How Hulu's 'The Hardy Boys' tries and fails to measure up to key elements of Netflix's 'Stranger Things'
'The Hardy Boys' tried to ape a much larger franchise and comes off the poorer for it in significant ways
Spoilers for 'The Hardy Boys'
Fans of 'The Hardy Boys' adventure novels are sure to notice one major change from the books to the television show: Joe Hardy (Alexander Elliott) is a LOT younger than his brother Frank (Rohan Campbell). In the books, the brothers were about a year apart, giving Frank a bigger sense of responsibility but still leaving the brothers on equal footing. While the Frank in the television series is 16, Joe himself appears to be anywhere between 8-10. Between that change, the '80s nostalgia filtered into the soundtrack and the older technology of the show and most significantly with the show's unnecessary supernatural elements, it's clear that 'The Hardy Boys' is trying - and failing - to capture a 'Stranger Things' audience.
While it's natural for the series to want to go back to a time period that's better reflected in the books, the only real reason to make such a drastic change to Joe's character is to be able to have more children on the show. Enthusiastic kids in a small town, on bikes, is part of the main success of 'Stranger Things' and while 'The Hardy Boys' isn't overt about its nostalgia factor, it does lean into it. 80s music montages, old-timey, small-town charm and walkie-talkies, it's all there. Of course, 'Stranger Things' doesn't own '80s nostalgia, but the attempt to chase the Netflix show's success is responsible for the show's biggest mistake: the introduction of the supernatural.
It's one thing to have a superstitious curse hang over a small-town mystery - that's a trope that's practically tradition. 'The Hardy Boys', however, introduces The Eye into its mythos - an object of actual and powerful magic, one that people seem to accept without so much as blinking. This artifact allows people to see into the future, is apparently responsible for the blooming success of Brightetown, and may even curse the people who misuse its power. While that's interesting in itself, it completely derails the show, which, up to that point, had been doing very well without needing a supernatural element.
Once the Eye is introduced, the show still tries to have its cake and eat it too. An artifact that introduces simple luck and knowledge is about the lowest-budget item the show could have produced, not really doing much with special effects until the season finale. 'Stranger Things', in comparison, went all-in on the supernatural. Monsters, psychic powers, alternate dimensions - 'Stranger Things' held nothing back while 'The Hardy Boys' barely dips its toes into the waters that 'Stranger Things' explored quite thoroughly.
'The Hardy Boys' would have been a great show on its own right, but it invites comparison to a show with a much larger budget and a bigger dedication to its themes, in a way that 'The Hardy Boys' comes off all the poorer for. Hopefully, the supernatural is a one-time thing and if the show is renewed for a second season, it would be much better served to stay in its own lane.
All episodes of 'The Hardy Boys' are now streaming on Netflix.