When Stranger Things first debuted on Netflix in 2016 and introduced the world to Eleven, Hawkins, and The Upside Down to people, it created a tidal wave of nostalgia from the classic DnD to the clothing and just how drenched in the ’80s it was. The show was and is a massive hit, with millions of fans across the world tuning in to see the latest horrifying adventures of the gang. Like anything, when something is a hit, it is replicated, and studios began pumping out the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia films and TV shows. They ranged from the decent (Wayward Pines) to the downright abysmal (Rim of the World). Then in 2020, Hulu came along with its own Stranger Things homage, The Hardy Boys.
In short, the first season follows the Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe, and their father Fenton when they move to Bridgeport after their mother’s untimely death. There they meet up with a gang of local teens and begin to suspect something is going on in the sleepy town, which may involve their mother’s death and an ancient force.
Now the famous Detective duo may not be the first ones you think of when you think of a supernatural Stranger Things knock-off, and I went in prepared to roll my eyes. Then a funny thing happened—I got into it, and found it was actually excellent!
So I want to go over three ways Hulu’s The Hardy Boys rips off Stranger Things but does so really well! Would you please keep in mind this list is not meant to in any way disparage Stranger Things.
The ’80s in The Hardy Boys feels very natural and realistic; it’s not overly nostalgic or stylized. When I watched the show, I often felt like I was gazing into a real-life window of time.
The clothing, for example, is very much a product of its time, but it does not overly stand out; it’s not all neon colors or giant hair. These things exist in their proper place, but the show does not overdo it. For example, the story is set in the small town of Bridgeport, so the clothing is more suited to a small town life. When a character comes in who is dressed in more flamboyant ’80s style, she is referred to as “the girl dressed like a pop star” and comes from a big city.
The issue with many ’80s set films or television is that they make the era a character in the narrative, with a large amount of focus being given to it. I loved how in The Hardy Boys, I barely noticed the ’80s setting because of how normalized it was; gone was the loud ’80s hits soundtrack or the glaring neon colors and clothing. It was simply a look into what the ’80s truly was in small-town America.
One of the things that many will point to as a clear ripoff of Stranger Things is that The Hardy Boys revolves around a mystery of a supernatural origin. Now I was very uneasy when I heard the show would be supernatural, as the books never had this, and it felt like it was trying too hard to be Stranger Things. However, I found the show handled the supernatural really well, deciding to leave the paranormal elements more to the side, and focus on the family dynamics. The paranormal only exists in the show through an ancient artifact, whose powers may be supernatural or technological; it’s never fully revealed.
Indeed The Hardy Boys decides to go more for a “Lovecraftian” feel than straight-up horror, keeping its supernatural story tied to secret societies with the artifact’s power really only being talked about and rarely seen till the season finale. Even in the climatic use of the artifact’s power, the focus is again turned inward to the characters, as the power is shown through Frank’s eyes and we see and feel how it effects him.
Using the paranormal to push the human stories forward allowed the show not to lose itself, and tying the artifact to The Hardy Boys family made us focus less on its power and more on its tragedy.
This was an important one, as with any coming-of-age tale, we see a group of friends who go on adventures together. We saw this in the Goonies, Stranger Things, and many other period piece films and television programs. In The Hardy Boys, the narrative does introduce us to a “Gang” who all befriend the Hardys throughout the series, however the show very much wants us to know that Frank and Joe are the main focus.
I was worried that the show would push these other characters too much to the forefront, however I was pleased to see the “Gang” very much supports for Frank and Joe’s development. Callie Shaw is not only a love interest to Frank but his equal in helping him unravel the mystery, and we are introduced to Biff Hooper who helps Joe but also is a look into the local police as her mother is an Officer.
Each member of the gang has a role to fill, and plays a part in helping Frank and Joe get to the finish line in solving the mystery. None of them feel superfluous or like filler and never do they take away from the development of our leads.
In the end The Hardy Boys does not try and reinvent the wheel when it comes to coming of age period piece supernatural thrillers, instead it takes what came before and then improves upon and adds its own coat of paint. It does not try to be Stranger Things, or any of the others that have come before, it just seeks to tell a good story that delves deep into what makes a family tick, while also touching upon corruption and ethics. In the end The Hardy Boys is not about the supernatural, it’s about what people do with power when its given to them, and how its what’s inside that counts.