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Screens: ABC

What Secrets & Lies Did Ryan Phillippe's Agent Tell Him?

Just kidding! ABC's new child-murder mystery drama isn't bad, and neither is Phillippe.

What is this thing?

Ben Crawford's out for an early-morning run the night after a bender with his bestie, Dave, when he comes upon the dead body of his five-year-old neighbor, Tom. He's soon latched onto as the prime suspect by snarky lead detective Andrea Cornell, which doesn't make a ton of sense, but the swarming media and a few of Ben's neighbors buy it -- and it seems like his semi-estranged wife, Christy, might have her doubts about his innocence as well. Certainly she has her doubts about staying married to him. But hey, at least his daughters believe him! Well, one of them.

Then the DNA results come back.

When is it on?

Sundays, because apparently no other night of the week exists according to network programmers, at 9 PM on ABC.

Why now?

March is the new summer in terms of nets dumping shows they don't feel confident in/know quite what to do with. S&L and ABC's other prestige dead-kid project (sorry, but that's...the situation, I'm sorry to say), American Crime, both came onto the radar as 2014 pilots ages ago -- like, "my esteemed colleague Tara Ariano and I watched the AC pilot over a year ago" ages ago -- and evidently didn't impress anyone at the Mouse House enough to move, say, Scandal off its timeslot.

What's its pedigree?

It's derived from an Australian series of the same name, and adapted by Barbie Kligman, who's written for everything from CSI: NY to The Vampire Diaries. Ryan Phillippe stars as Ben; KaDee Strickland is his wife, Christy; Juliette Lewis is his nemesis, Det. Cornell; and his neighbors include Melissa Gilbert and Denise Dowse.

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Half-Pint & Teasley, PI: now THAT is a show, ladies and germs.

...And?

I won't lie: I expected to haaaaaaate this shteez. The murdered-child concept isn't that off-putting to me, but it really is starting to feel like the pitch for every show, and it's inevitably paired with the brusque or twitchy investigator (Cornell, offered coffee by Ben when they first talk, asks if he's having some. He says no. "I'd love one," she chirps. Hee, but also, henh?). You've also got, in the first 10-15 minutes, the verrrrry obvious jaw-set/stankface maneuver from the missus

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while Cornell stares at the Crawfords rilly rilly hard, the newscast that just happens to do a report on the murder when the TV's switched on, the swarm of intrusive clich-- er, "media" trying to zing Ben with sub-TMZ-quality questions, the troubled marriage the writing won't quite commit to describing lest we guess it involves infidelity (spoiler: it does...except just kidding about the spoiler part because IT'S ALWAYS THAT, geh), and the snotso teenage daughter with Secrets Of Her Own (in this case, that she's maybe boning the father of the victim, who's a Special Forces PTSD case twice her age).

The casting of Secrets & Lies is problematic for me, because it's yet another "foxy protagonist seeks justice" brief that's probably better served by someone who's a little less foxy and a little more...what's the phrasing I want here. Believably pudgy? Unpredictably imperfect?

Not...making-these-faces-y?

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Not to pick on Phillippe, and more on him in a sec, but it's always a Phillippe, or a Hutton, or a Diggs, or a West, and there's nothing wrong with any of those guys, but every last one of them has had his acting overrated by his looks (op. cit. the loving pans, plural, down Phillippe's naked torso in the second episode; not the time, guys!), and most dudes don't look like that. Most dudes look like this:

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More like "beer-pe diem"; the guy is literally never shown without one, even at 8:30 in the morning. And I don't think I see why a murder series needs The Belushi Bestie from Sitcom Central Casting, but I will say, at least on paper, I'd rather watch this same show with Dave-o here as the lead, because I haven't seen it a skrillion times already and it opens up some interesting opportunities.

...But?

The aforementioned Dave is hilarious. Ben suggests he come with on a morning run and Dave's like, "Are there cookies involved?" Called out on drinking a brewski at 8:30, he's like, "Is it?" and laughs delightedly. He's used properly, handles his exposition nimbly, and the IMDb credits his lady friends thusly:

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"Well, shit." - Amber's mom. (Hee.)

Lewis is very good; Timothy Busfield, who's co-producing, makes a brief appearance as a defense attorney, and I hope we see more of him; and Phillippe is pretty much on target here. He's credible as the father of daughters, which is rarer than you'd assume, and what we might charitably call his tendency to underplay is the right match for the material. I mean, usually it's Dylan McDermott in this role, and God bless that man and his splenetic efforts, but fear and grief are not unremittingly shouty. I wouldn't call Phillippe's work nuanced, quite, but it's a nice change of pace, and Secrets & Lies does get you rooting for Ben without doing it at Christy's expense, which is also nice. (Watch, she'll turn out to have killed the kid.) (Not a spoiler, I don't know anything.)

It's paced well; it has a good ear for its story. I wouldn't rule out coy stalling later -- almost every whodunnit runs into some quicksand around Episode 6, no matter how well it's done -- but it's giving out information at a good clip, and it's not afraid to go quite dark with the reasons behind the Crawfords' marriage crumbling.

...So?

I'm-a stay with it for a week or two, but proceed with caution: my enjoyment of it may have derived from 1) failing to fall asleep during it as anticipated, 2) camp appreciation of Phillippe's phart phaces, or 3) a combo.

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