Secrets & Lies Review – TV ABC

ABC‘s Secrets & Lies gives away the main thrust of the story with the gimmick itself, leaving the ten-episode dramatic effort to keep viewers interested with… well, all the secrets and lies. The trick here being that some of them aren’t actually either.

Similar to such popular, recent efforts as Broadchurch (Gracepoint), this is another reworking of a foreign show. This one, like The Slap, an effort from Australia.

The show opens with Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) sprinting out of the woods to get help after he finds the body of a small boy, Tom Murphy. Tom was not just his neighbor’s son, but a boy Ben knew well, as his daughter regularly babysat him.

As might be expected (from TV DramaLand), Detective Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis) asks Ben a lot of questions that don’t exactly sound routine, and more or less acts as though she has reason to believe Ben is guilty, of something, from the first moment she sees him.

The media takes over at this point, because as everyone knows, if there is the slightest hint that someone might be guilty of anything, the media will destroy that person. A frenzy ensues, and Ben’s family starts to feel the weight of the pressure that is having everyone look at you, and assume the worst.

Secrets and Lies Ryan Phillippe Juliette Lewis
courtesy ABC/Fred Norris

Not adding to Ben’s ability to deal with the situation is the fact that he and his wife, Christy (KaDee Strickland), isn’t especially happy with him at the moment, and if not for all the attention, the couple would probably be talking about separation.

The show plays out, generally using a solid, if overly dramatic, format that pulls us along from one thread to the next, as we try to find out what happened to Tom. Much like most of the other “supermovie” efforts of late, the premise being that an event that shakes up the world brings all the hidden aspects of your life to light, and everyone else’s life as well.

As the show progresses, and it’s a good turn that it gives you two-episodes at the start, Secrets and Lies manages a fair enough balance of exposition and prodding, but Phillippe does a better job of leading than anyone around him can keep up with. It isn’t until well into the thing that the investigation turns into something interesting instead of irritating, and there’s a lot to put up with to get there.

Juliette Lewis is miscast, and that’s only for those who find her to ever be properly cast. She can’t hold this role, unless the script notes actually say, “Bitch who just wants to screw over whoever is handy,” as opposed to something like, “somewhat jaded investigator who doesn’t mince words when she’s after the truth.” It detracts from the overall tension the show is hoping to build when the lead investigator turns every innocuous statement the suspect makes into a laughably sinister admission.

It’s a shame, because the show needs an entry beyond Phillippe, and there’s something about the media onslaught and cyber-bullying that might make for an easy escape before audiences get a chance to become fully ensnared in the web being laid out. In the early stages, there’s more drama for the sake of drama, and less character, a fault of the Americanized Broadchurch, which might mean no one shows up for week two.

The result is that, while the bonus of a planned length keeps away the fear of a show being cancelled, the overplay that almost becomes a political statement may mean it doesn’t matter. There’s a lack of intrigue, despite the “secrets,” that make it hard to get hooked, and an audience needs more to root for than the comeuppance of a detective who is aiming for villain status.

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Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) is about to go from Good Samaritan to murder suspect after he discovers the body of his neighbor’s young son, Tom Murphy, in the woods. Even as Detective Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis) digs for the truth in her investigation and pegs Ben as a “person of interest,” the case unfolds from Ben’s perspective — whether he is guilty or not. In trying to clear his name, it is Ben who peels back the layers of these suburbanites’ lives in their quiet cul de sac, revealing their dirty little deceptions and all-too-crowded closets overflowing with skeletons. No one is above suspicion. Ben’s family’s life, already privately in disarray, is turned upside down as he sets out on a complicated journey to prove his innocence, on ABC’s gripping, explosive new drama, “Secrets and Lies,” which premieres on SUNDAY, MARCH 1, with a two-hour special (9:00-11:00 p.m., ET). The ten-episode drama will then air in its regular time period beginning SUNDAY, MARCH 8 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

Ben, a handsome and decent family man who works as a house painter, has his normal share of parenting problems with his teenage daughter, Natalie, and smart-as-a-whip 12-year-old daughter, Abby, as well as the usual marital struggles, which have lately come to a head. His wife Christy (KaDee Strickland), who he has dated since they were both 19, is a local realtor. She finds her feelings for Ben complicated by his deadly discovery and the relentless police and media attention on their family. Natalie is a typical 16-year-old with an attitude, who is upset by Tom’s death, a little boy she used to babysit. But is she hiding her own indiscretion? And Abby, upset by the state of her family, is deeply concerned but hides her feelings. She is fiercely loyal to her dad.

The unflappable and formidable Detective Cornell is the smartest person in the room – always. But that isn’t to say that she isn’t hiding something behind that slight hint of sadness in her eyes and a deceptive look of disconcerting calm. Once she has a suspect in her crosshairs, she doesn’t let go. Unfortunately for Ben, she has targeted him as Tom’s murderer.

Jess Murphy, the mother of four-year-old Tom who has suffered her own indignations in a broken marriage, is crushed by her son’s death. The one person Ben can unload on is Dave Lindsey (Dan Fogler), his childhood friend. A tenant in the Crawford’s guest house, he lives a cheerfully irresponsible life, but is basically a good guy who is very supportive of Ben and the girls.

Is Ben innocent or guilty? He is fighting to keep his marriage, kids, job and reputation, and he is barely clinging to his sanity. As the investigation progresses, the close knit community starts to come apart at the seams, unraveling until the jaw-dropping conclusion.

“Secrets and Lies” stars Ryan Phillippe (“Damages,” “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Flags of Our Fathers”) as Ben Crawford, Juliette Lewis (“August Osage County”) as Detective Cornell, KaDee Strickland (“Private Practice”) as Christy Crawford, Natalie Martinez (“Under the Dome,” “CSI: NY”) as Jess Murphy, Dan Fogler (“The Goldbergs,” “Hannibal”) as Dave Lindsey, Indiana Evans (“Blue Lagoon: The Awakening”) as Natalie Crawford and Belle Shouse as Abby Crawford.

Barbie Kligman (“Private Practice”) developed the mystery thriller, which is based on the original Australian series “Secrets & Lies,” created by Stephen Irwin.

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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