As for the Riverdale comparisons, McMann gets it. Both shows are melodramas that center on beautiful teens in frightening situations—but she makes it clear there are a few significant differences between the two.
“There are very natural similarities you can draw,” she says. “It’s a group of friends going around, solving mysteries, getting themselves wrapped up in some dark and scary things. But there’s a little bit more grittiness [in Riverdale]. I think our show is a little more subtle. Part of the whole Riverdale thing is that they’re playing comic book characters, and it’s a comic book world.”
McMann makes a good point here. Because Riverdale is based on Archie Comics, the storylines and characters can be a bit more outlandish. Archie, Veronica, and the gang are all painted colorfully with broad strokes, while the characters in Nancy Drew are more difficult to define. Take Nancy’s coworker Bess (Madison Jaizani)—she seems like a Cheryl Blossom archetype at first, but she softens as the pilot unfolds. And George Fayne (Leah Lewis), Nancy’s boss, appears type-A and straight-laced but is actually hiding a monumental secret. (I won’t tell you what.) In that respect, the show is a bit more grounded in reality than Riverdale.
But it’s not realistic in other ways—namely, the ghosts. Yes, there are spirits in this Nancy Drew reboot. One, in particular, is Nancy’s primary suspect in the show’s central murder mystery. I’m not kidding: She thinks a ghost killed a living, breathing human being. In this world it’s totally plausible.
“There’s a huge slant to the supernatural,” McMann says. “This is a ‘Ghosts are real. Very, very real’ story. There’s this darker side of the reality of all these supernatural beings and how actually terrifying they are. Though there have definitely been nods to the supernatural throughout the Nancy Drew book series and the original canon, it was definitely surprising to me when I first read the script. It still is as we get more and more scripts. I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re really going there.'”
McMann thinks the show’s horror elements make it more compelling. “It’s like this weird combination of Scooby Doo and Twin Peaks,” she says. (Riverdale, if you remember, also garnered Twin Peaks comparisons when it first debuted.) “It’s so mysterious and scary, but then the characters kind of make light of it. There are moments where it’s very intense, but then afterwards it’s like, ‘Hey, guys! Wow, wasn’t that wild?'”
One thing McMann hopes viewers don’t find wild is Nancy’s inherently feminist characterization. In this version she’s viewed as a reliable crime scene investigator—the fact that she’s an 18-year-old doesn’t factor at all. “Nancy’s always been a little bit of a rebel, paving her own way and defying female expectations,” she says. “Nancy is who she is, and nobody’s questioning what she’s doing. There’s no, ‘Wow, she can do that and she’s a girl!’ Of course she can. Nobody questions it because that’s who she is, and that’s the world that we’re living in.”