“I’m a journalist!” Hilde Lisko tells her father, Matt. “You’re a fourth-grader!” he replies.
Both are right.
In the new Apple TV+ drama Home Before Dark, inspired by the real work of underage reporter Hilde Lysiak, Hilde (Brooklynn Prince) goes to elementary school and has trouble making friends, but she’s also seen All the President’s Men 36 times and runs her own local newspaper. And when a suspicious death in the neighborhood points to a crime that traumatized Matt (Jim Sturgess), as a boy, Hilde investigates.
Created by Dana Fox and Dara Resnik, with a premiere episode directed by Crazy Rich Asians‘ Jon M. Chu, the show is, like Stranger Things before it, unabashed in its love of Eighties Spielberg. Episodes are filled with kids on bikes going where they’re not supposed to and starting up trouble through sheer inquisitiveness, while their parents mostly shrug off the danger. (Other adults — including Joelle Carter, as Hilde’s school principal, and Aziza Scott, as a friendly local cop — seem a bit more thrown; when Hilde interviews the victim’s father about the case, he notes, “This is crazy, having this conversation with a child.”)
The contrast between this precious girl and the dark story she’s reporting can at times feel out of whack — Home Before Dark is both a bit scarier and more casually profane than the family-friendly experience suggested by its heroine. The show stumbles in other areas. There’s not quite enough to the mystery to fill 10 hours, which leads to doubling back over certain ideas — drink every time there’s a slo-mo montage of Hilde and her sister, Izzy (Kylie Rogers), arriving at school after Hilde has published another article. And Sturgess is a bit too genially bland in a role that’s supposed to be the emotional core of the story, since Hilde is looking into this case to try to “fix” her dad.
But as anyone knows if they experienced The Florida Project with Prince as their guide, she’s a compulsively watchable actor. She plays the fanciful premise (“What if Veronica Mars, but tinier?”) with such utter conviction that Home Before Dark is appealing in spite of its flaws.
“I know I’m only nine years old,” Hilde explains at one point, “but I think I can help. Besides, I’m really good at this stuff.”
She really is.
Apple TV+ is releasing all 10 episodes of Home Before Dark on April 3rd. I’ve seen the whole season.