Pilot Script Review of Nancy Drew
Launching a Nancy Drew TV series has been a priority for CBS Television Studios, which has had the rights to the classic mystery book series for quite a while now. Two versions have been developed over the past three years alone. First Drew at CBS, starring Sarah Shahi as a 30-year-old version of the cult character. It was not good, but it went to pilot and got close to a series order. Its star later confessed: “I’m very happy it didn’t go. It was not good”. She also said it was considered “too female” by the network: “My response was like, ‘I don’t remember us talking about tampons and our, like, placentas and our cycles on the show.’ So I don’t know what was too female about it.”
Another series was developed at NBC last year, this time with a Nancy in her 40s who has written her own adventures as books, and must now team up with her estranged former friends to solve a murder mystery. That project didn’t go past the script stage. Both incarnations were from writers Tony Phelan and Joan Rater (Grey’s Anatomy, Doubt) and producer Dan Jinks. They've all since left CBS Television Studios for Universal.
I remember wondering why CBS Television Studios didn’t turn the property into a nice little CW show, keeping the central character as a teenage girl or a young adult. It apparently took them 4 years to realize that was the best and most logial option… To take on the challenge, they asked Josh Schwartz & Stephanie Savage (two people who know a thing or two about teen dramas) to write and supervise the project. Will the third time be the charm?
WRITTEN BY: Noga Landau
DRAFT DATE: 2nd Network draft 1/13/19
PAGE COUNT: 56 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: After graduating high school and in the wake of her mother’s death, a depressed and secretive NANCY DREW (18) skips out on college. Trust isn’t something that comes easily for her, and she can't shake the feeling that her friends aren’t as they seem. After discovering TIFFANY HUDSON murdered with her coworkers GEORGE PHAN (18) and ACE (21) from The Claw diner, Nancy Drew is back in her crime solving ways, along with BESS MARVIN (18), a new girl in town who quickly becomes an ally. Her boyfriend/secret lover NED “NICK” NICKERSON (19) has his own unbecoming past with Tiffany Hudson that makes Nancy question everything. Did Ned kill Tiffany? Nancy must battle her past in order to uncover and solve this murder case, while LUCY SABLE, a long-dead local girl, starts to haunt her…
COMMENTS: Based on the Nancy Drew mystery stories, this CW pilot is a nice surprise since the previous adaptations were such failures that some questioned the relevance of such a character in the 21st century. Turns out a young woman who solves mysteries can still be a thing in 2019, not unlike Veronica Mars was just a few years ago. What strikes me the most about the script (which certainly has flaws), is that it manages to be both classic and modern, predictable and exciting, funny and pretty scary. It’s easy to picture it in the company of shows such as Riverdale or Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It almost feels like it’s part of the same universe, like a secret spin-off.
Let’s meet the new versions of the classic characters first. So, Nancy is 18, she’s been in grief since her mother died, and she’s living the worst version she could picture of her life: stuck in the small town she grew up in, with very few friends around her, a reputation that she’s not always confortable with and a job as a waitress that really doesn’t fulfill her. This Nancy is sexually active: she’s into hook-ups and we meet her as she’s having sex with Nick, her secret flame with whom she may be ready to share a real relationship. Nick is a former high school athlete who should be on full scholarship at a top university. Instead, he’s working as a car mechanic. What they have in common is a feeling that their lives are not going in the right direction, but that’s something they can escape from when they’re together. If there’s chemistry between the actors, this should work fine.
The new George is a tough, tattooed girl from the wrong side of the tracks who felt personally wronged by Nancy in high school. Now that they're both suspects in the killing of Tiffany Hudson, the two nemeses team up to track the culprit and clear their names... and it just may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But we’re not there yet: their current dynamic of nasty jokes and little humiliations is too good to abandon so quickly. Then there’s the new Bess, a refined young woman whose wealthy background sets her apart from Nancy, but here again their shared interest in finding the real killer helps them connect, while Bess is doing whatever it takes to keep her own dark secrets hidden. These three women at the center of the show are really the main draw. They form a sort of sorority out of their circumstances, a relationship far more complex than it was in the books. The other male lead is Ace, a charming dishwasher with a philosophical bent, whose provocative insights on the murder investigation will lead Nancy to conclude that there’s more to this supposed burnout than meets the eye. I wouldn’t be surprised a love triangle trope develops between Nancy, Nick and Ace.
Another key component of Nancy Drew is the town of Bayport, a fishing village that feels like Riverdale but with the ocean, traditions and a that particular kind of melancholia that comes with the views. Most of us would love to live in such a place, or at least go there for a vacation, but for Nancy it’s hell. We’ll see what the director will make of the scenery but for once, Vancouver, where it will be filmed, is a good match with how it’s supposed to look. As the investigation progresses, the more we see the Bayport that Nancy sees. It smells like death, there are ghosts, and before long we end up with a medium in a motorized wheelchair for a seance! I’m not a huge fan of the fantasy/horror component of the show, but at least it’s properly introduced.
This clearly won’t just be a mystery of the week series. In fact, it seems like the whole first season will revolve around the same story and that’s good news, especially if they’re aiming for shortened seasons of 10-13 episodes. There’s one thread about Nancy’s parents’ that’s particularly intriguing. Were they murderers themselves?
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Nancy Drew has found a way to fall within the framework of recent hit teen noir dramas while still being faithful to its iconic character and her famous adventures. Witty and charming, it's got the potential to be a great fit for The CW.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: Riverdale would be a great lead-in. They could also pair it with Charmed.