Based on the true story of Hilde Lysiak, ‘Home Before Dark’ tells the story of young reporter Hilde Lisko (Brooklynn Prince) who, after being uprooted from her New York home to her father’s hometown, begins to investigate the disappearance of a young boy - a case that has tormented her father for years. During the show’s first season, we saw the family adjust to small town life in Erie Harbour and deal with the resentment of it’s residents who don’t welcome their arrival - all whilst Hilde makes waves - and enemies, as she uncovers the town’s dark secrets in her search for the truth.
I admittedly dismissed ‘Home Before Dark’ when the first season was released last year. After seeing the initial trailer, I had assumed that it was a show primarily aimed at children and very much expected a light Disney vibe. I decided to hit play on the first episode one night after spending far too much time flicking through different streaming apps and I quickly realised that I was wrong. In fact, it ended up becoming one of my favourite watches of 2020.
Created by Dana Fox and Dara Resnik, ‘Home Before Dark’ is a show that isn’t afraid to explore dark and mature themes, but it’s also a rarity in that it’s one that the whole family can enjoy. It achieves this balance without talking down to any potential younger viewers while keeping adults thoroughly engaged too. One of the criticisms aimed at the show’s first season was that it didn’t know which audience it was for. I’d argue that the show knows exactly who it is for. It’s for everyone - and being a show for everyone is one of the things that ‘Home Before Dark’ does best.
Almost immediately, the show appealed to my fondness for nostalgia and love of childhood adventure films like Stand By Me, Goonies, The Monster Squad, E.T. and more recent films like Super 8. There’s a distinct Amblin vibe present throughout ‘Home Before Dark’ and while there’s no supernatural or other-worldly elements here, it pulled me in with the same feelings of joy I that I experienced with those films and with how quickly I warmed to the world and it’s characters.
Season two picks up one year after the events of last year’s finale and sees Hilde struggling to come to terms with the case of Richie Fife’s disappearance and experiencing nightmares and mental health issues as the case continues to consume her. As her parents try to help her move on, a new mystery presents itself as Hilde learns of a possible cover-up that could be making the town’s residents sick and one that could ultimately lead her closer to solving the case of Fife’s disappearance.
While the second season doesn’t reinvent the genre, it takes everything that worked from the first season and builds on it with tighter writing, more defined characters and a new mystery that reveals more of the town’s secrets whilst always keeping the story of Richie’s disappearance present and driving the character’s journeys forward.
The first season of the show spent a lot of time with the Lisko family trying to fit in to their new home and dealing with the contempt and resentment with which the rest of the town treated them. That’s still present here to an extent, but season two gets off to a much quicker start out of the gate. There’s a firmer grip on who the characters are and their roles feel a lot more defined. Picking up the story one year later has allowed the Lisko family to become more settled in the town, which provides the central mystery with more room to breathe and develop overall.
The family are very much still the centre of the show, but supporting characters play a bigger role and feel more important this time around. Hilde’s Magic Hour Chronicle gang, Donnie (Jibrail Nantambu) and ‘Spoon’ (Deric McCabe), still provide much of the show’s comic relief but we learn more about both characters and what they are going through outside of the main plot-line. Newly-appointed Sheriff ‘Trip’ Johnson (Aziza Scott) is also given more screen time aside from being Hilde’s go-to source for news and Lt. Frank Briggs (Michael Weston) explores his strained relationships with both his father and Principal Collins (Joelle Carter). It’s a welcome pivot from his role as the often unintentional villain in season one. Hilde’s older sister Izzy (Kylie Rogers) also gets more focus as she struggles with high school and finding her own identity.
What has remained the same is the respect that the show pays to the character of Hilde and the writers tread the line between investigative journalist and vulnerable 10 year old quite masterfully. Watching Hilde ask hard-hitting questions and get herself into situations that most kids wouldn’t was a big part of the appeal of the first season. It was hard not to initially chuckle in disbelief at some scenes that seemed so out of place for such a young character - but the writers have always presented Hilde with such conviction that the audience bought into her as proper journalist fairly quickly during season one and that continues here.
It would be easy to treat the character of Hilde as a gimmick and present her in an overblown, outrageous manner but the show doesn’t do that. Hilde is very much a real journalist and seeing much of what happens in the show through her eyes, we become equally as frustrated as she does when other characters continue to dismiss her and not take her seriously due to her age. Yet at the same time, ‘Home Before Dark’ isn’t afraid to remind us that she is in-fact still just a child at the right moments. The show deals with how the events of the first season have impacted Hilde’s mental health and sees her deal with changes in her family dynamic as well as her friendships and how this affects her as a 10 year old child as opposed to a hard-hitting reporter. As much as we root for Hilde throughout, the show doesn’t shy away from showing how she can also be very tunnel-visioned when it comes to reporting on a story. On several occasions, we see the path of destruction that she often leaves in her search for the truth and how the fallout from her actions negatively impacts the people around her. It adds another nice layer of complexity to an already interesting character.
Of course, none of the above would be possible without Brooklynn Prince. She is marvellous here once again and Hilde’s complexities and character development are brought to life as much by her performance as they are by the show’s writing. You can feel the other actors bouncing off of her energy in every scene and much the first season, her scenes with her Dad (Jim Sturgess) are some of the best in any given episode. This is particularly the case in the scenes where Hilde and Matt work together on a story and the lines between father-daughter and journalistic colleagues are blurred. Both are absolutely believable as father and daughter and it’s clear that the two characters are cut from the same cloth in their unwavering determination to find answers in the face of adversity. As exciting as the central mystery and scenes involving Hilde and her friends getting into danger are, the family scenes at home are where the show really shines and provide great opportunity for character development. There’s one very sweet scene in particular involving a family dinner for Hilde’s grandfather, played brilliantly by Reed Birney, that’s particularly heartwarming and had me shedding a tear.
The season isn’t entirely without fault. Some animated sequences which are used to provide exposition don’t quite land as intended and pop up a little too often. There are also some plot points and conflict between characters which I’d have liked to have seen explored in more detail that are resolved much too quickly. Still, ‘Home Before Dark’ season two is a continuation of what made the first season so enjoyable. The central mystery is gripping, the characters are better defined and the family dynamic is always very relatable despite the subject matter. Brooklynn Prince shines once again in a role that she has clearly embraced and she continues to be an utterly captivating protagonist. Most importantly, ‘Home Before Dark’ season two is a lot of fun and a rare show that will appeal to the whole family without dumbing down its message.
Home Before Dark is available on Apple TV+ now with new episodes of its sophomore season airing every Friday.