The Hardy brothers are nearly 100 years old, but are still hanging around high school and sneaking around behind the backs of adults. Hulu is giving The Hardy Boys an ambitious origin story. The book series began in 1927, so the setting is updated, if you consider the mid-80s up to date.
Frank and Joe Hardy were never the squeaky clean analog to their fellow juvenile crime solver, Encyclopedia Brown. And the show keeps it that way. While marketed towards kids, this series is more YA, considering it opens with a brutal massacre on a ship at sea. Dark shots, gold hues and other production elements give this show a stylistically dark tone and edge. And while the titular boys eventually solve the mystery, not all the clues come together.
Boys Will Be Boys
After their mom’s mysterious death, Dad uproots the boys from their city life and relocates them to his ancestral home of Bridgeport. He promptly dumps them with his sister and takes off for months to investigate his wife’s murder. Just that sequence of traumatic events alone will help their future therapist buy a house on Star Island in Miami Beach.
They assimilate as best they can, making a Gooniesesque band of friends. In their quest to break the small town boredom, the gang will do anything. That includes luring a giant killer to a trap, getting abducted, and being swallowed up by the Earth into an abandoned mine imbued with mystic powers.
You know, your typical 1980s tomfoolery.
But the spine of this show is family connections, legacy, and secrets. The show is at its best when Frank (Rohan Campbell) and Joe (Alexander Elliot) are together. They have real chemistry, are believable, and play off one another well. Their nefarious grandmother lurks everywhere, trying to ingratiate herself into their lives as well as extract information from them. She eventually gets arrested but if she makes bail, Christmas is gonna be AWKward next week.
Meanwhile Dad and Aunt Trudy are just obligatory parental figures to be avoided. Trudy even says as much!
There are also other families tied to a mining accident decades ago, and they all want a piece of the long lost bounty.
There are continuity errors aplenty in this period piece. In the pilot we are outside the Hardy home and in the background is satellite TV dish circa 2007. It’s very jarring since it’s so early in the series that they haven’t established an exact date, even thought the Atari 2600 and their clothes are supposed to do it for us.
Later they are watching home movies on VHS tapes on a VCR from when Joe was a baby. Joe was born in 1972, and that media wasn’t widely used until the mid-80s. Sure, they could have had film converted to tape, but the fact that the tapes were in an out of the way box with aged labels, I’m not giving that benefit of the doubt.
And Aunt Trudy had a flat screen in her living room. The kind from around 2005, flat screen but still bulky and heavy in the back.
And speaking of time, this show takes too much of it. It’s 13 episodes of about 42 minutes each (which makes me think it was developed to be an hour long drama on broadcast). This could have easily been 10 hours. Easily.
There are too many meaningless tangents and lots of running around that ends with nothing being accomplished. I’d like to see a season two, but trimmed down to 10 episodes. And they better do it fast, Rohan is already 23 and on the verge of looking like the guy who sits on the hood of his car in the school’s parking lot while telling people ‘I used to go there.’
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
I’m turning to another mystery solver of the 1920s: Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. Same era as the boys but old enough to drink, prohibition be damned.
Miss Fisher’s a whisky cocktail with some dried flowers and speakeasy vibe.