PLOT: True crime podcaster Poppy Parnell is called to investigate the case of convicted serial killer Warren Cave, a man she incriminated after he murdered the father of identical twins. Soon, Parnell must decide where the lines between guilty and innocent lie when Cave confesses to the fact that he was framed for the crime.
REVIEW: Of all the shows debuting on AppleTV+, Truth Be Told has the least riding on it. Yes, it has a quality cast led by Octavia Spencer, Aaron Paul, and Lizzy Caplan, but it doesn’t have fifteen million dollars per episode riding on it. Based on the novel Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber, Truth Be Told is produced by Spencer along with Reese Witherspoon and landed podcaster Sarah Koenig of hit true crime series Serial as a consultant. The result is a show that echoes the twists and turns of the most popular crime documentaries of recent years but by being fictional ends up as no more than a cliche Lifetime original movie, albeit with better actors.
Truth Be Told is told from three main perspectives. First is that of podcaster Poppy Darnell (Octavia Spencer) who realizes that her podcast that helped incarcerate Warren Cave (Aaron Paul) for the murder of a neighbor may have been based on bad evidence. Reopening her investigation, Poppy seeks out the children of the murder victim, identical twins Lanie and Josie Burhman (both played by Lizzy Caplan). The second perspective is Warren as he navigates prison life in San Quentin where he has been for two decades and the last is that of the twin sisters. All three stories are intertwined by the rehashing of violent memories and new suspects that hit close to home resulting in a story that will feel remarkably familiar to anyone who has watched network or cable television over the last twenty years.
In short, Truth Be Told is dull. After his performance in EL CAMINO, Aaron Paul seems to be on autopilot here and plays Warren as a despondant and very two dimensional. Lizzy Caplan, on the heels of her awards-worthy performance as Annie Wilkes on Castle Rock, plays the twin sisters Lanie and Josie as characters straight out of a basic cable movie of the week complete with awful wigs and bad accents. And then there is producer and star Octavia Spencer who gives her podcaster character a decent effort but never is able to elevate the story beyond being about a podcaster. As much as I enjoyed the ride of listening to Serial when it was at it’s peak popularity, this show presents podcasters as having the power beyond what recording audio for an iTunes series actually can do. Yes, there is a cautionary tale here about what biased and unchecked reporting can do but it is buried beneath every cliche that the crime genre can throw at the audience.
This series has alcoholic parents, crooked cops, adultery, cancer patients, Neo-Nazis, corrupt prison guards, biker gangs, racial profiling, and Alzheimer’s. And that is just in the first four episodes! Truth Be Told tries to parse out the twists and reveals in each episode to keep the viewer engaged, but they just become more and more successively ridiculous and over the top. I mean, a character inadvertantly murders someone and then casually lies to cover it up and we are supposed to believe this person may be innocent of a different crime? Why any of these characters would willingly speak to a podcaster on the record and allow themselves to be recorded is also silly. And that begs the question why the witnesses and evidence that Poppy Parnell is able to uncover two decades after the crime are so easily found. None of it makes much sense.
It is a shame that such a good cast is wasted on this weak production. Aside from the trio of leads, we also have solid turns from Elizabeth Perkins and Brett Cullen (JOKER) as Warren Cave’s parents, Michael Beach as Poppy’s husband, Mekhi Phifer as her ex-boyfriend, Ron Cephas Jones as Poppy’s father, Annabella Sciorra as Josie and Lanie’s mother, and Tracie Thomas as Poppy’s sister. The production itself is decent but the writing led by Nichelle Tramble Spellman (The Good Wife, Justified) is mediocre at best.
Truth Be Told is easily the weakest entry AppleTV+ has debuted so far and wastes a high caliber cast with a bland and generic story that takes a potentially unique conceit and does nothing with it. The entire series lacks any sort of energy or urgency and the story just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I feel no desire to revisit the back half of the season once episodes are made available. Unless you really need to learn who committed the crime at the center of this story, avoid wasting your time with this drama.
Truth Be Told premieres December 6th on AppleTV+.