REVIEW: ‘Home Before Dark’ is the Perfect Successor to Harriet the Spy

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Home Before Dark

When I was a kid, I wore out a lot of VHS tapes, and one of them was Nickelodeon’s Harriet the Spy. There was something about seeing a young girl have agency and power in a world that said she shouldn’t. Home Before Dark, an Apple Original series, is Harriet‘s spiritual successor in many ways. From a strong cast of young actors to a spiraling mystery, this series, and especially its second season, stands as a testament to trusting young teens with stories that feature twists and turns.

Home Before Dark is co-created by  Dana Fox and Dara Resnik, stars Brooklynn Prince and Jim Sturgess, and is inspired by real-life young investigative journalist Hilde Lysiak. The series also stars Abby Miller, Kylie Rogers, Aziza Scott, Michael Weston, Joelle Carter, Jibrail Nantambu, Deric McCabe, and Rio Mangini. In Season 2 of the mystery series, a mysterious explosion hits a local farm that prompts Hilde to begin an investigation that will lead her to fight a powerful and influential corporation—with the health of her family and Erie Harbor in the balance.

Too often in media made for children, creatives don’t expect the viewers to understand the subtleties of the story. They lean on exposition heavily; they solve the mystery for the audience instead of letting the story lull and push them. But Home After Dark escapes those trappings and does so very intentionally. While there is exposition delivered, it’s never more than necessary and never undercuts the agency that Hilde has in her story nor her ingenuity. In Season 2, there are moments that confront imminent domain, the ills of capitalism, and elements of racism (and the microaggressions that come with it) and sexism in ways that don’t hide them away. It names them for what they are and shows the world in a way that allows Hilde and her friends Spoon (Deric McCabe) and Donny (Jibrail Nantambu), to be active in it.

It’s this ability to allow more complicated issues like corporations and issues in policing that make Home Before Dark enjoyable for all ages. While the core of the show is for younger viewers, there is plenty for parents and non-parents to enjoy as well. And a lot of that is because the storytelling of the series and especially Season 2 is A-plus. Without revealing too much of the plot, the way the mystery unfolds this season puts more of an emphasis on Hilde than the last, with her taking more risks and pushing her friends as well.

Season 2 is strong because of what it allows Hilde and her friends to do and solve but also because of the relationships the series focuses on building. Home Before Dark is about family and friendship as much as it’s about mysteries and secrets. The young cast works well together with a chemistry that makes their friendship feel real. But even among the three, Prince’s Hilde is a tenacious and scene-stealing character. Hilde is the center of the series, yes, but writing a character at the center of your series and an actor delivering a performance that carries aren’t one and the same. But Prince, for her role, commands every scene with a tenacity that is sure to inspire young viewers.

Another excellent touchstone of the series and this season, in particular, is the animation mixed in. Used to tell stories, show dreams, and the like, the animated sequences feel like a fairytale. Dreamlike and sharp, each moment of animation adds whimsy but also a melancholy to the series as well.

Overall, Home Before Dark Season 2 is a success, but more importantly, I’m bought into Hilde’s story. I want to see her and her friends do more, explore more, and ultimately solve more mysteries. At almost 30, I didn’t expect to be brought back to my childhood of choose-your-own-adventures and Harriet the Spy, but here I am. Home Before Dark deserves more seasons, for the magic and mystery it crafts but also because of a cast that gives their all to a story that pulls out all the stops.

Home Before Dark Season 2 is available now on Apple TV+.

Home Before Dark Season 2
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Home Before Dark Season 2 is a success, but more importantly, I’m bought into Hilde’s story. I want to see her and her friends do more, explore more, and ultimately solve more mysteries. At almost 30, I didn’t expect to be brought back to my childhood of choose-your-own-adventures and Harriet the Spy, but here I am. Home Before Dark deserves more seasons, for the magic and mystery it crafts but also because of a cast that gives their all to a story that pulls out all the stops.