Two episodes of the first season of “Secrets and Lies” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a child is found murdered in a remote area near a typically idyllic neighborhood, someone is wrongly accused of being the murderer, and an incessantly overbearing detective will stop at nothing to solve the case. Oh, and it’s all based on a TV show of the same name from somewhere overseas. You stopped me at “a child is found murdered”? Sorry, didn’t hear you. The unfortunately trendy topic happening on TV right now – from The Killing to Broadchurch to (sigh) Gracepoint – continues in ABC’s Secrets and Lies, a tragically titled television show that somehow manages to be slightly more than the sum of its lazily slapped-together parts.
Unfortunately, the first big mistake the show makes happens before the title card. We see Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) racing through the woods and eventually onto a suburban street yelling for help. Given the nature of the series, there’s no time for build-up here, no heart-in-throat anxiety that the first episode of Broadchurch so masterfully executed. We don’t see his mother react to the news, and the relationships little Tom had with everyone else on the show take so long to come to light that their initial somber expressions seem like generic “the-neighbor-kid-just-died” responses without any meaningful emotions to back them up.
Also happening too fast is the switch that’s flipped after the first time Ben’s taken in to be questioned by the police. Not arrested, mind you, just taken in for questioning. His neighbors lose their minds. Previously friendly and copacetic friends throw shade left and right, and the herd of reports appearing on his doorstep ask increasingly nonsensical questions. I guess it could be a realistic representation of how these things go in real life, but the show treats them less as actual plot points and more as filler, content in letting us see the community turn against Ben – someone they all appear to have known for years – for no more of a reason than “everyone else is doing it.”
That being said, as more information on the case comes to light, Secrets and Lies becomes weirdly watchable. There’s your utterly expected murder case cliches at work here, from the media circus surrounding Ben’s home to the stupidly obvious red herrings (will anyone watching this show actually believe Ben killed Tom?), but it builds nicely and is suitably rain-soaked and gloomy in a restrained, The Killing sort of way.
The eternally likeable Juliette Lewis pops up as the requisite mean-face detective who will stop at nothing to solve the young boy’s murder, and she’s oddly unconvincing in the role. All stern looks and serious-lady overcoats make it seem like Lewis is dressing up as a detective for Halloween than actually playing one.