there wasn’t even implied sexual activity. There probably was kissing, but it was as tame as a Disney movie. Her cases didn’t really cover social issues, but I recall a lot of missing valuable items and faked hauntings. I’m not sure I remember there ever being any dead bodies either. It’s no wonder that even as Nancy was college aged, there was no concern about the appropriateness of the book content for a ten-year-old girl in the 1990s.
Our ideas about the issues that teens deal with and should have stories reflecting has changed dramatically in the decades since Nancy was first penned. It only makes sense that a modern Nancy would encounter much more complex issues. The CW version deals with Nancy after her mother’s death caused her to have a bit of a senior year tailspin, and some serious strains in her relationship with her father, Carson. Her girl detective shenanigans have caused problems for herself and her family. The fact there can be legal consequences for vigilante detectives does come up, and her father’s occupation as a criminal lawyer really does come into play. There’s certainly some social class differences at play in Horseshoe Bay (a new setting compared to Riverside in the books). Nancy herself is involved in a consensual sexual relationship with Ned “Nick” Nickerson. Nick (the beloved Ned of the books) has undergone one of the most dramatic shifts. Ned Nickerson was a clean-cut all-American Caucasian character in the books. Here, as Nick, he is portrayed by Scottish actor of color Tunji Kasim, and is trying to rebuild his life after a felony in his youth caused him to serve two years of jail time. George Fayne, Nancy’s friend, is now George Fan played by Leah Lewis, an actress of Chinese descent. This George grew up in a poor family of alcoholics and is seen as the “town screw-up.” Her previous cousin status with Bess Marvin is gone. Bess is now a socialite that seems to be slumming in Horseshoe Bay during a gap-year, but viewers quickly realize something else is going on with Bess when they realize she’s living out of a van. Overall, the cast and characters are much more reflective of a diverse world where young adults deal with very complex issues.
2) There is still love for the source material.
Fans of the original girl detective should still find lots of tributes to the original Nancy and her adventures. Eagle eyed viewers will catch in the pilot that Nancy lives on “Riverside Drive” a reference to her original hometown. A scene where the camera pans over a collection of newspaper clips detailing past cases she solved has numerous shout out to the titles of her original books. A school trip to “Shadow Ranch” is referenced and the third episode includes a “Lilac Inn” and literally a “secret in an old clock.” Even as Nancy has evolved with the times, there’s clearly a lot of love for her original adventures from the writers.
3) The mysteries have evolved as well as Nancy.
There are two big mystery arcs in the CW adaption, and both are original to the television series. One features the mysterious death of Lucy Sable (known to the town as Dead Lucy). A girl that died in 2000 on the night she was crowned Sea Queen, a sort of local title that has a homecoming or pageant queen vibe to it. The town is convinced that Dead Lucy still haunts the town and some supernatural occurrences have pulled Nancy’s curiosity into the direction of Lucy’s death, especially when Lucy’s bloodstained Sea Queen dress turns up in a trunk in the Drew family attic. GeekMom Corrina was at the NYCC panel for the show where the supernatural elements were described as real for the world of the show unlike in the books.
The other mystery involves the death of socialite Tiffany Hudson, who was married to way too wealthy and privileged for his own good Ryan Hudson who hails from the sort of family that “summers” in Horseshoe Bay. Unfortunately for Nancy and company, Tiffany died in the parking lot of the restaurant she, Bess, and George work at. Nick was also present so they are all considered suspects. Nancy jumps right back into sleuthing and discovers the other three all have some sort of motive or suspicious connection: Tiffany was the witness that got Nick sent to jail, George started having an affair with Ryan when she was in high school, and Bess is in possession of a ring that was on Tiffany when she was alive, but disappeared around the time of her death. As Nancy digs deeper into the lives of these three, we get to see who they are as characters now and the roles they will play in helping Nancy.
4) The supernatural aspect is a lot of fun.
While it’s clearly a departure from the book, the existence of the supernatural does add a fun addition that I don’t believe has been done with Nancy Drew before. While George has had some run-ins with restless spirits and local superstitions, thus far the most significant supernatural elements revolve around the ghost of Dead Lucy whose death seems to have some sort of connection with the Drew family. Dead Lucy’s appearances are usually jarring and it’s a miracle I haven’t screamed once yet (it’s my default impulse when freaky things startle me). I’m just waiting for a kid to quietly slip down the stairs having woken up while I’m watching an episode late at night in a mostly dark house and line up the timing just right to accidentally assist Dead Lucy in scaring five years off of my life. You desperately want the Drew family to not be responsible for her death, but the knowledge that Dead Lucy can drop in at any point does give a certain edge-of-your-seat thrill in certain scenes. The morgue sequence in the second episode had me in particular suspense.
WARNING: THE NEXT SECTION OF THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPECULATION ON LUCY SABLE’S DEATH AND WILL CONTAIN BOTH DEFINITE AND POSSIBLE PLOT SPOILERS.
5) Dead Lucy theories are going to be fun to watch develop.
Three episodes in, and I already want to take a guess at what went down with Lucy Sable back in 2000. Working with the assumption that Nancy is 19ish as started in Corrina’s article, my math suggests Nancy was born the same year Lucy Sable died. I’m going to take this a step further and suggest that Lucy Sable is Nancy biological mother who hid a teen pregnancy and the blood on the dress is the result of a childbirth gone wrong. I think the Drews were present at some part of this and found a way to claim Nancy as their own or adopt her. Lucy’s body was never recovered, and this might have been a way to cover up the fact she gave birth. As Carson is a lawyer and Nancy’s mother was a social worker, they would have had knowledge on how to how to pull this off including what documentation might have needed faking. I feel this explains a few of the connections Dead Lucy seems to have to the Drews including:
- Why she seems to have reached out to Nancy other than her appearance when Nancy took part in Sea Queen traditions a year ago.
- Why her bloody dress was found in a trunk Nancy saw her parents unbury in the backyard other than the possibility one of them murdered her.
The next part of my suggestion is that if Dead Lucy is Nancy’s biological mother, Ryan Hudson may be her biological father. He may or may not have been aware that Lucy was pregnant. My reasons for that include:
- Ryan Hudson is the only other person Dead Lucy had directly appeared to other than Nancy.
- Ryan has had an affair with at least one high school aged girl (George).
- Carson Drew worked for a Hudson at one point as a lawyer and his wife made him promise never to do it again. Could her attitudes be regarding a horrifying cover up of a teen pregnancy scandal and a secret baby the Drews ended up raising?
This is my current working theory, and I’ll certainly be watching to see if it continues to hold up.