Known quantities are all the rage in our current television landscape. It’s why Sex and the City is, somehow, inexplicably returning to our screens nearly two decades after it first ended. It’s the reason we’re getting more Dexter, even though the original series had one of the absolute worst endings of any television show ever made. Gossip Girl is terrifying a new generation at Constance Billiard over on HBO Max, teen horror staple I Know What You Did Last Summer is getting reinvented as an Amazon Video limited series, and updates on familiar titles like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Clueless, and Cruel Intentions are all in the works. Everything old really is new again, and to be honest, it’s kind of exhausting.
Because the problem with many (most?) of these remakes, reboots, and revivals is that, as a rule, they’re merely trying to capitalize on the known quantity of it all without actually doing much in the way of exploring, interrogating, or otherwise reinventing the things the original property (be it a show, a book, or something else) set out to do. They don’t really have anything new to say, nor do they provide us with any further understanding of the characters or stories we once loved, seemingly content to simply rehash that which has come before.
But every so often a reboot or remake comes along that genuinely surprises you. ABC’s new take on The Wonder Years isn’t just trying to capitalize on Boomer and/or Gen-X nostalgia, it balances universal coming of age tropes with stories that are specific to the experiences of Black Americans in the 1960s that the original series often ignored. And much like the original, Gossip Girl’s revival follows a cadre of self-involved rich kids, but its story also serves as a deconstruction of the toxicity of social media in general and among teens in particular.
So maybe it shouldn’t be as surprising as it is that although The CW’s Nancy Drew (now entering its third season) isn’t exactly what you’d call a strict, by-the-numbers adaptation of the beloved Carolyn Keene novels, that’s one of the absolute best things about it—even if it’s also the thing die-hard purists will find the hardest to embrace. In this version of the story, ghosts and other supernatural forces are definitely real, and much more likely to be behind the strange noise coming from your attic than a stray cat or a nosy neighbor.
The story takes place in the creepy, darkly picturesque Maine town of Horseshoe Bay (which never met a weird local festival or folklore-based ritual that it didn’t like), rather than in the book’s vague, nondescript midwestern heartland of River Heights. It has multiple characters of color along with significant LGBTQ representation, and even the occasional Bobbsey Twin or two. And rather than feature teen protagonists, Nancy and her friends have been aged up into young adults, allowing them to wrestle with much more adult narrative concerns like sex, marriage, and holding on to a job.
The show isn’t particularly interested in adapting the classic cases from Keene’s novels, and though it’s certainly full of sly in-jokes for readers (the plot of one episode specifically turns on the existence of a hidden staircase), most of this modern Nancy Drew will feel completely unfamiliar to fans of the original books. Save in one deeply important aspect: Nancy, herself.
Sure, this Nancy Drew is older and more emotionally messy than the novels’ girl detective could ever have probably have ever imagined herself becoming. She’s stubborn, cynical, and has a boatload of trust issues. And the show is pretty honest about the ways that growing up as a famous child detective prodigy would most likely damage a precocious girl who looked to her ability to solve cases as a measure of her own worth. (Plus, while breaking and entering in the name of a hunch might be cute for a charming child, for a young woman there could be—and on this show often are—some unfortunate legal ramifications.)
Despite these changes, Nancy Drew is still very clear on who, precisely, their heroine is and what kind of story the show is telling. From the series’ very first episode it’s possible to draw a straight line from the Nancy of the books to star Kennedy McMann’s take on the character. This show gets the Nancy so many of us loved, and while it may not faithfully recreate the letter of her various literary adventures, it gets the spirit of who she is exactly right. A whip-smart heroine who remains dedicated to finding the truth no matter what it costs her, this is a Nancy that’s easy not just to root for, but love.
Now in Season 3, the show is poised to delve further than ever into what makes Nancy Drew tick. Its first two outings showed us a girl traumatized by her mother’s death, often paralyzed by her own cynicism, and struggling to accept the discovery that everything she once thought she knew about herself was wrong. (Spoiler alert: Nancy Drew isn’t actually Nancy Drew at all, but the long-lost scion of the corrupt Hudson family.)
After a Season 2 finale that saw Nancy literally confront her own demons in the form of a deadly wraith that was emotionally feeding off her repressed traumas, our heroine will be forced to reevaluate what’s next for her as a daughter, a detective, and a member of the Horseshoe Bay community. And that’s not even counting the whole facing off against a reincarnated version of a seven-generations-previous-ancestor who wants to unleash a dark evil from underneath the town. (Just go with it, sometimes the specifics of this show are just too hard to explain.) But I can confirm that the final scene of the Season 3 premiere will leave anyone who loves—or has loved—this character feeling warm and fuzzy in all the best ways.
It’s true that the villainous Temperance Hudson doesn’t appear in the original Keene novels. But neither does Ace, the sweet young hacker who’s clearly Nancy’s soulmate, both in crime-solving and every other part of life. Neither are these diverse versions of Bess, George, and Nick, who here are all allowed to have lives and stories outside of their friendship with our titular sleuth. And while those things may not be part of the story you remember, they’re a big piece of the bizarre and inexplicable alchemy that somehow makes this show sing.
But none of it would work without this Nancy, whose boundless dedication to the truth, her friends, and the well-being of the town she calls home is not just the emotional bedrock of the series, but what connects this show—with all its horror-themed jump scares and strange supernatural creatures—to every version of this tale that’s come before.
Season 3 of Nancy Drew premieres Friday, October 8th on The CW. The first two seasons are currently streaming on HBO Max.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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