In the “Before-Time”, what we now call the very recent past, we put great value in seriousness. We wanted the next great drama, all brooding gravity and searing insight.
We didn’t value charm as much, but we loved it when another season of Stranger Things arrived, with those beguiling kids and all the agreeableness they brought with them. Now, we totally need more charm.
Home Before Dark (streams on Apple TV+) has it by the bucketful. It is adorable and funny, and manages to wrap all of that around a dark mystery story. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and by heavens, it’s a welcome arrival.
The 10-episode series – all episodes are released together – is inspired by the true story of underage reporter Hilde Lysiak. Here, Hilde (Brooklynn Prince) is a nine-year-old going to elementary school and is an oddball. She’s odd because her situation is this – her dad has been a newspaper reporter for years and, inspired by him, Hilde is devoted to journalism. She started her own neighbourhood newspaper and worked hard on investigations.
As the series starts, Hilde’s family is moving from New York City to the hometown of her dad Matt (Jim Sturgess). It’s the only place they can afford because it seems Dad got fired for being obsessive about one particular news story. Now Dad is supposed to be working on a book. Mom Bridget (Abby Miller) is seething a bit because she had to give up her legal practice, and older sister Izzy (Kylie Rogers) wants to make new friends and not be embarrassed by Hilde’s junior-reporter antics.
As anyone who has seen the movie The Florida Project knows, Brooklynn Prince is a gifted young actor and Home Before Dark depends on her entirely. It could be absurd, this drama about a nine-year-old demanding to see a police report and loftily telling adults about the role of a free press. But it isn’t. It’s magically convincing, utterly delightful and engrossing.
It is also beautifully made, with nods to the Spielberg-ian style of the 1980s (it was made in British Columbia), and has an admiration for childish inquisitiveness that’s noble. There’s also a wonderful soundtrack. It takes Hilde very seriously and she learns important, familiar lessons about writing for the public, including, "Never read the comments.”
At 10 episodes, Home Before Dark sprawls a bit. But it has a rare seductive quality and, in Hilde, a tiny heroine more appealing than a parcel of adult figures from more heavyweight dramas.
Also airing this weekend
What’re You At? with Tom Power (Sunday, CBC 8 p.m.) is CBC TV’s pursuit of a different type of Sunday show in these different times.
Power, from CBC Radio’s Q, will “connect virtually” with Canadians of all kinds, but especially artists, storytellers and musicians, from his home. The debut episode has him talking to the people from Schitt’s Creek, a performance by Juno winner Jessie Reyez, and conversations with Canadians in their various communities about coping with these pandemic times.
World on Fire (Sunday, PBS 9 p.m. on Masterpiece) is a new epic British series, very much an ensemble piece, set during the early years of the Second World War. That is, it’s very British in its emphasis on ordinary people and families dealing with extraordinary and ugly change, but its stories are found in multiple characters in Poland, England, France and Germany. At its centre, really, is a wealthy British woman, Robina (Lesley Manville, who is marvellous), whose son Harry (Jonah Hauer-King) is dating Lois (Julia Brown), a working-class young woman. Robina isn’t pleased. Lois’s father (Sean Bean) is a bus conductor who served in the First World War and hasn’t fully recovered. The father is a British hero but not the sort of person Robina wants anything to do with. In any case, Harry departs for Poland where he becomes romantically involved with someone else. That is how the story spreads outward. On the evidence of early episodes, it’s a solid, nicely made period piece. But creator Peter Bowker is looking at these wartime families through a new lens – he’s adding issues of class, gender and sexuality that are contemporary in tone, and attaching them, sometimes awkwardly, to the material.
Finally, this column continues with a “Stay-at-home-period daily-streaming pick” for the next while. Today’s pick is After Life (Netflix). The latest series created by Ricky Gervais, After Life is by turns outrageous, uplifting, unflinching, sad, hilarious and angry. Mostly, it’s an exercise in melancholy. Gervais plays Tony, a middle-aged man who is surly, rude and suicidal. Why is he in this state? His wife died, that’s why. New episodes of the series are coming soon, so watch the first batch now.
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