Post by Adam H. Kerman Post by anim8rfsk
Nancy Drew [new] (9 pm, CW)
Newcomer Kennedy McMann stars as young sleuth Nancy Drew in this
adaptation of the classic book series that is set in the summer after
Drew's high school graduation. The first season finds the new grad's
college hopes put on hold when she becomes caught up in a family tragedy
and a murder investigation. Scott Wolf, Riley Smith (Proven Innocent)
and Leah Lewis also star. Despite numerous attempts by multiple networks
over the past decades, the character has never actually had her own
television series before, though she did appear in the late 1970s as
part of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on ABC. This adaptation
comes from the team of Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (The O.C.,
Gossip Girl, Marvel's Runaways) along with Noga Landau.
Yeah, I'm stuck with this one; I'm too Drew fandom adjacent not to watch.
Also, The TUBI has the short lived Kanadian Drew series. Matching Hardy
According to her Wikipedia page, she was a high school graduate, but
graduated at age 16, the typical age of high school graduates at the
time. Wealthy father explaining why she never worked, never suffered the
effects of the depression, and I guess WWII was entirely ignored.
The story was extensively revised in the late 1950s and her age was
raised to 18.
The actress is playing 5 years younger.
Maybe they need to recast every season as the character doesn't age?
This week, the CW premieres its newest television show: an hour-long weekly
mystery serial called Nancy Drew. Reviving the famed adolescent sleuth as a
battleborn teen, the show promises two intertwined mysteries: there is a
murder and there is a ghost. It also promises to be just as moody and
chiaroscuroed as another CW network show, my beloved, stupid Riverdale, whose
ponytailed and dogged teen heroine Betty Cooper both embodies and identifies
with the character Nancy Drew, solving mysteries in her small, suburban
hometown, because its adults don't know how.
Key to understanding the plot of any Nancy Drew story (as well as many, many
other texts in twentieth-century young-adult entertainment, from Harry Potter
to Scooby Doo) is accepting that grown-ups cannot fix problems, only create
them. Teenagers, old enough to understand the adult world while young enough
to see through it, are motivated to take justice into their own hands,
knowing that if they themselves do not, no one will. Upon seeing Nancy at a
crime scene, in the pilot episode of the CW's adaptation, the sheriff growls
her full name in lieu of a greeting. "Why does he say your name like that?"
asks Bess, another teenager. The Sheriff responds, "She used to complicate my
job." George Fan, another teen, then articulates show's (proposed) chief
gambit in the form of a punchline: "You mean, do it for you?" (Indeed, the
scene goes down very Veronica Mars.)
* * *
This new Nancy Drew show, which stars Kennedy McMann as the resolute young
detective, duly promises to disparage the resistance society has to letting a
teenaged girl call BS on the mismanagement of serious problems. But the
history of Nancy Drew taking on adult incompetence is not always so
pessimistic (rather, is not always so clearly a cause for pessimism).
Historically, in the earlier Nancy Drew novels, many adults have welcomed
Nancy's assistance in crime-solving, including her father, Carson Drew, a
lawyer who recruits her help all the time. In the earliest novels, the police
and other authorities are dependably, publicly grateful for her help.
The original Nancy Drew stories, published starting in 1930 by ghostwriters
for the Stratemeyer Syndicate under the pen name Carolyn Keene, championed a
kind of Depression-era mindset: that all able-bodied individuals, including
children, should pitch in and labor for a greater good. But this is one of
the few indicators of the novels' shared temporal setting. The Nancy Drew
mysteries are startlingly, escapistly devoid of any hallmarks of an economic
recession-there are no obvious signs like breadlines, shantytowns, or
starving children, no subtler references to families pinching to save where
they can, no background noise about political letdowns or governmental
ineffectuality or crumbling infrastructure. What there is, is robbery. This
is how the Depression worms its way into the stories: people have valuable
things stolen from them, and so are down on their luck, and Nancy Drew will
help retrieve their missing possessions. But this is done in the larger
context of a prosperous world. As Troy Boone, a scholar at the University of
"[T]he novels-which first appeared and achieved their great
popularity during the Depression years-fantasize a redistribution
of wealth resulting not from a radical transformation of the
economic system but from exactly the social coalescence of middle-
class identity and disavowal of working-class consciousness that
has become the dominant feature of American ideological life in
the second half of the twentieth century."
