Monday, October 25, 2021

‘Nancy Drew’: Could The Hardy Boys Be Coming to Horseshoe Bay?

With the introduction of Tom Swift and the Bobbsey Twins to season 2 of Nancy Drew, the writers of the series indicated that they would be mining the legacy Stratemeyer Syndicate characters and reimagining them for the modern era. Who are the most famous of those characters? Nancy Drew … and the Hardy Boys. Frank and Joe Hardy have been paired with Nancy for years, with the original Nancy Drew television show in the 1970s featuring the adventures of both Nancy and the Hardys each week.

While the two book series wasn’t initially meant to cross over, Nancy and the Hardy Boys have appeared in each other’s worlds for years, both in adaptations and in spin-off book series. Back in the early development of Nancy Drew in 2019, executive producer Noga Landau cryptically answered, “We’ll see,” in response to a question about the Hardys making an appearance, and no explicit reference to the brothers has been made on the series thus far. This begs the question: if the Nancy Drew writers are turning to characters like Tom Swift and the Bobbseys to create a so-called “Drewniverse,” where are Frank and Joe?

Fans of Nancy Drew have an answer to that question, and it’s one fan theory that adds up. Since the premiere of the series in 2019, fans have assembled evidence to prove that at least one Hardy Boy has been in Horseshoe Bay from the beginning: Ace. The lovable hacker is a fan-favorite character, and at first, it appears that he is an original addition among the many book characters like Nancy and Carson Drew, Hannah Gruen, Bess Marvin, George Fan (Fayne), and Nick Nickerson. But on closer inspection, the clues pointing towards Ace being a Hardy have been there all along.

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[Author’s Note: If you are interested in the history of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, I highly recommend Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Renak and The Secret of the Hardy Boys: Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate by Marilyn S. Greenwald, which served as the source material for much of this article.]

Hardy Boy History

Grosset & Dunlap

In order to understand how the Hardy Boys could potentially fit into Nancy Drew, we need to go back to their origins. The Hardy Boys were first introduced in 1927, with Nancy Drew arriving in 1930 as a direct result of the success of the Hardy Boys. She was meant to appeal to a female audience while the Hardys were aimed at young boys. Frank and Joe complement each other, with Frank being the logical thinker and Joe being a man of action. The tone of the series varies widely from decade to decade, but the general impression of the Hardys on popular culture is that of two clean-cut, All-American brothers solving crimes in the same way that Nancy Drew is seen as the All-American girl with insatiable curiosity.

Much like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys have had many incarnations over the years, with the original Hardy Boys Mystery Stories from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s getting extensive rewrites in the 1950s before their re-release. The Hardy Boys were rebooted in The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers from 2005-12. The currently running book series is The Hardy Boys Clue Book, which is aimed at younger audiences and features interactive elements.

The Hardy Boys have also appeared on-screen several times, with and without Nancy Drew. Their earliest depiction on screen was on The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, where the boys featured in two episodes. There was an attempt to make a Hardy Boys television series for NBC in the 1960s, but after the pilot premiered to low ratings the project was abandoned.

Shaun Cassidy, Pamela Sue Martin, and Parker Stevenson in ‘The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries’/ABC
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However, the next attempt at bringing the Hardys to life would be successful — to the detriment of Nancy Drew. Wanting to combine the two popular series, producers created a hybrid of the two titled The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in 1977. It alternated between the adventures of the Hardys and Nancy Drew on a weekly basis. There was no crossover between the two storylines in the first season and an equal number of episodes for the Hardys and Nancy. The series as a whole became a favorite of teens, with stars Pamela Sue Martin (who made a cameo in Nancy Drew‘s pilot), Shaun Cassidy, and Parker Stevenson gaining popularity as a result.

However, the second season saw Nancy pushed aside in favor of the Hardy brothers. The storylines combined through crossover episodes, with Nancy leading her own mystery in just three episodes. Martin quit in protest, leading to Nancy being recast with Janet Louise Johnson before being dropped from the series entirely for its third season, retitled The Hardy Boys. This pivot was a failure, and The Hardy Boys was canceled midseason.

In 1995 two additional Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were attempted, both facing cancellation after one season and airing as reruns on The WB. The latest and arguably the most successful adaptation thus far is The Hardy Boys on Hulu, which began airing in 2020 and will return for a second season in 2022.

The Case for Ace

Colin Bentley/The CW

With that history established, how does Ace fit into the Hardy Boy theory? Let’s start with some basic comparisons between Ace and the existing Hardy Boys canon. First, and most obviously, Ace has a brother. Grant was introduced midway through season 2 after being teased since the first season, and their chemistry in “The Trail of the Missing Witness” indicates more team-ups are ahead for the two of them. But the similarities between Ace and Grant and the Hardy Boys don’t end there.

As part of the reboot of the Hardy Boys in 2005, some key changes were made to canon. Frank and Joe’s father Fenton went from being an active investigator to a semi-retired police officer, while their mother Laura became a librarian. Why is this significant? Well, Ace and Grant’s father Thom is a semi-retired police officer while Ace’s mother Rebecca’s profession as a librarian is a major plot point in Nancy Drew. Ace and Grant’s first case together with Nancy culminates in a dramatic scene in an old paper mill — a direct Easter egg for the popular early Hardy Boys book The Secret of the Old Mill. For writers who frequently reference obscure Nancy Drew lore in Easter eggs for book fans, these connections are too purposeful to be a coincidence.

