Based on the original Australian crime drama of the same name, Secrets and Lies arrived to ABC as a ten episode miniseries. It’s similar to most other crime dramas that explore how a murder affects the people of a small, close-knit, apparently safe community. I would even say that it’s somewhat similar to the UK’s Broadchurch, a miniseries that also focuses on how the murder of a child wreaks havoc on a small, quiet community.
Unlike Broadchurch, the US adaptation of Secrets and Lies centers not on the detectives solving the case, but on the suspect instead. We meet the main character, Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillipe), at a point where his life seems to be falling apart. He’s a loving father of two in the midst of a divorce with his wife of 17 years. The last thing he needs is to get mixed up in the murder case of Tom, a little boy his daughters used to babysit. Ever since he stumbled across Tom’s dead body on an early morning run, he’s been suspected by Detective Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis), a cold and calculating expert in homicidal cases. We watch as Ben’s painting business goes down the drain, we see him get bombarded by the press, and struggle to keep his daughters safe from the public eye.
Everything in this episode is ominous from the start. The first scene shows a tranquil lake being pummeled by a rainstorm, no doubt a visual parallel to the mayhem that happens to Ben’s seemingly conventional life. Ben loses the trust of his neighbors, his clients, and even his wife. We discover that Ben’s affair with the young victim’s mother, Jess, was the reason his marriage has fallen apart, and it has given Cornell all the more reason to suspect him. As the episode ends with a bombshell, viewers are left wondering how it will affect the case.
Although the acting sometimes bordered on soap opera status, the plot nonetheless kept me on the edge of my seat. Even though Phillipe’s portrayal of Ben sometimes made me wonder whether he was depressed, dull, or hiding something, it may actually be a good thing that Ben is not such an easy-to-read character. Although he’s meant to be the protagonist and he even shows his caring side through his relationship with his daughters, there were hints dropped that he was distrusted by his neighbors even before Tom’s murder — and it was likely because of his affair. It’s time for the protagonist to turn his act around.
Detective Cornell is clearly made to be his enemy — not in the sense that she’s evil, more in the sense that she frightens Ben, bringing out his concealed emotions. She could have easily been a Sherlock Holmes type character, but instead her extreme austerity and intelligence make her seem robotic. Even though Holmes can be likable due to his eccentricities, I’m not sure why American television tends to make smart female detectives more cold than original in personality. That aside, the bottom line is we’re not supposed to like Cornell, we’re not supposed to root for her and cheer when she finds new evidence. We’re supposed to be on Ben’s side, and Lewis does an effective job at playing the offensive in this episode. Executive producer Barbie Kligman has admitted that we’re going to see Cornell’s “human” side eventually, but now is definitely not that time. I guess it’s a good thing she’s playing the “bad cop” at the moment, as we’ll need someone to further upset the neighborhood and get the ball rolling in this crime drama series.
Overall, Secrets and Lies has potential, but I expect to see much more character development as the series continues. Let’s hope ABC sees it through to the end. After all, we’ve only got ten episodes to solve the mystery.