Nancy Drew herself is only identifiable as a Depression-Era archetype because
she models a kind of bootstrapping spirit relevant to the decade but
gratuitous to the booming, alternative universe in which she lives. This
gung-ho spirit is also checked by other social factors, though, causing her
to embody diverging understandings of feminine identity, ability, and power.
As much as she is "a thrill-seeker" or "adrenaline junkie," in the words of
Caroline Reitz, a scholar at CUNY, she is also a paragon of domesticity,
social conservatism, and virtuous womanhood. She may be a badass, but she's
construed as one through a paternalistic, constraining gaze, as always being
slim, attractive, and neat-always being a "good girl."
But the CW's Nancy Drew offers a new kind of take on this character,
presenting a Nancy Drew in a totally modern age, complete with the modern
age's two main signifiers: an iPhone and disillusionment. Nancy is not a
millennial, it is worth pointing out, she's Gen-Z (she's in high school circa
now, which places her birth post-2000). Making Nancy Drew a Gen-Z-er supplies
her with an awareness and a grit that fulfills the character's original
bandwidth. As The New York Times explains:
Millennials, after all, were raised during the boom times and
relative peace of the 1990s, only to see their sunny world dashed
by the Sept. 11 attacks and two economic crashes, in 2000 and 2008.
Theirs is a story of innocence lost. Generation Z, by contrast,
has had its eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the
aftermath of those cataclysms in the era of the war on terror and
the Great Recession.
The Nancy Drew of the 1930s was empathetic, sympathetic, and energetic about
helping someone in need, but, with her lawyer father and upper-class
background (the Drews employ a full-time housekeeper, for example, and live
in "River Heights"), she was isolated from personally experiencing social or
economic danger. The CW's new incarnation of Nancy Drew as a Gen-Z-er, then,
supplies a meaningful cultural context to her preternatural dyed-in-the-wool
grit. She's a young woman already wise to the unfair ways of the world,
already aware of the ineffectuality of bureaucracy and jaded by the
indifference of society to those it has screwed over.
Nancy Drew herself is only identifiable as a Depression-Era archetype
because she models a kind of bootstrapping spirit relevant to the
decade but gratuitous to the booming, alternative universe in which
Nancy does not have to lose her innocence to arrive at her disposition, in
this adaptation-though maybe someone else does; indeed, the gambit of the CW
show is that a wealthy socialite has been murdered, maybe at the hands of
"Dead Lucy" Sable, the unhappy ghost of a woman who fell off a cliff in 2000
(the year of a Recession, but who's counting?). Shots of her tombstone tell
us she was born in 1983, so, really, the CW's Nancy Drew TV show is haunted
by a millennial-revealing the show's possible internalization, even
inadvertently, of the letdown and subsequent limbo experienced by the
generation. (What is a ghost, really, if not someone who is strenuously
unfulfilled to the point of stagnation?)
And so Nancy Drew's promise to fortify a plot about literal enchantment with
a relevant culture of social disenchantment provides a thoughtful origin
story, a "nurture" argument to explain the qualities that the 30s versions
took to be Nancy's "nature." But the show's insistence on reanimating Nancy
in this way dovetails with another productive thing it cannot help but do.
The Nancy Drew show promises to reveal a useful dimension about the character
and what she means to our culture-and not even because the adaptation offers
a re-staging of the usual formula or does new things with the characters. It
does so by simply existing, in the first place.
* * *
Unlike with many figures in literature, whose myriad adaptations seem to
dilute their pop-cultural canons rather than meaningfully contribute to them
(cough, Dracula, cough), the character Nancy Drew is fulfilled exactly when
there are so many-too many-of her. The original novels (which were reproduced
voluminously and quickly, sometimes being rewritten and re-published in new
editions just years after their original release dates) offered to its
readers a woman whose skills multiplied in each installment-to the point
where she became a young woman truly capable of anything.
In this way, it becomes hard to see Nancy as a single woman, so much as an
embodiment of many different women-rather like Barbie, who is simultaneously
a fashion model, a veterinarian, a paleontologist, a horseback rider, a
babysitter, an actress, a flight attendant, a gymnast, a photojournalist,
Katniss Everdeen, and a mermaid, depending on which packaging she lives in.
