Mystery novels can be enjoyed by all ages. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have demonstrated that for over a ninety years. Frank and Joe Hardy made their debut in the 1927 novel, The Tower Treasure. Created by the Edward Stratemeyer for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a company that put together books for publishers, The Hardy Boys series was written by ghostwriters all working under the name Franklin W. Dixon and was first published by Grosset & Dunlap from 1927 to 1979. Simon & Shuster picked up the series in 1979, publishing the new novels in the series until 1985. Mega-Books, another book-packager used by Simon & Shuster, took over in 1987 until 2001. In 2002, Simon & Shuster subdivision Aladdin took over until 2005. In 2005, the publisher switched to The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers, switching to more realistic crimes, running until 2012. Simon & Shuster then rebooted the series with The Hardy Boys Adventures in 2013, with the series still ongoing. Several spin-off series came about as well, aiming for a younger audience.
The titular Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe, solved mysteries mostly in their hometown of Bayport. Their father, Fenton, was a former New York PD detective before retiring to become a private investigator. The boys’ mother, Laura, and aunt, Gertrude, round out the Hardy household and the ones who care about the trouble the boys get into. The Hardys aren’t alone in their investigations. They are often joined by their best friend Chet, his sister and Joe’s girlfriend Iola, Frank’s girlfriend Callie, and friends Phil, Biff, Tony, and Jerry. Chet and Iola live on a farm, where Chet keeps his yellow jalopy. Frank and Joe, though, were smart, clever, and capable of solving any mystery they ran into.
The Hardy Boys was the most popular creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, outliving the company. The longevity means that multiple generations have read the books since 1927. Some of those readers found their way into the entertainment industry and remembered how popular the books were in their youth. Popularity leads to adaptation, and The Hardy Boys have been adapted over the past century, the latest in 2020.
The new series, The Hardy Boys, first aired in December 2020 on Hulu in the US and YTV in Canada. The show stars Rohan Campbell as Frank, Alexander Elliot as Joe, Adam Swain as Chet, Keana Lyn Bastidas as Callie, Bea Santos as Aunt Trudy, Riley O’Donnell as Biff, James Tupper as Fenton, and Atticus Mitchell as new character JB Cox. The first season is its own self-contained original mystery.
The series starts with the Hardys living in Dixon City, with Fenton still a detective on the Dixon City Police Department. Laura is a freelance journalist, giving her time to raise the two boys, sixteen year old Frank and twelve year old Joe. However, tragedy strikes while Laura is driving out to see Frank pitch in a crucial baseball game for his team. After Laura’s funeral, Fenton takes his sons to Bridgeport to visit his sister Trudy and Laura’s mother Gloria (Linda Thorson). While Fenton has retired, he still keeps in touch with his old partner, and information comes up on a case. He leaves the boys in his sister’s care.
Frank and Joe go through a period of adjustment, not only learning how to deal with the death of their mother but also figuring out how things work in a small town. They meet a few new friends at Wilt’s (Philip Williams) store/malt shop. While exploring Bridgeport, they run across a few clues that indicate that their mother’s death might not have been an accident. Meanwhile, a generations old conspiracy is threatened when a key piece of an artifact is stolen. Worse, the artifact is stolen multiple times as different parties try to recover it, with Joe landing in the middle of it with one of the thieves.
It’s not all mysteries and grief, though. Frank meets Callie Shaw. While there is chemistry, Frank hesitates until his girlfriend back in Dixon City breaks up with him. Joe runs across Biff Hooper, daughter of Deputy Jesse Hooper (Jennifer Hsuing). Biff is as eager to find trouble as Joe is, setting up their friendship. With the help of their new friends, Frank and Joe uncover and decipher clues, leading to the revealing of the conspiracy and of who killed Laura.
The first season acts an origins story for the Hardys and their friends, showing how they came together and how the boys got into solving their own mysteries. The burgeoning romance between Frank and Callie is allowed to grow over the course of thirteen episodes. The Bridgeport teens take time to warm up to the big city boys, but invite them into their circle. Relationships are established, ones that were a given even in The Tower Treasure.
Some changes were made from the source material. The obvious change is the diversity of the cast. This is not a bad thing; times have changed greatly since 1927 and even since 1959 when Grosset & Dunlap made revisions to the existing titles to reflect a change in attitudes. Chet, however, still has his yellow jalopy, an older pickup truck that suits someone who lives on the family farm. Frank and Joe’s ages changed from seventeen and sixteen to sixteen and twelve. This change let Joe naturally separate from his brother to have his own adventures. The series’ Biff combines Biff and Iola from the books, a case of the difference when it comes to salaries for cast versus introducing a character whenever in a novel.
Other changes are names. Not of characters, but of places. Bayport becomes Bridgeport. Fenton is transferred from New York City to Dixon City. That isn’t the only nod to the books. Callie has a cousin in Franklin, and there’s a location near Bridgeport called Devil’s Paw, after the book The Mystery at Devil’s Paw. During a locked room escape, it would be obvious to longtime fans that there is nothing behind the clock; The Secret of the Old Clock is a Nancy Drew mystery.
Helping the series is the chemistry the actors have with each other. Frank and Joe, Frank and Callie, Joe and Biff, Trudy with the boys, and even Joe and JB Cox, they all work well with each other. The writing helps; no one is passed the idiot ball. The boys get along like siblings, not always in agreement but there for each other when things get tough. The characters make the series; the actors bring the roles to life.
Spreading the mystery over the season let the characters develop naturally, without forcing an artificial speed on proceedings. Twists occur, but are set up several episodes in advance. The reveal at the end isn’t a surprise but the culmination of the investigation that occurred over the season.
The 2020 series makes an effort to update The Hardy Boys while still keeping to the core. The result is a dark, twisted mystery that pays off at the end while bringing the characters to the 21st century. Sure, there are changes, but for characters who have been around for almost one hundred years, change is good.