Cast: Jim Sturgess, Brooklynn Prince, Abby MillerCreators: Dana Fox, Dara Resnik
Home Before Dark, the 10-episode TV show is a fictional narrative based on a real-life nine-year-old investigative journalist, Hilde Lysiak, who broke the news of a national murder, in her self-published paper.
In the show, Hilde Lisko (Brooklynn Prince), a 9-year-old girl fancies herself to be a journalist like her father, Matt Lisko (Jim Sturgess) who works for a newspaper in New York. Unfortunately, Matt loses his job and has to move from Brooklyn back to his father’s house in small-town Erie Harbor, Washington along with his wife Bridget (Abbey Miller), Hilde, and his other two daughters. As it turns out, Matt has a mysterious past that involved the kidnapping and disappearance of his childhood friend Ritchie. A young teenager Sam Gillis (Michael Greyeyes) was arrested for the crime and put behind bars on circumstantial evidence that seemed tentative at best. Matt who had disagreed with the verdict had moved to New York to put the incident behind him.
As soon as Matt and the family arrive in Erie Harbor, the precocious Hilde befriends Sam’s socially ostracised sister Penny, only to find her dead a few days later. Hilde’s fertile imagination and inquisitive nature get her sniffing around for foul play despite the Sherriff’s assurance that Penny’s death was an accident. As things begin to unfold with Hilde’s persistent investigation, all hell breaks loose in the small town and skeletons from the past begin to tumble out. Hilde discovers that Penny’s death is connected to the 30-year-old case to which her own father was an eye-witness.
The story and screenplay in the early episodes layer the mystery very well and are powered by Hilde’s conviction that finding the truth will set her dad free of the burden of his past. As she sets about cocking a snook at her school authorities, the police and occasionally her family in her unwavering search for the truth, Hilde’s actions are mostly annoying and occasionally perplexing to those around her. Luckily despite being smart-alecky–whether standing up to school bullies or chasing up on her elder sister Izzy (Kylie Rogers) after a school prom—she is a likable protagonist through it all. It helps that the charming small-town dynamics and growing pains of the young are well explored throughout the show; plus the twists and turns keep you hooked enough to binge-watch all 10 episodes.
However, towards the end, it seems inevitable that it is the 9-year-old Hilde who’ll get to eventually solve the mystery. Hilde’s character arc also becomes mildly problematic because she goes from being smart to becoming a supersleuth with an almost magical knack of getting to the truth. Given the material, one begins to occasionally feel that Matt, the bonafide journalist in the family will take the lead at some point with Hilde as his chief weapon. Hilde, however, has other ideas. She solves the complex adult mystery entirely by her own smarts, childish appeal, and some incredible luck. The grown-ups are all reduced to being inconsequential support characters to Hilde the Heroine. Even the seemingly threatening characters become somewhat pointless bystanders watching Hilde go about her investigations with gusto. And in that transition which feels rather convenient, HBD becomes lackadaisical, hurriedly tying up the subplots.
Be that as it may, the first season of the series created by Dana Fox and Dara Resnik ends on finding the resolution to the town’s dark mystery and is still quite watchable. What works in the show’s favour is that it is not a drab and dreary murder mystery, but one filled with a lot of family drama. The terrific performance by the young star of the show Hilde (Brooklynn Prince) lifts the show above the mundane. The interplay between Hilde’s two young friends (Deric McCabe and Jibrail Nantambu) her two sisters and the parents make for interesting diversions, but this clearly is Hilde’s show and one that she holds masterfully.
HBD’s skillful crafting keeps the aura of mystery going nicely under the able direction of Jon M Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and Jim Mckay among others. At the end of the first season, a big part of the mystery is solved, but a final twist leaves it open to exploring a new line of investigation in the next one. With a strong hook for Season 2 that has already stoked much curiosity, HBD could well fill the void left behind by Stranger Things.