The Hardy Boys (2020) – Full Season 1 Review
In an age of spin-offs, reboots, sequels and prequels, it was only a matter of time before the popular book series The Hardy Boys received a shiny new series to boot. With 190 different volumes to choose from and a number of previous television adaptations too, this 2020 edition mixes things up to deliver something slightly different to what’s come before.
Split across 13 episodes, this familial drama blends elements of Stranger Things, Riverdale, Outer Banks and the Hardy Boys book series to deliver a fun-filled treasure hunt across its run-time. While the story does have some narrative inconsistencies and a bit of filler midway through, there’s enough in this to enjoy the ride.
The basic premise here revolves around brothers Joe and Frank Hardy as they act as amateur sleuths and become mixed up in large and dangerous mysteries. It’s a very simple hook and one that’s evolved and expanded upon for this 2020 edition. Instead of the two boys being similar ages, Joe is now 12 and Frank is 16.
This offers up a slightly different dynamic, allowing for the two kids to head off on their own individual missions before converging together at the end of the episode to reveal what they’ve been up to. They don’t always agree and very often approach things as a typical kid would, without the foresight or logic that goes with a more thoughtful plan an adult may potentially concoct. Therein lies some of the fun with this one and the character writing – at least for these two – is actually pretty good across the season.
The story itself begins in a suitably intriguing way. A fishing boat in the ocean uncovers a strange box that holds a golden idol inside. When armed guards arrive, they gun down all on-board and take off with the artifact in hand. Only, one person managed to survive this skirmish. And that person heads to the nearby town of Bridgeport for answers.
This intriguing mystery paves way for an introduction to Frank and Joe, who suffer a tragedy of their own and are forced to move to Bridgeport for the time being.
With their brilliant detective Father, Fenton, off on a mission to uncover the truth, the kids decide to follow suit and start their own investigation into what’s happening. With their Grandmother Gloria seemingly holding secrets from the two boys, a fugitive rocking up on the shore, along with a dangerous crook known as the Tall Man throw more urgency into the fold as everyone goes searching for this golden idol.
As the series progresses, the second half starts to unravel what’s going on after a couple of filler episodes around the midway point do little to progress the narrative. However, things do pick up toward the end and there’s a relatively satisfying conclusion at the end, even if the door is left wide open for a second season.
Instead of Frank and Joe going it alone, a lot of the other kids around town are thrown in for the ride too. These characters predictably fall into the usual clichés, which only reinforces the slightly archaic feel to this show. Phil is the nerdy one of the group while Chet seems to be the cool kid. He’s in a relationship with Callie who takes a fancy to Frank while Biff is around Joe’s age and generally tends to head off alone with him on their adventures.
In a style that’s been used a lot in recent years, The Hardy Boys plays on nostalgia and is set between the 80’s and 90’s. There’s a distinct lack of cellphones or lavish electronics to aid in the mission at hand, and as such old school methods are needed to solve the mystery.
A lot of the clues rely on newspaper clippings, elaborate puzzles and windy treasure hunts past various suspicious characters that may or may not be involved in what’s going on. It’s all very simple but engaging stuff, even if the mystery and the twists are a little obvious.
This isn’t too much of an issue though, given the obvious intention to gear this toward young adults and families. However, there’s actually enough to enjoy here even if you don’t fall into that demographic.
Where the series slips up though is in its material outside the central mystery. There’s a crowbarred attempt at throwing in teen romance that just comes across as awkward, while the pre-teen friendship between Biff and Joe hints that there could be more but ultimately fizzles out into nothing.
There’s also a few episodes here that could easily have been tightened up in the editing room. Dialogues are repeated constantly about details we already know while other times characters converse about situations or hobbies that have absolutely no weight on the story at all.
One such example comes from a conversation between Aunt Trudy and Gloria who discuss the former’s paintings and how adept she is at painting. This is never brought up again and for the rest of the show Trudy’s paintings are barely on show.
The other problem with The Hardy Boys comes from its narrative inconsistency. I won’t go into spoiler territory here but there’s a few subplots brought up early on that are all but abandoned toward the end. That’s to say nothing of a few nasty plot holes that are never really resolved either. It’s a bit of a shame, especially given the injection of pacing toward the end to ramp things up a bit.
Despite all this, The Hardy Boys is actually a really fun ride and definitely worth watching if you like treasure hunt adventures. As someone who grew up reading The Famous Five books (and having a bit of knowledge with The Hardy Boys) this show channels all the hallmarks of a good adventure mystery, even if there are some flaws along the way.
There’s obvious influences to Stranger Things and other teen dramas here too, and the enthusiasm from both the cast and crew involved in this project can easily be felt right the way across the show. The Hardy Boys is far from perfect but but the mystery is just about good enough to look past some of the narrative flaws.