How ‘The White Lotus’ and ‘Mare of Easttown’ Inspired Freeform’s ‘The Watchful Eye’

“You always have to figure out how many cards to turn over in each episode,” Emily Fox, showrunner of the thriller series told TheWrap

Mariel Molino and Amy Acker star in "The Watchful Eye" (Freeform/Kailey Schwerman)

“The Watchful Eye” plunges viewers into the depths of a haunted Manhattan apartment building as live-in nanny Elena (Mariel Molino) seeks a hidden treasure unbeknownst to the wealthy widower (Warren Christie) who employs her.

For the pacing of the reveals concerning both Elena and The Greybourne and its residents, showrunner Emily Fox says she drew from “The White Lotus” and “Mare of Easttown” for the Freeform thriller’s “slow burn” mystery.

“You always have to figure out how many cards to turn over in each episode to make it intriguing enough that people will want to come back and find out the answer, but not make it so complicated,” Fox told TheWrap. “We took a lot of inspiration from shows like ‘The White Lotus’ and ‘Mare of Easttown’ and some of these other slow burn mysteries where a lot happens that doesn’t necessarily solve your big mystery, but which takes interest you closer, and tells you more about all these people who are involved and who are in this particular building.”

“The Watchful Eye,” which is now streaming on Hulu, follows Elena as she searches for a mysterious gem alongside her partner and crime and boyfriend (Jon Ecker) under the guise of nannying for a family downtrodden with grief. While Elena untangles the web of deceit woven by the apartment’s former and current residents, she discovers the building has its own secrets and supernatural entities on the loose.

For Fox, who likens The Greybourne to the ominous buildings of “The Shining’s” Overlook Hotel or the Branford in “Rosemary’s Baby,” the building becomes its own character as its ecosystem gets thrown off as Elena investigates its sinister history.

Despite the centricity of The Greybourne to the show’s chilling atmosphere, Fox ensured the show’s relationships raised the stakes for character’s impending danger, from a steamy, toxic relationship between Elena and Scott and the stern condescension of Tory, her employer’s sister in law.

“We always started with the relationships — that was our way in — because the thrills and chills don’t really matter if you don’t care about the characters, and you don’t feel something about their jeopardy,” Fox said. “In the same vein, having these supernatural encounters or these brushes with danger, also don’t matter if they’re not motivated in some way, if they’re not there for a reason.”

Once the series established its emotional framework between Elena and her relationships with Scott, the Greybourne residents and her fellow nanny friends and made sure the stakes were high, the showrunners added genre elements that not only plunged characters into peril but also crafted “a bridge between this world and the next.”

The thriller series also hinges on class struggle between Elena, an empowered and “activated” woman from a low to middle income family, who approaches The Greybourne residents, whose wealth and influence spans for generations, with a monolithic perception of people of their level of wealth.

“Elena is motivated by some very sort of blunt and rudimentary beliefs about the world — all rich people are bad, all rich people have nothing to worry about — and we under we come to understand why she feels this way and it’s entirely justified,” Fox said. “As she makes her way into The Greybourne … and we reveal the humanity of each of these characters, slowly and methodically … a huge priority was finding a way for this character’s point of view to change.”

Though Elena enters The Greybourne focused on her objective, she can’t help but develop empathy for the grief-ridden family, including the smart but withdrawn Jasper, giving the headstrong Elena what Fox calls an “education.”

“You’re gonna learn about people when you are inside of their home,” Fox said. “Everyone’s living right on top of each other in the apartment building; there’s not a lot of ways to keep secrets for very long.”

“The Watchful Eye” is now streaming on Hulu.