Better than “Gracepoint” and not as compelling as “Broadchurch,” ABC’s “Secrets and Lies” is a solid, twisty version of the increasingly popular murdered-kid-sets-series-in-motion formula, with Ryan Phillippe as the seemingly ordinary family man who discovers the body and quickly becomes a target of police suspicion. Juliette Lewis lends additional star power to the proceedings as the detective working the case, but this is fairly familiar turf. Bringing viewers to the show will likely be a challenge for the network, but those who do sample the opening hours should be intrigued enough to want to see where the trail leads.
Adapted from an Australian series (joining NBC’s “The Slap” in that mini-wave), the show features Phillippe as Ben Crawford, a house painter who stumbles upon the dead body of a neighbor boy during his morning jog. In his efforts to revive the kid, he leaves all kinds of prints and evidence on the body.
Yet what looks like an attempt to be a Good Samaritan is quickly turned into evidence by Lewis’ Det. Andrea Cornell, whose nosing around begins to unearth clues regarding Ben’s relationship with the dead boy’s family, as the investigation plays out fractured relationships and broken trust as details about the past emerge. There’s the little matter, for example, of just how well Ben is getting along with his wife (KaDee Strickland), as well as what his daughters are up to, and whether he might have a clandestine motive for wanting the boy out of the picture.
Written by Barbie Kligman and directed by Charles McDougall (both “Private Practice” alums), the two-hour premiere (a wise move in terms of planting the hook a little deeper) quickly sets up the story, with Ben’s plight exacerbated by the barking media jackals who surround his house and keep thrusting microphones under his nose. In that regard, “Secrets and Lies” exhibits a bit more savvy about the idea of being at the center of that type of storm — and how neighbors look at someone facing such suspicions — than do many of the programs that have dealt with similar themes.
Phillippe is quite good as the hounded Everyman, if perhaps a little too boyishly good-looking for those purposes. Nevertheless, the producers do manage to keep the audience off-balance with new revelations, with the 10-episode order providing additional incentive — in terms of the limited duration of the commitment — to see how it’s going to wind up.
Granted, the dead-kid thing is one of drama’s more emotionally manipulative plots, but it’s certainly effective as a means of luring folks into the tent — and providing a welcome respite from another show that started with an ill-fated child: “Resurrection.” After that, the storytelling challenge of maintaining this sort of delicate balancing act and bringing it to a satisfying resolution is formidable, yes, but at least it’s no secret.