Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys On TV in the 1990s

The 1970s “Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” is the best known TV adaptation of the two famous stars of young adult detective novels.  However, in 1990s,  they returned to television in separate programs. For these shows, the characters aged a bit. Joe Hardy and Nancy Drew were college, and Joe Hardy had started first job as a reporter for the Bayport Eagle.

The 1990s series would not make anyone forget the 1970s version. The show was filmed and produced in Canada. Of the three leads, only Paul Popowich (Frank Hardy) would ever have much of a career. The programs were syndicated   for half hour time slots which left the writers with 21 minutes to resolve the story.

Given the limitations , it’s not a surprise that some episodes were weak or not all that interesting. What’s surprising is that more of them weren’t.

Nancy Drew presented me with a few problems. The first one I encountered was that the star (Tracy Ryan) looked nothing like the Nancy Drew I’d read about in books. I’d read the Nancy Drew files of the late 80s and early 90s as well as the older novels. Nancy was a Strawberry blonde with gorgeous blonde hair. Ms. Ryan was a short-haired brunette. However, once I got used to her not looking anything like the Nancy Drew I knew, she became acceptable in the role. She did a good job capturing the inquisitive nature of Nancy Drew, so that I grew to more or less accept her in the role.  Though occasionally this crossed the line into nothing other than nosiness. After the first episode, my wife was watching and asked how the “mystery” she’d investigated (which didn’t involve any crime) was any of her business. I responded, “She’s Nancy Drew.” However, at some point that doesn’t hold water particularly in a case like, “The Death and Life of Buddy Feral.”

One big change with the series was Ned Nickerson, who had become an international aid worker, which was not a move I would predict. All Ned wants during his brief visits is to spend time with Nancy without getting involved in a mystery. Good luck with that.

Its clear that Nancy and Ned are going in separate directions. Ned is going to spend his life helping people in the third world. And Nancy-um, it’s still not clear what Nancy is doing. She wants to study criminology with a professor who appears in two episodes, but what is she going for? We never see her in class and don’t know what her major is. She’s just sitting around waiting for another mystery to pop up.  It seems to me she could do that just as easily in the third world.

Beyond her relationship with poor Ned, the series does work but leaves a lot of ground uncovered. After the first episode, Nancy lands herself a room in a mysterious hotel in the college town of Callisto. Its hotel clerk is a mysterious man named Seymour. Other than in the Billy Feral episode, the hotel setting is never fully developed which was a shame because it had a lot of potential.

Beyond these snags, the situations themselves are quite lively. Nancy finds herself battling a phony marriage racket, video pirates, international jewel thieves, and the Russian Mafia. The mysteries themselves are well-told with the possible exceptions of The Asylum” and “The Stranger on the Road” which felt like a story I’d seen before we three women running frantically around an abandoned insane asylum and haunted house respectively.  Perhaps the most amusing episode, “The Exile” ended with Nancy seated around the table with a slightly fictionalized version of the Dalai Lama eating pizza with Nancy and her friends.

The Hardy Boys met my expectations more. For starters, Popowich and Colin Gray (Joe Hardy) actually looked like what I’d imagine the Hardy Boys to look like and they also hit the character right on with Popowich’s Frank serious and responsible with Gray’s Joe much more carefree and a lady’s man. The writers also kept the series set in Bayport. Though whether they were aware that Bayport was an actual city in New York, I don’t know. The license plates with Bayport on them would indicate no.

The writers created a very believable situation for Frank. He’s a cub reporter trying desperately to get ahead and get the opportunity to write hard news and attract the attention of editor Katie Craigen (Fiora Highet).  The truths he uncovers with the help of Joe  helps him towards this goal.

The Hardy Boys Adventures are fun and intriguing. In “The Jazzman” a good friend of the boys  who runs a newspaper stand disappears before his wedding. Their search for him leads them to uncover the missing man’ s past as a jazz singer who witnessed a gangland shooting thirty years previously.  In “Play Ball” Frank Hardy seeks to uncover why a sports writer rewrote his column to viciously insults a struggling baseball star. In, “The Debt Collectors”, Joe house sits and expects to live large in a vacation doctor’s home. Instead, he’s held hostage by first-time debt collectors who think Joe is the son of the doctor who owes money to their boss.

The series also features two episodes with Tracy Ryan playing Nancy Drew. The two shows crossover in France where Nancy Drew also filmed four episodes.  Any time you can get two of the best known detective shows together for a cross-over or two, it’s a great deal, and the crossovers were both fun and intriguing, particularly the first one which had Frank filling in for his father, a well-healed policemen, and sheepishly trying to deliver a speech his father had written that was critical of the French police.

The only problems I have with the series is that it occasionally veers  into political opinions which is a bit of a turn off as the  Hardy Boys has never been political. In addition, no one quite seems to know what order the episodes are supposed to be in which isn’t such a big deal except that Frank gets a goatee in the middle of the series and so if you go through it in the wrong order the goatee will be reappearing and disappearing every other episode.

Each series had 13 half hour episodes. The best way to enjoy them is to watch the shows on Netflix. (and they are available as of the writing of this piece.) The Hardy Boys set is also available through Amazon. There are some fair priced used sets, but the $33.99 retail price for 13 twenty one minute episodes is absurd.

Still, if you can find a way to watch the series without paying an arm and a leg, both the Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys series are worth watching.

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