Lots of shady stuff is going on during the new Freeform series The Watchful Eye: A shady babysitter, working for a shady rich family, in an old building in New York that’s so shady that saying it’s “Shady AF” doesn’t even begin to describe it. But in all this shadiness, are there characters we want to watch?
THE WATCHFUL EYE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A snowy night in Manhattan. We push in on the entrance of a luxury apartment building.
The Gist: In one of the luxury apartments, a woman (Emily Tennant) writes a note on paper that has “Alice Greybourne Ward” on the letterhead, apologizing. She then pushes open the curtains, steps onto the ledge of the open window, and lets herself fall to her death.
Six months later, Elena Santos (Mariel Molino) arrives at the same building, the Greybourne, to apply for a nanny job. She would be taking care of Jasper Ward (Henry Joseph Samiri), the son of the woman who died in the “accident” over the holidays. She and the boy’s father, Matthew Ward (Warren Christie), seem to connect, but Alice’s sister Tory Ayres (Amy Acker) is a much tougher gatekeeper.
But we can also see immediately that Elena is up to no good; she mentions she has no boyfriend, but comes home to Scott Macedo (Jon Ecker), who mentions a ruby in the building that they want to steal. Not surprisingly, despite a lack of childcare experience, she gets the job.
She’s assigned a room on an upper floor with a dark, creepy hallway. It’s where staff used to live back in the day, but right now the only one who she meets up there is Elliot Schwartz (Lex Lumpkin), a teen who’s up there to smoke weed. He won’t go in the basement because there’s lots of rumors that there’s something supernatural down there.
Elena volunteers to help Tory with a cocktail party for people in the building, which gives her a chance to look for more clues about the ruby. In doing so, she meets her drunken husband Dick (Christopher Redman), who seems to have some sort of arrangement with the building’s matriarch, Mrs. Ivey (Kelly Bishop).
After Jasper breaks away from Elena and she saves him from getting run over, Mrs. Ivey defends her to Tory, but in return she asks Elena to be her eyes and ears around the building, especially because the family suspects that Allie’s death wasn’t the suicide officials ruled it to be.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? It almost feels like The Watchful Eye is a cross between Only Murders In The Building (an unfunny version of it, anyway) and Pretty Little Liars.
Our Take: To say that there’s a lot going on in the first episode of The Watchful Eye, created by Julie Durk, is an understatement. Mysterious deaths happen before and after Elena shows up. Elena and Scott are after some ruby, but when we see the two of them after Elena discovers a body, their relative jobs makes them pretend they don’t know each other. Elena looks under papers and on bookshelves for something that leads to something that leads to the ruby. The Ayers family isn’t as hunky-dory as it looks on the surface, and Tory’s stepdaughter Darcy (Megan Best) knows what’s what. Mrs. Ivey is suspicious of everyone.
Oh, and there seems to be a ghost nanny passing out friendly advice on the creepy floor where the staff lives. Oh, and there’s also lots of weird noises that keep Elena up at night. We think we’ve covered everything, but Durk and her writers crammed so much stuff in this first episode, we could have easily missed a few other weird details.
But, while stuffing the first episode full of these strange happenings, any semblance of who these people are is lost. We don’t really get any background for these characters that we can use to base their behaviors on, so all we get is a collection of people floating around this classic building with their own agendas.
It would have been helpful, for instance, to get an idea of just why Elena and Scott are trying to steal this ruby, beyond the idea that they came from working class backgrounds. It also would have been nice to get a bit more about why the Greybournes have stuck to this building and why the creepy things going on there go beyond the whole “rich people behaving badly” trope.
As it is now, there’s not one person in this show, except for maybe Jasper, who lost his mother, that we give one whit about. But what gets us more annoyed is that we’re not given any reason to like or dislike any of these people. Perhaps we’ll get more information about them later.
Sex and Skin: Elena and Scott have some basic-cable-level sex, but that’s about it.
Parting Shot: After finding out from Ginny (Aliyah Royale), the other nanny who lives on that creepy staff quarter floor, that the Irish nanny she spoke to doesn’t exist, Elena opens her door slowly after feeling a breeze, and looks down what feels like the endless hallway.
Sleeper Star: Even if Kelly Bishop’s role is a shadow of ones she’s played in the past, she’s still terrific at delivering a caustic, withering retort, which she does a few times in this first episode.
Most Pilot-y Line: “We earned this,” Scott tells Elena. “Earned it? We’re stealing it,” she replies. “It was stolen in the first place,” Scott says. And that’s the entire background we get about the ruby and why they want to steal it.
Our Call: SKIP IT. The first episode of The Watchful Eye just shows characters being grafted onto lots and lots of plot, with no storytelling to speak of. It may get better, but we’re not going to be around to see if it does.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.