March 1, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Secrets & Lies”


SECRETS & LIES:  Sunday 9PM on ABC – If Nothing Else Is On…

How much do you find yourself missing Gracepoint?  Not Broadchurch, mind you, the brooding and powerful BBC child-murder mystery (which is returning to BBCAmerica next week), but the flat US remake that came and went on FOX last fall?  ABC hopes there are a lot of you, because its new SECRETS & LIES is another US adaptation of another overseas child-murder thriller, and although in this case the original (Australian) version isn’t readily available here, the American drama once again seems to be missing whatever spark made the first iteration a hit.

The major distinction between Secrets and Broadchurch/Gracepoint is that instead of concentrating on the cops investigating the murder (here personified by Juliette Lewis’s implacable Detective Cornell) and the surrounding town, the focus is squarely on the leading suspect.  Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) is a suburban family man with a comfortable life who goes out jogging one morning and discovers the body of Tom, the 6-year old son of neighbor Jess (Natalie Martinez).  For reasons that don’t make tremendous sense, he’s instantly the leading suspect, his cause not helped by the fact that his attempts to revive the boy left physical evidence of contact on the body.  Before the show’s first hour is over, his neighbors have turned on him, his housepainting business is a wreck, his house is surrounded non-stop by reporters, and his already-troubled marriage to Christy (KaDee Strickland) is even more strained.  Although the title promises plural secrets and lies, there’s really only one in the two-hour premiere:  the revelation midway through that unbeknownst to either Ben or Jess, Tom was the offspring of a one-night stand they’d had.

Both of the opening hours are written by US series creator Barbie Kligman (a senior writer/producer on Private Practice and The Vampire Diaries), with direction by Charles McDougall (Hour 1) and Timothy Busfield (Hour 2)–Busfield also plays a small role as a lawyer Ben consults–and it’s a businesslike piece of work, but so far uninspired.  Phillippe can only do so much with Ben, since there are no colors to the character other than increasing anguish and frustration, and Strickland, perhaps the brightest performer in Private Practice‘s starry ensemble cast, is painfully wasted as The Wife.  Dan Fogler appears as Ben’s only friend, a slacker who has yet to serve any useful purpose, and although it’s initially fun to watch Lewis, usually cast in flaky roles, as a no-nonsense cop, that novelty only goes so far, especially since every one of her scenes in the premiere is exactly like every other.

Monotonousness, in fact, is Secrets & Lies‘ biggest problem.  Since the drama revolves tightly around Ben and his family, there’s very little variety in the action, which repeats the same story beats over and over of Ben protesting his innocence, Cornell showing up like the Angel of Death to barrage him with more suspicion, Ben’s family getting increasingly distant, and Ben protesting his innocence again.  Like Gracepoint, Secrets & Lies is planned as a 10-hour limited series, and with that relatively short span to tell its story, one would think that every hour would be precious.  Secrets & Lies, though, doesn’t seem to be in any hurry, although it may find that viewers aren’t nearly as patient.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."