There Goes The Neighborhood (Series Review: “Secrets & Lies”)

Ditch the ABC do-over for the original six-part Australian crime drama, Secrets & Lies. It’s an easy watch and a creepy peek at a nice suburban cul de sac, as long as you don’t look too closely behind those pretty picket fences.

SnapShot Plot

If you’re considering checking out the new ABC drama, Secrets & Lies, let me steer you right past that disappointment and over to the fine original show which aired last year in Australia, Canada and most of Europe, as well as a streaming presence on Canadian and American Netflix. Although the two shows share identical plot lines and characters, the similarity ends there as the American version is so mired in its own exaggerated melodrama that it can’t get out of its own way. Although ABC cast impressive stars, Ryan Philippe and Juliette Lewis, it’s painful to watch them forcing a chemistry that never quite gels between their adversarial characters, and I swear Ms. Lewis must be doing half her scenes with a lemon stuck in her mouth, for the distractingly comic and sour expression planted on her face.

In the slow burning, original production of Secrets & Lies, created by Stephen M. Irwin from his own original story idea, the murder of a small boy in the woods behind his home sends shock waves through a seemingly peaceful neighborhood, and leaves a path of familial destruction in its wake. Ben Gundelach (played by the hunky, often shirtless Martin Henderson) is a simple house painter living in a quiet, family-friendly suburb of Brisbane with his realtor wife, Christy, their precocious teenage daughter, Tasha and young Daddy’s girl, Eva. In one of the most riveting opening sequences ever, a desperate Ben is tearing through the woods at dawn, screaming for help and by the time he bursts through his doorway shouting for a phone, the police are swarming the woods and the street, and Ben is being interviewed as the jogger who found the body of his 4-yr old neighbor, Thom, a sweet boy whose regular babysitter was Ben’s own daughter, Tasha. The lead investigator on the scene is Detective Ian Cornielle, in a meticulous performance by the award-winning actor Anthony Hayes. Corneille is a dispassionate, methodical perfectionist who approaches the crime and Ben himself – who he always addresses as Mr. Gundelach – with the same degree of bloodless scrutiny a scientist observes a sample in a Petri dish. Like a dog with a bone, he is incapable of walking away until the mystery and the crime is solved.

It’s not long before Ben himself becomes the focus of Corneille’s suspicion, and as his already rocky marriage with Christy (in a very believable, low-key turn by Diana Glenn) deteriorates under the glare of police and media spotlights, so do his professional life and his position in the family begin to crumble. In a series of well placed snippets of flashbacks, we start to see a more complete scenario of this family, these neighbors, and the complex dynamics that have woven a fabric of deception and scandal which are now threatening to boil over in the wake of Thom’s death. And because there seem to be no other suspects under the trained lens of Detective Corneille’s investigation, a shattered and increasingly frantic Ben becomes an amateur sleuth of sorts, growing ever more suspicious of everyone as he desperately tries to prove his innocence and save his own skin.



Parting Shot

Secrets & Lies is a good, old-fashioned Agatha Christie-like whodunit with plenty of plot twists and character turns to keep you guessing until the shattering, heartbreaking end. And with only six hour-long episodes, this is quite an easy series to marathon over one or two late weekend nights. The camera and cinematography reflect a seemingly bright, normal suburban world in which very bad things can still happen, in as much as bad things can happen anywhere. And when the people behind the picket fences are illuminated so, well, normally, it makes their secrets and lies all the more shocking. For me, the takeaways have to do with the challenge of forgiveness, the enviable luxury of starting over, the value of anonymity, and the collateral damage that occurs when otherwise reasonably flawed human beings sometimes make mistakes from which there’s no do-over button.

Secrets & Lies is streaming on Netflix. 

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  • Norma says:

    Isn’t it great when like-minded people agree?

  • Giovanna says:

    “the American version is so mired in its own exaggerated melodrama that it can’t get out of its own way.”

    What a great description! I don’t see why American networks feel the need to remake everything—especially things that were English-language productions to begin with!

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