Over the years, Freeform (née ABC Family) has made a name for itself in delivering unique and fresh, risk-taking series, and their mystery offerings have been no exception. Delivering unto the world Pretty Little Liars and the 2020 summer-smash Cruel Summer, Freeform’s latest psychological thriller The Watchful Eye is the perfect show to invest in at the end of this slow January.
Created by Grace and Frankie’s Julie Durk and led by showrunner and executive producer Emily Fox, The Watchful Eye follows Elena Santos (Mariel Molino), newly appointed live-in nanny for Matthew (Warren Christie) and Jasper Ward (Henry Joseph Samiri) after a tragic accident leaves Matthew a widower. With a number of secrets of her own and a turbulent past in her rearview mirror, Elena’s stay at the dreamy and historic Greybourne building quickly devolves into a twisty nightmare as she grows ever closer to the mysterious Greybourne family and all those caught in their crosshairs.
In spite of its sometimes cliche premise (a woman of color gets hired as a nanny for a rich white family in the scary old building they own, what could possibly go wrong?), The Watchful Eye manages to subvert expectations, while also knowing the right moments to highlight that particular sub-genre. There is much more than meets the eye to Elena herself, and her secrets and agendas anchor the series’ most looming questions, all elevated by Molino’s charming and engaging lead performance.
The Watchful Eye takes its time building its various mysteries (of which there are many), but the series’ slow-burn approach never feels like a hindrance. Debuting with a two-episode premiere, the season picks up steam with every episode, allowing Elena’s suspicions and superstitions to continue to snowball as the episodes progress. That simmering approach makes for incredibly satisfying reveals in the first 8 episodes available for review, especially as the tension swirls to epic highs as the season moves towards its conclusion. Even though some of those twists and turns may be a touch predictable if you’re paying close enough attention, the satisfaction of putting those clues together far outweighs any potential frustration, especially in comparison to some of its mystery box peers; I would much rather watch a show that plants smart clues and trusts its audience to understand them rather than hides its cards in favor of a bigger—and oftentimes nonsensical—surprise.
The show hinges on its Hitchcockian twists and heart-pounding stakes, but the relationships within The Watchful Eye ground the series. Elena’s tumultuous dynamic with Matthew’s sister-in-law Tory (Amy Acker) and aunt-in-law Charlotte Ivey (Kelly Bishop) aid in the series’ unease and tension, while the friends she makes in fellow nanny Ginny (Aliyah Royale), residents Darcy (Megan Best), Bennet (Grace Kaufman), and Elliot (Lex Lumpkin), doorman Roman (Andres Velez), and little Jasper build a family around Elena as she almost unwillingly plants her roots.
This series is perfect for fans of the aforementioned Pretty Little Liars and Cruel Summer, but even more so for fans of The CW’s Nancy Drew. Its adult characters and slight swing into a potentially supernatural direction allow for a similarly refreshing break from solely teens being tortured by anonymous tormentors and life-threatening dangers. Like its peers, The Watchful Eye is the type of series that will have viewers annotating screenshots in order to figure out just what goes bump in the night at the Greybourne—or at the very least, lining their walls with red string trying to decipher the Greybourne’s utterly entangled family tree.
With a compelling cast of characters and an unending swath of secrets to uncover, The Watchful Eye is instantly addictive, and has all the potential to become your next TV obsession. As the walls begin to close in around Elena, it’s thrilling and entertaining to watch as ulterior motives are revealed and new answers just lead to new questions. It’s difficult to make a compelling mystery, but the ease with which this show moves its chess pieces across its game board never betrays that fact, making The Watchful Eye absolutely worth keeping an eye out for.
The first two episodes of The Watchful Eye premiere Monday, January 30th on Freeform, with subsequent episodes airing weekly and streaming next day on Hulu.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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