Ace is also the only member of the Drew Crew who doesn’t have a Nancy Drew book counterpart. Nick, George, and Bess are all based on Nancy’s friends in the books, even if their personalities are completely different. Additionally, and tellingly: he is the only Drew Crew member without a last name. We know Grant’s mother’s last name is Davis, but at no point do Grant, Ace, or any other character say their father Thom’s last name despite many opportunities to do so. In a show where every detail matters, this glaring omission speaks volumes. Why create only one brand new character with no connection to the books within the Drew Crew, then go through great lengths to avoid giving him an identifying last name? It feels like a strange story choice — unless you were trying to hide that character’s status as a Hardy Boy.

Now, where the comparisons get tricky is in Ace’s personality. He doesn’t really match Frank or Joe, and neither does Grant. But this is where the Nancy Drew writers’ subversion of the classic characters they include comes in handy. Tom Swift was changed from a white character who was a symbol of American (read: white) ingenuity to a Black, gay billionaire while the Bobbsey Twins went from children with silly adventures to skilled thieves played by South Asian actors. The creators have mentioned before that part of their goal with this new Nancy Drew was to modernize the characters, especially considering that many of the Stratemeyer Syndicate stories were overtly racist before being overhauled. Even Nancy is explored in more depth than she was in her original books. It stands to reason that their new take on the Hardy Boys would contain a departure from the brothers we know.

Cristian Perri as Phil Cohen in ‘The Hardy Boys’/Hulu

But departure doesn’t have to mean unrecognizable. In fact, a character in Hardy Boys canon appears to be the perfect template for Ace and only bolsters the theory: Phil Cohen. Phil Cohen is Frank Hardy’s best friend and is one of the first mainstream Jewish characters in literature portrayed in a positive light and as being part of a friend group with WASP-y characters like Frank and Joe. Phil is a quiet, affable character who is the electronics whiz for the brothers. This fits Ace’s personality perfectly. He is a sweet, easygoing hacker who always keeps his cool in stressful situations, and his Jewish faith is an important part of his story.

Ultimately, it all comes back to the writing style of Nancy Drew and the attention to detail shown by the writers. First, the writers have already pulled off one brother related twist involving Ace. Grant’s introduction to the series was teased midway through season 1, with Ace’s secret brother being a key part of the series from the beginning as it was the reason Ace was spying for McGinnis. The twist within the twist came when Grant, The Claw’s newest employee, turned out to be the mysterious long-lost brother Ace was searching for.

With Grant’s reveal came the introduction of The Road Back, a shadowy group that is set to be one of the major antagonists of season 3. While Grant returned to living with his mother and left Horseshoe Bay, a character as long-awaited as Grant doesn’t simply disappear. There’s more to Grant’s story, and creating a Grant/Ace team by officially naming them as Hardy Boys would be a massive game-changer.

As previously mentioned, everything the Nancy Drew writers do is intentional, with tiny details coming back later and playing a key role in the plot. Additionally, these writers have studied every detail of the Stratemeyer Syndicate canon and enjoy hiding references to the books. Knowing this, the many teases and connections linking Ace and Grant to the Hardy Boys become impossible to write off as coincidence.

Why This Works

Colin Bentley/The CW

As the old saying goes, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. So why is season 3 the perfect time to officially welcome the Hardy Boys to Horseshoe Bay? The most important factor is the fact that Nancy has now had two full seasons without the Hardy Boys. In the past, and as was proven by The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, the pairing of Nancy and the Hardys has sidelined Nancy in favor of the male characters. After all, executive producer Landau was asked about the Hardy Boys before Nancy Drew had even premiered. Introducing them too soon ran the risk of pushing Nancy from the spotlight on her own show. By this point, Nancy is unquestionably the protagonist of Nancy Drew. Even if Grant was brought on in a regular capacity after a Hardy Boys reveal, Nancy would remain the focus of the story.

Ace’s arc is also at a natural point where introducing Hardy origins would propel his story forward. Now that he has found Grant, his main side plot from the past two seasons is resolved. As of now, season 3 will have Ace “on a path to figure out his calling in life” while working out his romantic feelings for Nancy. With Grant’s connection to The Road Back and Ace’s desire to assist Nancy in her mystery solving, Ace growing into his potential as a hacker for good would coincide perfectly with him being revealed as a Hardy.

Why has it been so difficult to create adaptations for the Hardys (and Nancy Drew, for that matter)? Part of the difficulty is deciding what kind of series to make: a wholesome tribute to the 1950s Hardys that ignores the more unsavory aspects of canon, or a more adult version meant to appeal to those who grew up with the Hardy Boys but are looking for grittier fare now? Most of the Hardy Boys shows and more modern book series have split the difference, leading to tonally confusing stories that don’t retain the spark of the original novels.

But Nancy Drew is proving that these stories can be updated in a fresh way that honors the source material while challenging it, as the show did with the introduction of Tom Swift. Ace and Grant becoming the new Hardy Boys would not only fit with the show’s trademark of updating dated characters but also work as a brilliantly twisty bit of fan service.

Nancy Drew returns for its third season on October 8 on The CW. Be sure to check out our other coverage of the show here!

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Jules
I am a nurse and dedicated nerd from Boston, MA. When I'm not at work, I'm rewatching old favorites like Supernatural or discovering my new obsessions (too many to count!). When not fangirling, I can be found reading, writing, or listening to a true crime podcast. You can find me on Twitter @juleswritesblog for more nerdy nonsense.

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