So similarly, astoundingly a polymath is Nancy Drew-with the newer editions
in the Grosset and Dunlap roster adding to her repertoire of abilities and
training whatever skill would be advantageous for the case at hand. She is a
champion skier, figure-skater, pilot, dancer, codebreaker, driver, horseback
rider, what have you-as if the child of the Olympic Games and a MENSA exam.
But in addition to being so much of everything, in eighty-or-so years of
retellings, she has been incarnated so many times, and so differently. In the
super contemporary Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series, she uses a cell phone
and drives a hybrid. She has been played, on screen and television, by Bonita
Granville (1938-39), Pamela Sue Martin (1977-1979), Maggie Lawson (2002),
Emma Roberts (2007), and Sophia Lillis (2019), while voiced by Lani Manella
in the popular Nancy Drew computer game series from 1998 to 2015. Sometimes
she's a shy third-grader, in the Nancy Drew Notebooks book series; sometimes
she's a moody teenager with a tempestuous love life, as in the 80s Nancy Drew
Files; sometimes she's a college student who doesn't really solve mysteries
and just deals with drama, as in Nancy Drew on Campus; sometimes she teams up
with the Hardy Boys; sometimes she's an elementary school-student solving
things as unordinary as who cut a wedding cake before the bride, like in
Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew. Nancy Drew is everything, yes, and she is also
everyone. Her pop-cultural existence calls to mind the "e unibus pluram" joke
coined by David Foster Wallace two decades ago. Not "from many, one," but
"from one, many."
But in all these bodies, she represents many major stages of young female
growth and development. The fact that there are so many Nancys means that she
is primed for maximum reach, multifarious identification-there is a Nancy
waiting at every milestone to become a kind of role model. Though, it is very
much worth saying, there has never been a non-white (and this is entirely a
different issue, but also "non-skinny") Nancy Drew, so, despite all her
limitlessness, she offers a very limited psychical and social representation
of female potential, and an ultimately harmful physical depiction of female
superiority. (I should mention that, although the CW's Nancy Drew will also
be a white woman, the cast will be ethnically diverse, which is at least a
Nancy Drew's specific perfection was engineered in a 30s context, to, as the
writer Deborah Siegel points out, combine Victorian conceptions of womanhood
with modern ones. The purpose of the original Nancy was to reassure a (white)
culture that a more active woman was no less feminine, but also to inspire
young women to be as dynamic as they wanted to be. In all likelihood, her
ghostwriters belonged to the generation that had fought for women's suffrage,
the generation that celebrated the rebellious Victorian conception of the
"New Woman." The image of Nancy they created has, for the most part, outlived
the social context, with the many iterations published in the following
decades keeping its female sleuth relatively fixed.
And it is important that Nancy Drew does not seem too real, because who could
realistically, literally live up to her? Like Barbie, Nancy Drew offers a
double-standard of severe female empowerment.
Along this line of thinking (and this is not a hot take), the very many Nancy
Drews out there also do something super helpful for the character: the more
of her there are, the less truly real she feels. And it is important that
Nancy Drew does not seem too real, because who could realistically, literally
live up to her? Like Barbie, Nancy Drew offers a double-standard of severe
female empowerment. While the suggestion that a woman can be
anything/everything is exciting and motivating, these characters'
comprehensive competence can feel wearying. And it is also nave to insist
that a woman will be able to do everything she wants easily, without feeling
burnt out, without receiving immeasurable pushback, while looking flawless
the whole time. Which is not to say that young girls do or should read Nancy
Drew because they crave realism, but to say that as we continue to reshape
our hallowed characters, that we should ensure that these female characters
are not idealized on behalf of the young (female) readers who will encounter
them. The readers can do that work, themselves.
The CW's Nancy Drew, in which a young woman apparently annoys male
authorities for being an effective and justice-focused advocate and then
refuses to be silenced, promises to recalibrate Nancy's extra-ness to allow
it to exist more meaningfully, to feel a little more possible in its
empowerment, to speak more directly to its jaded audience, especially the
diverse, accepting, but exhausted and hardworking Gen-Z culture primed to
receive it. In any case, this is what the character needs. After all, how
else to describe Nancy Drew if not with the phrase "nevertheless, she
Watching Democrats come up with schemes to "catch Trump" is like
watching Wile E. Coyote trying to catch Road Runner.