Call for Comments: How did Nancy Drew get good?!?

Poster for Nancy Drew TV show on CW

From Mav: Long time listeners will know that I frequently say that Riverdale is the best show on television. I do love the show. But the honest truth is, Riverdale fulfills a very specific niche of absurdist, hyperrealistic, postmodern, storytelling. And as I’ve mentioned on recent episodes, I think it’s the pinnacle of what it does. Part of my loves it as a fan, but really, what I like about it has to do with my weird academic postmodernist deconstructionist lens. But, the honest truth is that I don’t think it’s the most accessible show. It’s not for everyone. And as far as sheer enjoyment from a much more accessible show goes… have people been watching Nancy Drew? If not you should be. Because can we talk about how much the Nancy Drew TV show on the CW fucking rocks?

I’m kind of curious if people are even watching the show. I know I’ve had a hard time trying to convince some of my cohosts that there’s anything to this. For one thing, I don’t think it’s super clear what the show even is. The way it was initially marketed as a companion piece, it seemed like they going for the surreality of Riverdale. Honestly, that’s a lot of what made me tune in the first week. But it’s not there. It doesn’t go over the top like that. When the show first started, it felt much more like a Veronica Mars rip-off than anything, perhaps with a bit more sex, because the CW. And that makes sense, because honestly, what was Veronica Mars if not an homage to the original Nancy Drew. But it quickly sort of grew beyond that as well. If I had to compare it to anything, I’d say it’s owes a lot of its DNA to the X-files. But it’s not entirely that either. Over the last few seasons, somehow… in midst of taking a dormant IP and “pouring some sexy on it“… Nancy Drew basically just.. accidentally became a really really really good TV show!

Poster for Nancy Drew (2019) movie

I don’t mean to say that it shouldn’t be. There are a lot of Nancy Drew fans out there. And there should be. The character has been around for over 90 years and there are some 600+ books alone. There’s been comics, video games, movies and tv shows. But most of them are targeted at the wholesome young girl market. In fact, one of the things I found most fascinating about beginning the current TV show in 2019 was that it was being solicited as a steamy CW series at the same time as there was the latest reboot of the character in film still in the box office. Clearly the people who owned the rights greenlit both projects to be in development at the same time. The film clearly wanted to be a franchise and probably would be if it hadn’t failed miserably at the box office. It made like $600K against a $15M budget or something like that. It’s pretty clear that there’s not going to a follow up film in that series.

July 1978 Playboy cover featuring Pamela Sue Martin, star of the 1977 The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries tv show

I think the problem is that today’s YA audience doesn’t really want to see cutesy wholesome good girl content that was dated in 1977 on the screen, even if parents might WANT to force feed sweet and innocent to them. They were never that, and it feels weird to force them to be. And it’s definitely really weird seeing a trailer for Sophia Lillis playing sweet 16yo Nancy the girl detective solving PG-rated mysteries with a flashlight, a magnifying glass, and freckles and then right after that seeing a commercial for the CW’s Kennedy McMann stripping down to her bra and making out in in a stockroom because the commercials really want you to know that “hey kids, this Nancy FUCKS!!!” And sure, there’s definitely some of that. It’s the CW. But the show is much more than that. The 1977 The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries show wasn’t really as “innocent” as I think people remember it to be. Yes, if followed broadcast standards of the day, but it was definitely important that Nancy and the Hardy Boys were teen heartthrobs, and there’s a reason that when Pamela Sue Martin walked away from the show, she walked right into a Playboy pictorial.

Another poster for Nancy Drew TV show on CW

Really, what’s been great about the CW show is that it’s somehow found its own voice and become an become and interesting narrative endeavor while also trying to be an IP showcase and a hot young actors on the CW show. It’s got a fair bit of genre adventure, and it’s got sexy people kissing… but it’s also asking important questions about sexual identity and racial politics. It’s trying to ask complex questions about class and gender. It’s dealing with intersectionality as well as the inherent biases BETWEEN different minority groups. It’s dealing with subjective privilege and the ways in which it can be viewed or ignored by even those who are TRYING to think of themselves as “woke”. It’s dealing with historic representations and inaccuracies around prejudice. It’s trying to be good. And also… everyone is sexy.

But I’m unclear how well the hook is working. I don’t think I know anyone who’s like “I’ve seen the show. It’s dumb. it jumped the shark” the way Riverdale has. Honestly, I just don’t think that many people have ever bothered to watch it.

So, are you watching this show? Do you see it as a comparison to the versions of the character that have come before or is it something new? What does it mean to have a YA legacy like this and present it as “more grown up” or was it always this way and no one actually noticed. What are your thoughts?

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