TV Recap: Secrets & Lies, ‘The Trail’ & ‘The Father’ (Series Premiere)

Written by Aaron Sarnecky

secrets lie poster

Secrets & Lies SERIES PREMIERE PLOT SUMMARY

Based on the Australian series of the same name. After reporting the murder of a neighborhood boy (Aiden Malik), Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) comes under scrutiny of the assertive Detective Cornell (Juliette Lewis). Despite his best efforts, Ben unwittingly gives Cornell what she needs to bring his demons to light.

“Did He or Didn’t He?” That is the question. And, of course, they don’t answer it in the premiere. Who would expect them to? What is clear is that Ben Crawford is not exactly who he says he is. Again, sort of a given, with a title like Secrets & Lies. What then stands out about this new show? To answer that question, you have to analyze first what does not stand out.

Photo Credit: ABC/Fred Norris
Photo Credit: ABC/Fred Norris

This kind of crime story has been done before, quite recently actually, in other TV shows and movies. It’s that story where several characters are revealed to be totally different people than they appear, where everyone has a secret, and where everyone has a plausible reason for committing the crime. A good way to think of it is adult Scooby Doo. This is not necessarily knocking the formula. It’s all in how much the formula is followed and how good the twists are that determine the story’s success. So how does this show do?

Well, you certainly have to get through the obvious and cliché to get to the good parts. We know very early on that Ben Crawford recently fought with his wife Christy (KaDee Strickland), which led to him going to a bar and drinking too much. And because he was so intoxicated, he has trouble remembering the details of the night before he found the boy.

It’s a little frustrating that the show goes this route, but you could argue it’s ultimately necessary. And it does help that Ryan Phillippe brings the performance necessary for this role. The promos for the series premiere showed him shouting several times, which had me worrying that Ben would just shout at the end of every other act-out. Instead, he starts out fairly calm; it’s only when the investigation starts pointing to his guilt that he gradually shows his frustration. He admittedly snaps a few times he maybe shouldn’t have, but it’s still a nice and controlled performance.

Photo Credit: ABC/Fred Norris
Photo Credit: ABC/Fred Norris

As for the other lead character, Juliette Lewis makes it clear Andrea Cornell is last detective you want investigating you. From the get-go, she is on Ben’s case and doesn’t let up, though it is a little odd that she is so abrasive so early on. Usually TV cops start out calm, before letting the suspect have it during interrogation. Cornell, on the other hand, has a scowl on her face throughout the entire premiere.

Still, the interactions between Ben and Detective Cornell are best of the moments of the show, their last conversation in “The Trail” being the best. It ends with a twist that I obviously won’t spoil. In fact, I probably should have seen it coming. It’s actually the second twist on top of that twist that will really grab you. The second best moment in the premiere follows shortly after in the early minutes of “The Father.”

Unfortunately, the excitement quickly dissipates for the rest of the episode, as we are forced to deal with more clichés. This time it’s Ben’s bratty and distant teenage daughter Natalie (Indiana Evans), who is hanging around the boy’s father, Scott (Benjamin Ciaramello), even though he is clearly dangerous. He’s on the run and the only other suspect beside her father. Come on!

Also, later on, Ben hangs up on Cornell during a phone call, which has dire consequences. I don’t care how frustrated or busy you are, you do not hang up on a detective! It also slightly goes against how cooperative Ben was beforehand. This is discounting Ben refusing to give a DNA sample. It was a horrible idea, and Ben should have known better when his lawyer told him to do it.

Photo Credit: ABC/Fred Norris
Photo Credit: ABC/Fred Norris

It’s silly moments like this that bring the premiere down. I can get Ben forgetting details of what he was doing, even when he was not drunk. For most of us, it’s hard enough remembering what we had for breakfast yesterday morning. It’s stupid decisions that I object to.

If the rest of the season is filled with too many of these dumb moments, clever twists and Phillippe and Lewis’ performances won’t be enough to save it. There are eight episodes to go this season, which seems short. But for a show like this, it can be an eternity.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

SECRETS AND LIES AIRS SUNDAYS AT 9 ON ABC

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