Heavy rainfall, hurried breath and sneakers stomping away at the sliding mud as a frantic Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) cries out for help. The scene is dark and the music is slightly ominous, setting the stage for the rest of the premiere episode of ABC’s “Secrets & Lies.”
The show details Crawford’s quest to prove his innocence as he suddenly finds himself at the center of a murder investigation.
The news of the murder of Crawford’s five-year-old neighbor, Tom, certainly rocks the small town to its core. From the title, it seems the sense of community within the tight-knit suburb will degrade when all eyes are thrust upon this neighborhood.
This series marks a major role for Phillippe as he returns to television to convincingly portray this central character — a family man whose life is turned upside down by this tragedy, and other personal struggles.
Right behind him, in pursuit of the truth is Detective Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis) who seems all too ready to paint Crawford as the villain with her steely eyes and aggressive, brassy nature.
Her palpable distrust of Crawford and fixation on the case is meant to unnerve viewers, but this discomfort probably won’t last long. The show will no doubt delve into Cornell’s preoccupations, gradually stripping away her cold exterior to reveal the inevitable, justifiable personal bias underneath.
While the show is fashioned as a dramatic thriller, there are plenty of soapy elements conveyed through Crawford’s interactions with his family members and neighbors — there is also a sprinkling of comedic moments involving Dave Lindsey (Dan Fogler), Crawford’s best friend and roommate, who balances out the seriousness. He is the typical man-child who loves beer and women and also knows exactly what to say and do to keep the show from becoming too solemn.
The show’s idyllic bedroom community is the perfect backdrop for something as harrowing as murder — with its nuclear families, pets, white picket fences and caring neighbors — but any fan of dramatic thrillers may find the setting predictable. This is reminiscent of ABC’s famed “Desperate Housewives” series in which Wisteria Lane provided a contrasting background to the show’s plot.
With several storylines interwoven through the main plot adding to the soapy goodness, “Secrets & Lies” should have enough material to fill its 10-episode run. The narrative of this show is certainly compelling and also shows promise. However, the show is faced with the task of distinguishing itself from the Australian original and runs the risk of recasting old storylines with American characters. In order for it to be successful and it needs to be original to avoid the predictability that often causes whodunnit shows to sink.
If “Secrets & Lies” can truly establish itself as original and different from the run-of-the mill dramatic thriller, it could become be television success.