Review: Secrets and Lies (US) 1×1-1×3 (US: ABC)

In which Juliette Lewis repeatedly sucks a lemon

Secrets and Lies (US)

In the US: Sundays, 9pm ET/8pm CT, ABC

You know, if you’re going to remake an already not great show, you should probably try to fix some of the original’s problems. Australia’s Secrets and Lies was supposed to be Ten’s Really Big Thing for 2014. Backed up by social media et al in the exact same way that Gracepoint was, it saw painter and decorator Martin Henderson find the body of his neighbour’s dead child while out running. Unfortunately for him, the police get it into their heads that he’s the murderer and it’s left up to him to work out who the real culprit was, all the time being followed by the police and the media while simultaneously reviled as a child killer by everyone he comes across. Along the way, all kinds of secrets and lies are revealed that threaten his family, marriage, livelihood, etc.

And he takes his top off a lot.

It’s a decent idea that unfortunately didn’t pan out in practice so well, as it relied on Henderson being an absolute idiot and the police being insanely vindictive and incompetent, to the extent that they were practically twirling their moustaches and laughing menacingly the whole time. The result was that the ratings were pretty low and little was heard of the show after just a few weeks. Watercooler moment? Only if you’d forgotten there was a watercooler and then every so often were reminded you had a watercooler once and idly wondered where it had got to – for a moment.

ABC – the US one, not the Australian one – bought up the format rights to the show before it had even been made and now we’re finally seeing the remake emerge onto our screens, with Henderson replaced by posh boy Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions) and the moustache-twirling police detective replaced by Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers). The trouble is, beyond the recasting, it’s pretty much the same show, except with Phillippe taking his top off less. More or less every moment is the same, just relocated to a Washington/Canada environ with a US cast (bar one couple who are British for no readily explored reason).

And that means all the stupid things are the same, too. While there are changes in emphasis and Henderson’s neighbour is now Phillippe’s house guest, confidant and sanity-advisor, we’re still getting him picking up the murder weapon that’s been hidden in his house and then trying to hide it in an only slightly less obvious location. Lewis may not have a literal moustache to twirl but she spends all her time looking like she’s sucking on a lemon while thinking of new ways to make Phillippe’s life miserable, going out of her way to ignore all kinds of heinous acts, including domestic violence, if it would cut into her lemon-sucking time in front of Phillippe.

To be fair, Phillippe – who’s changed a lot since Cruel Intentions – does well as a now moderately hard working painter/decorator (although Henderson’s gay clients appear to have been lost somewhere over the Pacific in the relocation) and the supporting cast do feel like proper characters and potential suspects rather than a simple Rent-A-Mob. You also get a better feel for Phillippe’s motivations for some of the daft things he does, which now only seem very inexplicable rather than outright ludicrous.

But fundamentally, the backbone of the story is still the same old idiocy that made me turn off the original at pretty much the exact same point I’m almost certain to turn off this time – now. Spare your brain, don’t watch Secrets and Lies.

  • tobyob

    One line of dialogue from a character and I was convinced as to the identity of the killer. I figured it was following the original to the end (since ABC must know the American audience isn't clued in to the Australian show as they were for 'Broadchurch'), so I cheated and went to good old Wikipedia to see if I was right. Now I'm good until the finale to see if ABC followed suit.

  • I've had a look now. That was sillier than I expected as an ending. I'll tune in to the end, too, since it feels like the show is setting up various alternative possibilities.

  • Untamed

    I've read formal review after less formal review of this show and they mostly seem to miss the point. I agree that the Australian original was rather flat and seemed padded with stereotypical characters. But this version is more interesting and well fleshed out. We still have the panicked reaction of the lead character, leading to a life times worth of poor choices. But to tell you the truth, that is the most relatable part of both series. My point is that this American version has engaged its audience, which says something. Reviews that say, “Don't watch,” seem petty and more interested in convincing people to agree with them than in examining the show's appeal.

  • “But this version is more interesting and well fleshed out.”

    I did suggest that in my review. It's a bit better rounded than the Australian one. But my point is the fundamental backbone of the show seems to be the same and that wasn't that great and isn't that great in this either.

    “My point is that this American version has engaged its audience, which says something. “

    Its ratings are holding up but TV By The Numbers suggests its first episode ratings are low enough that it's a toss up whether it'll get renewed or not. So it's not engaging the audience that much.

    “Reviews that say, “Don't watch,” seem petty and more interested in convincing people to agree with them than in examining the show's appeal.”

    Reviews that say either “Don't watch” or “watch” are probably just doing their jobs. Certainly, that's the point of this blog (and most reviews) – to flag up shows that you should watch or warn you away from shows that will be a waste of your time. Anything else is really just someone reviewing for reviewing's sake rather than serving a function. Which is fine if you're interested in reviews as writing in and of themselves, but not great if you just want to know whether something's a good programme or not.

    Equally, if you're examining the show's appeal (or lack thereof), you're essentially trying to review the audience not the show itself. You can try to guess whether it'll appeal to young black straight women or old white gay men, but ultimately all you can do is decide whether it appealed to you or not, and try to work out why. Good actors? Good plot? Good dialogue? Good direction? Juliette Lewis sucking a lemon? If they're the kinds of things your readers like, then they'll probably like it, too. But that's something for them to work out for themselves.

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