The majority of the promos for ABC’s murder drama Secrets & Lies focus a lot on Ryan Phillippe screaming and running through the rain. For someone like me, this is enough to sell someone to tune into a new series centering on the mysterious death of a young boy. Partner the running with criminally underused Juliette Lewis as a scowling detective, and I’m in. Is the rain-soaked Secrets compelling television or is it just waterlogged?
Phillppe stars as Ben Crawford, a babyfaced family man who discovers the body of Tom, 5 year-old neighbor in the woods one morning (hence the running). At first, Ben is cooperative. He chats with his fellow neighbors and tries to get in contact with Jess, Tom’s mother. The police arrive, and Ben even surrenders the clothes he was wearing when he found the body (where’s that scene, ABC?!). With the arrival of the police comes Detective Andrea Cornell (Lewis), and she doesn’t seem to give Ben a chance. Something is rotten in the state of idyllic suburbia, and Det. Cornell is going to sniff it out.
The trouble with Ben is quite similar to Ben Affleck’s problem from the ridiculously popular Gone Girl. He always looks like he has something to hide. His reactions don’t seem right—they don’t fit. While Affleck’s Nick Dunne (as well as Gillian Flynn’s version in her amazing book) became overeager to appear genuine, Phillippe’s Ben always appears angry. No wonder Juliette Lewis keeps knocking on your door, buddy.
On the night of Tom’s murder, Ben got drunk, and he has trouble remembering how he got home. He had a fight with his wife (played by KaDee Strickland) about who knows what, and Ben admits that he wasn’t supposed to go jogging that morning? What kind of man (especially one who could probably toss them back similar to his frat boy glory days) runs early the next morning instead of just collapsing into bed to nurse a hangover? Soon Ben is unofficially the prime suspect and his painting and restoration business is in trouble.
Based on the Australian mini-series of the same name, ABC debuted two hour-long episodes on Sunday night. The first episode centered on Ben becoming more of a prime suspect, and it drops the insane bomb that Ben was Tom’s biological father. The second hour revealed that Jess’ military husband, Scott, isn’t the biggest fan of Ben. The Crawford family becomes more entangled in the media web in the second hour, and I wish ABC would have just let the bomb drop from the final moments of the premiere.
To be perfectly honest, I was dreading watching this show. When I first heard about it, I was intrigued, but it dissipated quickly. Secrets & Lies surprised me by how moody it was—especially the first hour. The show gives off a dulled menacing tone and the chill in the air is almost surprisingly potent. There always seems to be someone peeking in through the blinds, whether it be a member of the media or a scorned husband looking to settle a score. There’s a great moment when Ben discovers the phrase CHILD KILLER spray painted across his white garage door. As he scrubs it off, it runs down like blood.
Will this be a show to continue watching, and will ABC let it go after its 10-episdoe order? If it’s a hit, probably not. In the meantime, just enjoy Ryan Phillippe taking his shirt off and Juliette Lewis being very, very skeptical.