Home Before Dark review: Nine-year-old journalist solves crime mysteries in this Apple TV + series

Prahlad Srihari

Apr 03, 2020 08:04:07 IST

Hilde Lysiak found viral fame as a nine-year-old reporter for her self-published neighbourhood newspaper in the Pennsylvania town of Selinsgrove. She broke a story on her sister's birth, got the scoop on a suspected murder and recently interviewed a quarantined resident in Italy following the Coronavirus lockdown. She even earned herself a Scholastic book deal with a series featuring fictionalised news stories based on her own reportage.

Now, Hilde is the subject of the Apple TV+ series Home Before Dark, where she investigates, reports and eventually solves a missing person case marred by small town secrets, prejudices and corruption. At a time when public trust in the media is at an all-time low, showrunners Dana Fox and Dara Resnik see Hilde as someone who could empower young girls and boys to be journalists — the kind driven only by the search for truth.

 Home Before Dark review: Nine-year-old journalist solves crime mysteries in this Apple TV + series

The Lisko family from the Apple + series Home Before Dark.

Hilde is really more a prepubescent version of Veronica Mars than a reporter. Of course, Erie Harbor, Washington is a lot smaller and sparser than Neptune, California. The show begins with Erie Harbor gaining five new unwelcome inhabitants in the Lisko family – Hilde (Brooklynn Prince), dad Matthew (Jim Sturgess), mom Bridget (Abby Miller), sisters Izzy (Kylie Rogers) and Ginny (Mila Morgan) — after Matt loses his reporter job in Brooklyn and is forced to move back to his hometown. Soon after their arrival, Hilde gets a scoop. She suspects the death of a neighbour — quickly ruled an accident by the police — may not be an accident. Moreover, it may be connected to a decades-old cold case that the townsfolk have tried a little too hard to bury. The case in question involves the disappearance of her own dad's best friend and the wrongful conviction of a teenager 30 years ago.

The real-life Hilde didn't really involve herself in the investigation. Here, Hilde gets her Nancy Drew on, and gets herself her own Scooby gang — with two kids and a helpful cop — to track down leads. She picks out clues — numbers, words and images — through visualisations, akin to Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock, in sequences that highlight the observations and the deductions she draws from them. But the show does take a lot of liberties with an obliging cop who accommodates all of Hilde's wishes, be it tagging her along to the home of a suspect, allowing her on the scene of a crime, and providing her with essential investigation files.

Brooklynn Prince as Hilde Lisko.

As the investigation reveals more ties to her dad's past, the show begins to spend more time with Matt and his acquaintances. It also spends a considerable amount of time with her teenage sister Izzy, who feels neglected at home and mocked by Erie Harbor's Regina and the Plastics at school as Hilde ruffles more and more feathers. Izzy also finds some comfort in a cute boy not entirely versed in the art of chivalry. But all these derivative detours mean less time with Hilde, who is really the sole reason you want to watch the show. But even her charm can only carry the show so far, and it is far less than the sum of its elaborate plot machinations.

Home Before Dark remains true to Hilde's feisty spirit as she seeks answers to an intriguing enough mystery armed with a curiosity, more journalistic than child-like. While most kids her age are geeking out over Harry Potter and MCU, Hilde is watching All the President’s Men for the 36th time, and lipsyncing scenes from the movie. After The Florida Project, Broklynn Prince's performance is another triumph of attitude over seasoned skills. Her precocious-child-who-says-sassy-things boasts a spunky self-assuredness that inspires rather than annoys.

Hilde and her Scooby gang.

There are still moments which remind us she's still a kid. After churning out a premature suspected murder report, her father sits her down and makes her understand the importance of responsible journalism: never to fill in gaps in a story with rumours and speculation. Of course, the other townsfolk and her own schoolmates are not as kind, making their criticism known through harsh comments. She is nine. So, she breaks down in tears and learns a vital lesson of digital journalism: "Don't read the comments!" The town's reactions mirrored the negative criticism Hilde Lysiak herself faced for reporting on violent crimes; some urged her to play with dolls and host tea parties instead, while others questioned her parents' judgment.

But Hilde learns her lesson and moves on. She doesn't let the negative elements shame her into submission. In the penultimate episode, she even takes an active part in helping elect a sheriff for her town who will drive away the corruption. She does this by taking to the streets and connecting with communities. Like Greta Thunberg, Hilde represents the emergence of a new collective power of youth campaigning for change at a time when democratic institutions, like the media, are under siege.

Often, Home Before Dark feels like a Nickelodeon series with prestige drama aspirations. There are few pleasures to be found here for adults, but they will be glad they won't have to endure their kids watching Hannah Montana or Phineas and Ferb reruns for the 999th time.

Home Before Dark is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Updated Date: Apr 03, 2020 12:32:10 IST

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