The CW brings a pair of heroines with long literary traditions behind them to its already superhero-heavy lineup, but beyond the curiosity raised by the built-in names, “Batwoman” and “Nancy Drew” yield the sort of cookie-cutter results unlikely to light up the night sky.
As the first show to feature a lesbian superhero as its lead, “Batwoman” adds social significance to its utility belt. That milestone achieved, the series dutifully follows the template of its DC-CW brethren, but with its drama limited by its taciturn protagonist and an initially uninspired supporting cast.
Three years after Batman disappeared, criminal gangs have nearly overrun Gotham. Enter Bruce Wayne’s cousin, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), who picks up the cape and cowl, with help from tech wizard Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), the son of Wayne Enterprises’ Lucius Fox, becoming her de facto Alfred.
If the Batman franchise has always been defined in part by its villains (see a multiplex near you for a current example), the central threat here proves weak, as do the mythological tie-ins to the Kanes’ complicated family history, which includes Kate’s dad (Dougray Scott), who oversees a private security force.
The show falls under the aegis of mega-producer Greg Berlanti, whose deft touch overseeing the DC-CW-Warner Bros. portfolio has been impressive in its scope, and notable for its ambitious, tender-loving approach to the material. (DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. are, like CNN, units of WarnerMedia.)
Yet while there are nice touches and considerable technical polish in the first two episodes, Batwoman brings with her the baggage and expectations associated with decades of the Dark Knight. The character’s brooding nature also works against the drama, unlike something like “Supergirl,” which is defined in part by star Melissa Benoist’s vulnerability despite all those powers.
That doesn’t mean “Batwoman” is beyond hope, only that the series doesn’t exactly hit the ground running, and appears short on arrows in its quiver, to borrow from another DC-CW staple. If that dynamic doesn’t improve, other than the most loyal acolytes of the DC universe, it’s a poor candidate for committing many more nights to it, dark or otherwise.
“Nancy Drew,” meanwhile, certainly isn’t your mom (or grandma’s) version of the teenage sleuth, who has come to the screen in various guises, including a 1970s series and a movie earlier this year.
Here, a more mature Nancy (Kennedy McCann) is still grieving over her mother’s death, working as a waitress while she plots her departure from her small town of Horseshoe Bay, Maine.
Alas, a murder happens, with the death of a local socialite leaving Nancy and her circle of friends as suspects, as various motives slowly emerge.
The show unfolds on a serialized basis, and incorporates a ghostly legend and eerie moments into the plot, apparently hoping to garnish its “Riverdale” underpinnings with a little “Supernatural,” just to cover all its CW bases.
Suspicion, moreover, isn’t limited to the younger demo, but extends to Nancy’s widowed dad (Scott Wolf, whose casting serves as a reminder that “Party of Five” premiered 25 years ago) and some of his contemporaries.
Teasing out the mystery does offer some hope of hooking an audience – as opposed to a procedural, body-of-the-week format – but everything else about the series feels stale, beginning with the soapy aspects of a show whose producing team includes “Gossip Girl” and “Dynasty” veterans.
The Nancy Drew character has been around for nearly 90 years, so it’s understandable why programmers would keep returning to it. The main mystery surrounding this show, as initially constituted, is what would prompt an audience immersed in so much similar content to stick around.
“Batwoman” and “Nancy Drew” premiere Oct. 6 and Oct. 9, respectively, on the CW.