Not only did I not know there was a semi-recent Nancy Drew television show, but I when I heard I figured it was from the 1960s. There was a show called the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, which ran in the late '70s but this is not the show that our esteemed culture critic Jef had Pete and I watch this week. Rather, in 1995 there was a Nancy Drew TV show starring Tracy Ryan that was so terribly bad it never made it through one season. This is the show we watched this week, episode number 4, "The Asylum."
Nancy and her friend Bess agree to help out their friend George make a documentary about an abandoned loony bin that is on the verge of a knock down. Once inside, they stumble upon a young guy named Scott who also happens to be interested in the asylum; he, however, is knocking down walls and searching for catacombs. They find a hidden room that is covered with scribbling about a treasure, and Nancy quickly, without any real evidence figures out that Scott has double-crossed an old inmate of the asylum in search of this supposed treasure. And then the crazy inmate shows up!
ABBY: This is the worst show I have probably ever seen in my life, and I enjoy bad television. It's so nonsensical. This might be a '90s thing, though, as much of television in the '90s was just plain dumb. Do you think it's because of the era or perhaps it just has to do with the fact that it's Canadian?
PETE: I just want to offer an aside and say I was actually kind of excited at the thought we were going to be watching the Pamela Sue Martin series. And while I'll acknowledge that it wasn't that great a show, it was The Wire combined with M*A*S*H and spread over Breaking Bad compared to this.
Network TV in the '90s was really just marking time by using the same templates they'd been relying on since the 1960s. You were right on the verge of The Sopranos and the Golden Age to come, but not quite there yet. As with everything else, I blame Clinton.
JEF: I really think you guys are overreacting. Yeah, it's not, like, gripping or anything, but it's pretty comparable to the time. There are similarly cringe worthy moments in Buffy and Charmed and even Twin Peaks. The setting was pretty creepy, and I still hear worse dialogue in television today.
ABBY: Nancy is detective but she really has no problem trespassing. Tearing down the building or not, it's still illegal. I felt this compromised her as an ethical mystery solver. You guys?
PETE: WHAT MYSTERY? They were filming a quote-unquote documentary when everything went tits-up. Was she actually a licensed detective? My girl Pamela wouldn't have turned tail and run screaming when confronted by Kerry King's older brother in the catacombs like that.
JEF: Admittedly, I picked this episode because I covered American Horror Story: Asylum last year and was curious if the two shared any similarities. And guess what? AHS started out almost exactly like this, just with more sex involved. Nancy Drew never needed a reason to walk into trouble.
ABBY: Nancy's friend George is filming because... why? And with a Super 8 no less.
PETE: I'm sure they planned a nuanced and heartrending explanation for her use of such antiquated technology, dating back to when her father left it to her before embarking on a trip to the sinister Orient and never returning. But, you know, ratings.
JEF: It was the most penis shaped one she could find?
ABBY: Very quickly, Nancy realizes that there is another person in the building with them, but just as quickly, no one cares. Wouldn't you be a little freaked out to know that there was someone else creeping around the dark and scary abandoned mental asylum?
PETE: Another person who was apparently walled up, "Cask of Amontillado" style, but still alive. I'd probably have been more scared if the whole place hadn't been lit like the set from The Arsenio Hall Show.
JEF: I was more perturbed that at no point did anyone step on a crack pipe or in ropey hobo turds. Little things like that make for realism.
ABBY: Again, Nancy figures out with little to no evidence, that Scott is really after the hidden treasure and he's not just there knocking down walls willy-nilly. Why does she care? Take the treasure. What's it any skin of Nancy's nose. Or ask for half. I don't get what the problem is?
PETE: Didn't they ditch him and then just try to escape? I kind of checked out when homeless Orson Welles started talking about "quartz conspiracies."
JEF: I love how Nancy is like this psychopathic deductive genius who can figure out anything but never seems to show the slightest emotional investment in it. It's like if Vicky from Small Wonder grew up and just wandered the Earth pointing out stupid criminals for no reason.
ABBY: The girls are finally confronted by the crazy inmate who wrote 100 times about his treasure in the pitch black of a dark underground corridor and they are not that scared of him. Even more odd, is that the treasure is a pile of watches this fucking nut with long scraggly hair has stolen off of people in a psychotic attempt to "stop time." But this guy, the girls are just fine with and want to help, as opposed to the sane guy who just wants to make some money. What?
PETE: But then, Walter never menaced them with a pickaxe. You know, the fact that Mad About You lasted seven seasons makes a lot more sense knowing Nancy Drew was greenlighted as well.
JEF: Conspiracy nuts were a lot less scary before Facebook. That said, I would watch the everloving hell out of Walter's YouTube channel.
ABBY: They lock Scott in the basement or catacombs or wherever and they, I guess call the police, but then they are like, we're leaving to go have hot chocolate! Are they going to wait for the police to come? It was very difficult to find that corridor in the first place, how can they expect the police to find the guy with no help?
PETE: I don't think they actually called the police. Scott's ghost now haunts those catacombs, waiting for unsuspecting explorers to stumble into his lair so he can steal their shiny watches.
JEF: See? AHS was totally ripping all of this off. This show is unheralded genius!
ABBY: Nancy Drew is the shittiest detective ever.
PETE: If she'd played the Eddie Valiant role in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, all of Toontown would have been wiped from the face of the Earth.
JEF: Worse than Inspector Gadget? Hardly.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.