The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.6 – Mystery of the African Safari

For those of you curious whether the show would once again impress by seamlessly mixing actual location work with a backlot set after doing it so well in the Egypt episode, the answer is no. It looks like they shot some material at one of those “Lion Country Safari”-type places, but the production didn’t actually go to Kenya. There was a Lion Country Safari south of Atlanta when I was our son’s age. It was rebranded “Kingdoms 3” a year or two before it closed, but nobody seems to remember that. I can’t find precisely where this story was filmed. Possibly the San Diego Wild Animal Park…?

Well, even though they kept production in California, it still looks great, and this one pleasantly surprised me by being the most intelligent installment of the series so far. It prompted me to stop the episode after about twenty minutes for a lengthy discussion with our son about history, and why some of those “ex-colonial governors” that we often see in television from the period might still be hanging around in Africa. I suggested that this one might be a likely source for importing machine parts or air conditioning units or whatever, and I wasn’t too far off course. This one knows how to get tractors and bulldozers moved in to the country, and how to get poached ivory out.

He’s also the only really likely suspect, despite the distraction of a simmering resentment between a character played by Harold Sylvester, above, and one played by Stuart Whitman. They represent the struggle between “the new Africa” and “the old,” which is what prompted me to stop the show to discuss all the representations of Africa that we’ve watched for the blog, from Young Indiana Jones to Black Panther, and why Sylvester’s character might have some reasonable justification for being sick and tired of having Great White Hunters throwing their influence and weight around. Whitman’s character’s daughter, played by Anne Lockhart – a regular casting choice for producer Glen A. Larson – gets caught in the middle, and when the Hardy Boys, who are doing some supposedly discreet investigations while their dad is working another angle on the poacher’s trail, the usual sparks fly.

I enjoyed this one a lot. It shows the heroes as competent and rational detectives, and the politics and resentment of the situation are handled with more tact and sensitivity than I expected for a kids show in the seventies. Engaging our son with a talk about the bigger picture helped, because he really enjoyed it as well, and not just because there were rhinos and lions in it.

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