Word came down today that CBS has passed on an attempt to adapt Nancy Drew for modern adult audiences in what was being referred to as a “gritty” update on the long running young adult series. I’m actually extremely happy about this, and here is why.
Now, I should start by saying that there were things about this show that were great. I was actually glad they were pushing for a more diverse take on Nancy Drew’s heavily white bread world. Sarah Shahi taking on the character would probably have been really interesting, since she’s a good actress, and easily one of the best parts of Person of Interest. If the show had gone ahead, I would have hoped they would continue their subversive take on the material, perhaps adding some LGBT characters (*cough*Bess should be bi-sexual*cough*).
But here is my problem: Nancy Drew doesn’t need a “gritty” reboot. One of the core qualities of, not just the original Nancy Drew novels from the 1930s-50s, but the expanded titles that are still being published today, is that Nancy doesn’t carry a gun. Nancy Drew was and is a character who relied entirely on her wits, her smarts, and her really strange collection of odd skills. She’s brilliant, resourceful, curious, and way too reckless for her own good. She was my childhood hero; the best combination of Sherlock Holmes, Harriet the Spy, and MacGyver (without the mullet). Hell, she’s still my hero.
I also don’t necessarily think it needs to be aged up for adult audiences. Maybe it’s because the character was so quintessential to my own childhood (I read more than 200 of the novels between 5th and 8th grades), but part of what made her such a hero to me was the fact that she was all of these amazing things, and a teenager. She could drive stick, pick locks, fight, sail, ride horses, and a stupid other amount of amazing things, and she was just 18. Not only that, but she stood up to authority figures who underestimated her based on both her age and her gender, and she did it without resorting to unnecessary violence. She was a pretty nerdy good girl who was a total badass. To me, that’s a role model we should be looking to enhance for today’s teenager, not age up for nostalgic adults.
That’s not to say that a modern adaptation of Nancy Drew shouldn’t happen, or to say that it wouldn’t need pretty big changes in order to keep it relevant to modern teenagers. Diverse casting is the biggest thing this version of the character did right, and I think any modern version would need to up the ante. The biggest flaw in the original novels was the fact that Nancy was able to do all the things she did because she was a quintessentially privileged white suburbanite. Modern teens aren’t going to entirely identify with that version of the character or her supporting cast. Give us LGBT characters, minority characters, and characters from all walks of life and social classes.
CBS is currently shopping the series to other networks, and while I’m hoping this version doesn’t happen, for all the reasons described above, I do hope someone eventually brings my favorite teen hero to television screens. And maybe hires me to write for the series …