What would you get if you took the premise of murder and mystery of Only Murders in the Building, stripped it of its humor, crossed it all with some of the elements of the spectacular series Servant, and gave it more of a trashy thriller sensibility? Well, it would probably look and feel a little bit like The Watchful Eye. However, this series is not nearly as fun as that description makes it sound. Defined by what seems like significant twists (that it almost always walks back immediately thereafter), it is a story in search of something more to sink its teeth into that it never finds. Over the course of the eight episodes provided for review, even when you think it may be finally kicking into some sort of higher gear, it will quickly downshift and subsequently scatter any of the already minimal interest one could have.


The Watchful Eye starts off well enough with Elena Santos (Mariel Molino), who is going to work as a live-in nanny at an upscale building in Manhattan known as The Greybourne. Tragedy has recently struck the community when a woman is believed to have fallen to her death from one of the upper floors high above. Making matters worse is that Elena has to deal with people whose family money carries with it an arrogance and a sense of superiority. When she first goes in for an interview, she is suddenly grilled about her lack of qualifications despite being supremely overqualified to look after a child.

So why would she want to work such a job? Well, Elena has a scheme of her own for which this job is merely a cover. This secret she carries with her ends up being nothing like what she will uncover in this insulated world that is hiding a series of deaths that will bring the past and the present perilously close together. At least, that is what it is meant to be in theory. In execution, even as Molino does her best to carry the story, the experience is hamstrung by a lack of genuine stakes and a general absence of momentum to any of what is playing out. The more it goes on, the more it begins to drag.

Image via Freeform


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Discussing some of the why behind this does require being cautious, as there are elements that can be spoiled. Nearly every episode has at least some sort of revelation that, in a more committed story, would have marked a ratcheting up of tension. Instead, it mostly just feels like window dressing to generally wearisome storylines that all feel like they are stalling. Even with the romances, betrayals, and subterfuge that populate each episode, you’re constantly left wondering whether any of this will even matter. When the shoe supposedly drops at the end of each episode, the music will swell and leave us on a cliffhanger. This makes it rather bizarre when the subsequent episode will pick up with the story essentially waving away what we just learned. It reduces it all to merely being a ploy to keep us watching, regardless of how little anything actually matters with the characters or the story they’re trapped in.

It falls into a cyclical pattern of characters going around the same settings, saying frequently stiff dialogue, and making it seem like we are getting somewhere only for it to basically hit the reset button. Even with episodes centered around a masquerade ball or a power outage that should distinguish them from each other, they are united by a general tepidness that renders everything trite. This is unfortunate, as Molina as Elena makes for a compelling central figure and you are curious about what it is that she will uncover. At moments, it even felt like it may be approaching a similarity to elements of the regrettably axed series Archive 81.

This hope for something a bit more imaginative soon proves to be a lost cause, as The Watchful Eye is only ever just rearranging characters and story elements. Sure, there are occasional moments where it will dip into the supernatural, like when they suddenly bust out a ouija board, but it mostly is just a clunky manner by which to deliver exposition. These moments are certainly unexpected, but they are without any weight to them. When we learn about a key familial connection late in the season, it doesn’t really change the trajectory of the story in any meaningful way. When one character remarks about how they are “tired of this conversation” during one particular scene, it provides a moment of unintentional humor that mostly comes from how it encapsulates the feeling of tedium that pervades the entire series.

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Image via Freeform


There is a lot of busyness to everything that may occasionally trick you for a couple of moments that there is something more going on. As The Watchful Eye bounces around to various different characters in the building, each of them serves as a way to make it seem like this is actually a complex story about conflicting players who could each be part of a coverup. The longer it all goes on, the harder it is to care about any of it. There just is never enough substance to any of it. When characters consider departing from the building so they can just leave it all behind them, you desperately want them to. Obviously, they don’t ever do so for long, as that would be an effective abandoning of the entire premise of the series. Still, it leaves one wishing for some greater vision or scope beyond the narrow one this story remains fixated on, despite there being very little to actually look at.

The one moment that sticks out in memory, in an unintentionally funny fashion, is when Elena discovers something she isn’t supposed to and a flabbergasted character says to her, “just what do you think you’re doing down here?” If there was ever a compelling answer to such a question, we never actually get it. No matter how much it gestures wildly at something more, The Watchful Eye is without the necessary suspense to hold up a story whose greatest revelation is how superficial it all is.

Rating: D+

The Watchful Eye premieres January 30 on Freeform.

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