Spoilers for episode 1 and web content.
It’s no secret, that is a crummy title, I’m not even gonna lie. Recently I became one of the few people in the world who thinks they should watch more TV, and about ten minutes after coming to this resolution I saw a poster for Secrets & Lies. So I decided to give it a go. I have to say I’m happily surprised.
The basic premise is that Ben Gundelach, an ordinary (more on that later) Aussie man, finds a child’s body in bushland and becomes a suspect in the murder. I didn’t do much pre-reading on this show but one thing pleased me even before watching: I’m really sick of TV shows that switch between a dozen perspectives. Often in these dramas, as I once said about a play, it gives a creative work the feel of a newspaper’s “four diverse perspectives on x” feature rather than of real characters.
The beginning of the show didn’t really draw me in – random close-ups of insects plus we had to be reminded that they couldn’t think of a decent title – but it got better as soon as the dialogue started. Really good judgement in writing, combined with solid acting by Martin Henderson, establish Ben as a typical Aussie bloke and just as quickly distinguish him from the “Aussie bloke” screen stereotype. I’m not sure exactly how this works – it’s more than, though it includes, discerning use of Australian slang. In fact, my first impression of this drama is that it’s ambitious, yet nothing is overdone.
As the detective says, “A lot of people with a lot to hide on that street”, yet it’s a credit to the show that this doesn’t feel contrived. Not everyone is having some dramatic affair. This is borne out in the “suspects” section of the Secrets & Lies website. Oh, by the way, don’t be daunted by the amount of web content – it’s worth a look because it’s some of the best I’ve seen, but isn’t essential to understand or appreciate the show. The only thing I didn’t like is that, for example, why would Dave video himself concealing a drug? The same goes for this one of Tasha berating Thom. I think they should have limited this section to “clues” that would be available to the characters in the show, like the recorded phone calls and Facebook chats.
Now, back to the episode… Random bug close-ups aside (there were more later in the episode… hm, maybe I’m missing a clue?), the camera work is really nice too. But special mention has to go to the set designers. It looks like they bought half their props at K-Mart. And that’s the great thing! I love the utter Aussie-suburban-ness of the police station red-lettered MERRY CHRISTMAS banner in gold foil. What Australian hasn’t bought one of those at some point? I’ve had that exact one! The only place this is let down is the Christmas tree – it looks too perfect, with shiny baubles and no hand-made ornaments or personal touches. Maybe this is supposed to hint at something about the Gundelach family?
However, like the writers, I’ve saved the best til last. I was a bit disconcerted by how quickly the focus of the episode shifted from the shock of Thom’s death, to the emotional impact of the suspicion on Ben. But it’s totally redeemed at the end… oh, I don’t want to give it away, go and watch, but I never thought that a freezer and an iPhone could combine so touchingly*. A stark portrayal of how a physical objects, even – perhaps more-so – disposable ones, become jarring reminders of a deceased person’s recent presence.
There’s so much good stuff going on here – writing, directing, acting – and it’s avoiding so many pitfalls common to these types of shows, I’m really looking forward to the second episode of Secrets & Lies. May fill in the time between now and then by thinking of a better title.
Who I think did it…
Given the other good judgement on this show, I’m guessing they’re not going to cheat us and make the murderer someone who’s not on the suspects list.
My personal People of Interest list:
- Eva – I’m not saying she did it, but is her absolute insistence of her father’s innocence simply childhood loyalty, or does she know something else? On a meta-level, Piper Morrisey’s acting is so fantastic that I’m sure they cast this part to become a more major one later in the series.
- Thom’s parents – I think in real life this would sadly be the most likely. However, the fact that the police focus on Ben perhaps suggests that they have good reason to believe that it’s not his parents.
My Not-Interested list
- Elaine – unless this is an incredible double-bluff by the writers, the way she’s portrayed as absolutely horrible just makes her too, too obvious.
- Tasha – the young babysitter seems a prime candidate for the “maybe it’s an accident someone is covering” theme of the prequel webisode – but she wasn’t babysitting Thom at the time. The description of Thom’s injuries in the first (non-prequel) webisode suggests a level of violence inconsistent with any accident I can imagine. Also, as I said, the circumstances of her “temper” video are so contrived, I think the show producers made it as a slightly clumsy red herring.
* The portrayal of technology/the Internet in-universe is yet another thing about this show that’s well-judged and not overdone. Though I do wonder whether a guy would really take and upload a photograph of his bare bum while in the physical presence of his girlfriend’s dad.
The next episode of Secrets & Lies is 9:30pm on Thursday. That confuses me… wasn’t it just on Monday?? But anyway, if you’re like me and you can’t understand TV programming, you can catch up here.