Home Before Dark gives us a tiny hero for uncertain times [Review]

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Home Before Dark review: Jibrail Nantambu, Brooklynn Prince and Deric McCabe solve crime adorably.
Jibrail Nantambu, Brooklynn Prince and Deric McCabe solve crime adorably in Home Before Dark .
Photo: Apple TV+

Based on the real-life exploits of preteen reporter Hilde Kate Lysiak, who was a published journalist before she had all her teeth, Apple TV+’s new series Home Before Dark is an exciting and endearing new offering.

The streaming service released all 10 episodes of the show’s first season Friday. The first three brisk episodes build a strong case for the show’s quick renewal.  And they also reveal Home Before Dark’s tiny hero, Brooklynn Prince, as a certified star.

Home Before Dark review

Home Before Dark review: Abby Miller and Jim Sturgess aren't the world's most responsible parents.
Abby Miller and Jim Sturgess aren’t the world’s most responsible parents in Home Before Dark.
Photo: Apple TV+

Created by Dana Fox and Dara Reskin and executive-produced by Jon M. Chu, the opening three episodes of Home After Dark are exquisitely entertaining. Chu directed the first two episodes, which introduce us to the world of kid reporter Hilde Lisko (Prince, The Florida Project).

Her family has moved back to father Matthew’s (Jim Sturgess) hometown of Erie Harbor, a quiet seaside hamlet with a bevy of big secrets. Hilde’s mother (Abby Miller) has her hands full raising a budding writer, to say nothing of finding daycare for youngest daughter, Ginny (Mila Morgan). Or dealing with the newly changing hormones of eldest daughter, Izzy (Kylie Rogers). So when she gets to town and discovers a lot of resentment toward her husband for something that happened in his youth, she’s nonplussed to say the least.

Within minutes of arriving, Hilde picks up on undercurrents of suspicion and resentment ruling life in Erie Harbor. There’s the cop car parked up the street from their house most nights. There’s the grandfather (Reed Birney) whose disintegrating memory maintains fragments of a conspiracy. And then there’s the death of the woman up the street.

The cops rule the death of Penny Gillis (Sharon Taylor) an accident but neither Hilde nor the only woman on the force (Aziza Scott) believe that narrative. They reluctantly team up to find probable cause for the murder only they believe took place. After all, it’s mighty suspicious that former pariah Matthew moves back to town, and Penny — whose brother Sam (Michael Greyeyes) was convicted of a crime that only Matthew witnessed as a boy — suddenly winds up dead.

Hilde Lisko, cub reporter

Home Before Dark review: Brooklynn Prince and Joelle Carter make for interesting foils
Brooklynn Prince and Joelle Carter make for interesting foils on Home Before Dark.
Photo: Apple TV+

With all the narrative developments thrown out during the opening episodes, it’s a little astonishing how much remains open-ended, indeed thrillingly unresolved, by the close of Episode 3. Chu, who directed Crazy Rich Asians and the upcoming adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, possesses dynamite instincts as a storyteller. He builds the tensions of each of the three Lisko girls and their stressed parents without visible strain.

At some moments, the tone gets away from the capable hands at work. For instance, when Hilde stands up to unseen bullies at school with a lunchroom display, it feels too precious and upbeat for a show that also dabbles in murder, police corruption and drug addiction. It’s an understandable concession to the younger audience the show is trying to court. But it feels obvious and pat when the rest of the show works so hard to avoid the pitfalls of a ridiculously precocious protagonist.

Home Before Dark: Brooklynn Prince is a star

Home Before Dark is a very traditional series in a lot of ways, which helps situate its audience in familiar true-crime and preteen drama beats. Like Veronica Mars but about a 9-year-old, it’s silly — but also quickly endearing. Brooklynn Prince is one of the more charismatic child stars we have. Putting her front and center in her own show was a brilliant idea. Home Before Dark has room to grow, but Prince is already a star.

Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.