The Watchful Eye

4 out of 5

created by: Julie Dark

covers season 1

Going back approximately to the start of “The Arrowverse” on CW, the wider-reaching audiences that seemed to rope in – audiences like m’self, who considered CW mostly sexy teen drama fodder, but were surprised by the writing and action of Arrow – you can start to see some divides happening in shows pitched to this general demo: while not stepping fully away from sexy teen drama, some series dove into that vibe headfirst, some kept nudging Arrow’s comic book operatics along, and some series (I’m maybe thinking of The 100) were essentially shows that might appeal directly to fans of more mature procedurals, or mysteries, or sci-fi series, just so happening to star a younger, good-looking cast.

CW has kept evolving; we’ve seen some other channels come and go, following their trends. The lattermost category I highlighted, to me, is the one most capable of surprising, as it’s a wildcard: will it be stereotypical teen fare, or will it be that show you’re telling others to look past its youthy actors and give it a chance?

The Watchful Eye, essentially a twisty-turny murder mystery, is very much the non-stereotypical breed.

Elena (Mariel Molino) is trying to get a position as a nanny at The Greybourne, a high-class Manhattan building in which socialite Matthew – recently widowed with his son, post his wife’s suicide – resides, with Matt’s sis-in-law, Tory (Amy Acker) doing the third degree routine on the hiring. Elena gets the position with a good mix of honesty and wiles, and it’s pretty clear that something beyond the surface is up here, and we get some of that something soon enough: a plot with detective Scott (Jon Ecker), to suss out some riches suspected hidden in the Greybourne and abscond with them. But even this explanation has its surface level, and plenty beneath it.

As we bop around The Greybourne, meeting other nannys and rich families kids, the CW aspects come to bear: subplots of relationships are dotted in – everyone has to get it on with someone else – and so much hinges on trails of lies everyone tells each other, alongside a camera shot of the lied-to giving a suspicious look. That secondary bit isn’t limited to the teen demo shows, of course, but that version can be mixed be the aforementioned relationship dramas, and come across as particularly petty. While none of this is especially poorly written or acted in The Watchful Eye, some of the excess is, exactly, that, and just in terms of pacing, a handful of runarounds and eyerolls could’ve been easily avoided, perhaps shaving down an episode or two.

But that is really the only criticism. A beneficial offshoot of how these splinters of teen shows have developed is that there’s more maturity wended into things in general: Elena, and all the building’s occupants, tend to behave like humans and not hyperactive attention seekers (though I guess those can also be human…), and The Watchful Eye’s scripters always centralize the mystery, subjugating character development to that mystery – making the things we hear and learn as organic threads that weave through that.

And that mystery is a good’n, requiring exploring the lives of folks inside and outside the building, and the building itself, with every guessed at detail followed up by little wrinkles which send Elena’s quest off in interesting directions, rather requiring we see her as much more than a lovable-rogue type, and as a person, caught up in events, with the same brush applied to most of the cast – even easy targets like members of our rich power families. The show pokes at a supernatural element – ghosts that maybe guide Elena to discovers – but it’s kept at a fair level, not just showing plot cards outright; it’s easy enough to read the ghostly bits as elemental hints, and not actual spirits if you’re so inclined, but either way, I did not feel like the story cheated by having this aspect, it just allows the show to play up a creepy factor when desired.

Cast this with adult leads, and you have a mass-appeal show that could’ve been cause for water cooler banter back in the day. The station (Freeform) and young-skewing cast may give off a certain impression, but even one episode of the show should dispel that, if not have one hooked wanting to know more about Elena, and The Greybourne, and The Watchful Eye’s mysteries.