At first glance, ‘Home Before Dark’ on Apple TV looks like a show for kids and families, along the lines of the ‘Lost in Space’ reboot. On closer inspection, it takes some DNA from ‘Stranger Things’, replacing the supernatural motif with investigative reporting. It hits home with good acting, writing and pacing — delivering some emotional moments and wisdom along the way. Truly an unexpected gem to brighten these stay-at-home times, the show works on several levels as it tells a story based on the real events of a child investigative reporter.
~Minor Setup Spoilers~ Jim Sturgess (IMDd — “Across the Universe’) plays a father and investigative reporter who lost his job in the big city and returns home to the small town he grew up in. He’s been hiding a traumatic secret from his wife and three girls for years, and coming back home stirs that up. His 9-year-old daughter takes after him into reporting and wants to fix whatever led to him being ‘broken’. Soon she stumbles into a murder being passed off as an accidental death by the Sheriff. It all connects back to her father’s childhood trauma and the town’s dark past.
The story might have easily been lost to cliche if not for the on-screen connection between father and daughter. Most male actors couldn’t pull off the nuance shown by Sturgess to let a female lead the way, and in this case the female is 9-year-old actor Brooklynn Prince (IMBd) who plays Hilde Lisko. You have to forgive yourself if you think she is some kind of CGI creation; she has these subtleties in her facial expressions that evoke a much older thespian. She pretty much carries the show. She’s precocious and vulnerable and usually right and sometimes wrong, and definitely someone worth rooting for as she takes on the stuck-in-their-ways adults of small town America.
One of the backdrops the show plays against is the current state of American media. There’s a few moments between father and daughter where they talk ethics and standards of journalism. It feels like Hilde is leading us to rediscover these things, but it’s not heavy-handed or a direct put down of the current standard bearers in American media. You get the sense that she is growing and learning in a way that current news celebrities abandoned long ago, and this carries hope for a future return to respect for journalism.
The show doesn’t shy away from some of the darker aspects of small town America, but just when it feels like it might get too heavy and lose its way with another plot twist, it remembers that this is entertainment. We get kids riding their bikes and having fun exploring the mystery and trying to make social change. More than that, there’s a sense that the people making the show are having fun with it, something too often missing with the latest, greatest new TV show being made these days.
‘Home Before Dark’ just released season one with ten episodes, and Apple TV Plus has a free trial and free shows available online as of this writing. It looks like they’re set up for season two, and it’s definitely worth getting into if you can find the time.