This version of brothers Frank and Joe's adventures explores new territory (they're younger, their mother has died violently, it's set in the '80s), but ultimately feels stale but solid. Though possibly new to today's kids, The Hardy Boys' provenance goes back to pre-Depression days (a book series written by many authors under the name Franklin W. Dixon) and has seen many TV productions since the 1950s, most memorably in the late 1970s, when the brothers teamed up with Nancy Drew in a show that capitalized on Shaun Cassidy's heartthrob appeal. This latest is a Canadian production, set presumably in the 1980s, if we judge by the sepia tones, the soundtrack, old technology, and parent-free lifestyle of small-town kids. It feels nostalgic for parents and will remind today's kids of a less edgy Stranger Things.
The show dispatches the loving, grounding mother in the first act -- she's tailed in her car and, we assume, run off the road because she was an investigative journalist (a vocation hidden from her kids). In the small town of Bridgeport where they have to spend the summer, the boys immediately become friends with a cast of refreshingly racially diverse kids (and best bud Biff is now female). Getting entangled in many mysteries is to be expected, but their own mother's death is the central one, making the show more emotionally demanding than earlier series. Overall there's a comfortable, '80s-TV slowness to the show, the writing meanders, and the performances are serviceable. Alexander Elliot, as Joe, makes the biggest impression as a charismatic sass machine to brother Frank's (Rohan Campbell) stoic solidity. He's also like a mini-MacGyver who can pick any lock, knows Morse code, and picks up other handy skills with ease. Kids will be most likely to come back for his performance.