Apple TV+’s shows seem to have emerged out of market research carried out in corporate offices rather than being derived out of powerfully creative minds. They tick all the boxes that could make a show popular and critically acclaimed. But most of their shows have failed to hit the mark. ‘Truth Be Told’ starring Octavia Spencer and Aaron Paul is no different.
To begin with, the rough idea on paper sounds interesting: a true crime podcaster re-investigating her most famous case to free a possibly innocent man who was imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit. In the form of Spencer, the show has a strong female, African-American lead, seeking to recreate the success of Viola Davis on ‘How to Get Away With Murder.’
Then there is Paul, who plays a prison-hardened white supremacist with some scores to settle and the scope for confrontation between his character and Spencer’s teases a ‘Silence of the Lambs’ like thrill. But sadly, the first episode downplays all of that and delivers a pilot that feels soulless. Judging by the opening episode, one could even say that the show’s storytelling was so poor and its characters were so puppet-like that the tale might as well have been narrated on a podcast.
Although, there is one thing that the episode titled, ‘Monster’ does well: it effectively depicts the moral conundrum that Spencer’s character is shown to be in: raising both sides of the argument. However, while it conveys the morality well, the way that the protagonist gets convinced to reopen the case does not feel genuine or remotely impactful. It is as if the character just fits a mold in the story.
Truth Be Told Episode 1 Recap
The show starts with a few home videos of the Burhman family as they celebrate their twin daughters, Josie and Lanie’s birthday. Then, it proceeds to show Chuck Burhman, the head of the family found dead in a frame that is made to feel like a flashback. A few shots of a teenage boy named Warren Cave being tried in court for Chuck’s murder are shown too.
Then, the show starts to follow Poppy Scoville-Parnell (played by Octavia Spencer) as she goes to a courtroom where a video of Lanie’s testament is being played. That testament had led to Cave being convicted. However, Cave’s lawyer shows another piece of evidence that has been recently found. It is a video of Lanie before the trial, showing her being doubtful about Cave’s presence and probably being coached to give a certain testimony. However, the case is not re-opened as the judge deems the new evidence to be insufficient.
After that, Poppy gives a speech on journalism. It is revealed that after Burhman’s murder, Spencer had carried out comprehensive investigative journalism that incriminated Cave. Her work had made her gain tons of prominence then and had affected public opinion largely.
After speaking to her husband about her duty to re-investigate the case if she thinks that Cave was innocent, Poppy recovers her old files and research. Then, she invites her podcast’s producer, Noa home and informs her that she intends on recording a new podcast to explore Cave’s possible innocence. She begins recording and summarizes the facts of the case: how no murder weapon or DNA evidence had been found. Cave had been convicted based on fingerprints and Lanie testifying of seeing him on the night of the murder (not seeing him actually commit the murder though).
Then, Poppy goes to visit Cave’s mother, Melanie. She wants to meet Cave in prison, but Melanie accuses Poppy of dehumanizing her son. Poppy tries to tell her that she has nothing to lose and that she is aware that Melanie is running out of time due to her cancer. Melanie tells Poppy that she has only two months to live.
Noa calls Poppy, informing her that Lanie has been working as a death doula. Lanie is shown hooking up with a person in a car and then heading home to her family where Poppy approaches her. Lanie denies talking to Poppy. Then, Melanie calls Poppy, to say that she has changed her mind and can arrange a meeting between Cave and her.
Poppy goes to meet Warren in prison. He tells her that she is “full of shit,” not believing that she wants to help him. Then, he shows Poppy his tattoos depicting the Nazi Swastika. Poppy storms out of the meeting.
Then, Poppy goes to celebrate her father’s birthday party. There, she speaks to her older sister who thinks that she should not help Warren due to his racist attitude. During the party, Poppy’s father, a biker, taunts Poppy of being too much like her mother. However, a friend of Poppy’s who is a former detective offers to assist her.
On the other hand, Lanie goes to meet her aunt, Susan. She tells Susan about Poppy’s attempt to talk to her. Plus, she asks her for permission to speak to Josie. Susan tells Lanie that Josie prefers being left alone. Lanie just wants to inform Josie to not say anything to Poppy.
At night, Poppy reveals to her husband that she had heard rumors of Lanie being coached during her investigation. She says that she had chosen to ignore the rumors and now feels guilty about it. Then, Poppy goes to meet Warren again.
In the prison, she tells Warren that his mother is dying. Then she says that she will only help him if he speaks the truth and if he keeps his xenophobic views to himself. Warren begins narrating the events of the night. He reveals how he had sneaked into the Burhmans’ house to “hunt,” clarifying that he meant to search for drugs that one of the twins were known to abuse. After stealing the drugs, he had gotten out of the house immediately. The show ends with Poppy recording the rest of the podcast.
Truth Be Told Episode 1 Review:
The first episode of ‘Truth Be Told’ is a disappointing outing overall. It squashes any promise that the series had before the episode. To begin with, the show’s creators seem heavily confused regarding the style, tone and genre of the story. It is made to feel like a true-crime story. However, the fact that it is a fictional tale makes that kind of portrayal ineffective. Apart from that, the show also tries to derive some thrill but the series is shot too warmly for that. Spencer’s character is shown to be living an extremely comfortable life and the weight of the moral conundrum that she is in is not felt. Moreover, Paul’s character does not feel menacing and dangerous at all despite his strong acting performance.
The only saving grace is perhaps the mysterious behaviour of Lanie and that adds to some suspense. However, one cannot help but feel like that plot arc is quite cliched. Moreover, there are no real twist and turns that shock viewers. The show just moves from one scene to another without a single one standing out. The characters fall flat on their faces despite measured acting performances.
The screenplay does allow the characters to flesh out, but there is something about the film-making that tosses all of that in the bin. There is no rivetingly dark background music to induce viewer anticipation or any thrilling film-making techniques. Truth be told, ‘Truth Be Told’ is extremely passable and you could definitely be spending your time watching something better. We do live in the golden age of television after all.
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