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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Home Before Dark is a drama about a 9-year-old reporter who uncovers a mystery when her family returns to the small coastal town where her dad grew up. Based on the real-life reportage of Hilde Lysiak, Home Before Dark uses Lysiak's life story as a jumping-off point to tell a fictional story. The show's Hilde Lysiak (Brooklynn Prince) is a fantastic role model for young people, following her passion fearlessly, searching tirelessly for the truth, and demonstrating impressive curiosity, perseverance, and communication. The Lysiak family is a tight and supportive one, with Hilde's parents frequently encouraging and going to bat for her, and even Hilde's older sister rallying behind her in moments of crisis. Though a pair of deaths form the show's storyline, we don't see any bodies or blood, but we do see police cars, hear about crimes, and watch as grade schoolers sneak around in the dark sleuthing, presumably in peril. Spooky noises and music accompany these scenes, and may scare younger or sensitive viewers. Language is infrequent but "s--t," "damn," and "ass" make an appearance, and Hilde is roundly insulted by readers offended by her reportage, who comment to call her things like "freak," weirdo," "loser," and "ugly." Though this show's protagonist is a fourth grader, this show may be too scary and slow-moving for viewers of a similar age; tweens and up may be more appreciative. It's a solid choice for whole-family viewing for families with older kids.
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What's the story?
Based on real-life young journalist Hilde Lysiak, HOME BEFORE DARK catches up with 9-year-old Hilde Lysiak (Brooklynn Prince) after her reporter dad (Jim Sturgess) has lost his newspaper job and moved the family back to his tiny coastal hometown. Despite her parents' advice to take life a little less seriously -- and criticism from her older sister, Izzy (Kylie Rogers) -- Hilde immediately becomes embroiled in a local mystery when a neighbor dies in a shady incident. Hilde's sleuthing also turns up something her father would prefer stayed in the past: another suspicious death long ago.
Is it any good?
Brooklynn Prince is sensational as a budding young reporter who boasts a vibe somewhere between Veronica Mars and Nancy Drew, except much littler. In an era when the reputation of the press has fallen precipitously -- a shift obliquely and neatly summarized with a clip from All the President's Men that Hilde recites from memory -- Hilde is a proud crusading journalist, advised by her reporter father to seek out and tell the truth. And there's real magic in the scenes in which Hilde sneaks determinedly around gathering facts before retreating to her computer in her living room, typing out copy while the camera pans down to show us that this tough, implacable reporter has legs so short her feet dangle when she sits at an office chair. Surely with such a girl on the job, citizens could rest a little easier knowing she's rooting out trouble.
Not everything about this drama is as good as Prince. The show's central mystery is a little undercooked; there's some wheel spinning, often in the form of flashbacks that inform us, over and over again, that Something Bad drove Hilde's dad from his picturesque hometown. And many viewers may wonder why Home Before Dark's parents seem unconcerned that their grade-school kids are out investigating crimes after bedtime on a school night (though if these kids were locked up like actual ones, they'd probably never get anywhere with their sleuthing). Finally, for a show with a 9-year-old protagonist, storylines about murder, complete with spooky music and dark visuals, may be a little too creepy for viewers the same age as Hilde. But with her furrowed brow and intense gaze, Prince is so very, very good in the central role that many will be tempted to come along for the ride anyway. "I'm a reporter!" she tells her dad during an argument. "You're a fourth grader!" he says back. Both are true, and the trick of this neat show is that it makes you believe it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies and TV shows that are based on real people. Does Home Before Dark present Hilde Lysiak's real life factually? Or does it use her story as a jumping-off point to tell a mystery story? Which approach would you prefer? Are the lives of real people ever interesting or dramatic enough that their stories are told truthfully?
Families can also talk about whether Hilde is a role model. Do you think her ability to stand up against adults and her classmates is realistic?
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