Apple TV+ review: Home Before Dark: Season 1
James R | On 03, Apr 2020
Season 2 of Home Before Dark premieres on Friday 11th June 2021.
“The truth is what makes everything work right. That’s what my dad says. It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than you! It’s bigger than all of us.” Those are the words of Hilde Lisko in Home Before Dark, Apple TV+’s crime drama. The noble sentiment itself is charmingly earnest, and that’s at the core of the show’s appeal. The fact that it’s said by Brooklynn Prince? That’s the key to the show’s success.
Prince was the breakout star of The Florida Project, a funny, heartbreaking and gripping drama set on the outskirts of the Sunshine State’s tourist belt, and the young actor is deservedly given star billing her. She steps into the hoes of Hilde, a young investigative reporter who’s based on the real life junior journo Hilde Lysiak, who started her own newspaper to reveal a crime committed in her home town. If that sounds like an unlikely and mildly dark starting point for a TV show, you’ve got the measure of what to expect from Home Before Dark, which struggles to piece together the puzzle of its own tone.
Unsure whether to play things sweet and family-friendly or sinister and mysterious, the series frequently hops between the two, placing it somewhere between Harriet the Spy (and countless other young detective icons) and Top of the Lake. On the one hand, we don’t really see a lot of blood or dead bodies – but on the other, people sure do talk about them, and the odd naughty word pops up to keep things not quite in the age bracket of its own protagonist. There’s a lot of back-and-forth between kids pushing the envelope and adults putting them back in their place. “Did the old lady spill her guts?” asks one of Hilde’s friends in one amusing scene. “Hey, don’t call her that. It’s not appropriate,” they’re told. “Yes, ma’am,” comes the rapid reply. “Did the old librarian spill her guts?”
That approach works to some degree, as Hilde begins the series as an outsider in the town, moving back from the city of Brooklyn to the small lakeside community that her father, Matthew (Jim Sturgess), left behind. By the time she starts dredging up an old cold case that nobody likes to talk about, she’s far from the popular one at school, with other pupils calling her names. That only really encourages her to double down on her moral quest for the truth, whether that’s referring to All the President’s Men like it’s Dr Seuss, or attending crime scenes with her dad. It’s presumably intentional yet also frustrating to see the marked contrast between her and her old sister, Izzy (Kylie Rogers), who is trying to lead a normal teen life – while their moments of unity and solidarity are sweet, Izzy’s subplot is something that feels like a distraction from the series’ main driving narrative.
If it’s distractions you want, creators Dana Fox and Dara Resnik and director Jon M Chu certainly know how to fill up the screen, with crime scenes regularly segueing into animated vignettes that show us Hilde’s brain at work – a visually impressive device, but one that adds to the feeling of a programme that’s a little too crowded with ideas to pick one and run with it. The plotting, for example, is divided between a murder and a hush-hush kidnapping case that seems to involve dark secrets belonging to her dad as well as the rest of the town, and the balance of the two doesn’t always help with the pacing.
But what keeps you coming back episode after episode is the cast, with Sturgess’ excellent turn as Hilde’s dad bringing real depth and substance to their relationship – and even sprinkling some effective intergenerational conflict into the mix in his scenes with Sylvester (Reed Birney), his father and the local sheriff. Abby Miller gives strong support as Hilde’s prosecutor mother, but it’s the daddy-daughter bond that really works here, as he cheers her on in her crusade to follow his example and chase down the facts above all else.
That combination of defiance, naivety and dogged commitment is irresistible, no matter what age you are, and if the show doesn’t always have your curiosity piqued, Hilde’s curiosity will have you hooked nonetheless. The result is an uneven start to a show that, once it cracks its tone, has real potential.
Home Before Dark is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.