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‘Secrets and Lies’ Review: ABC Drama Uncovers Suburban Suspicion, Deception and Ryan Phillippe’s Abs

Juliette Lewis, KaDee Strickland and Dan Fogler also star on the series based on an Australian program

The tragic and sudden death of a little boy is the catalyst for ABC’s new drama debuting Sunday night with a two hour premiere.

Good Samaritan and typical suburbanite Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) immediately falls under suspicion after he discovers the body of his neighbor Jess Murphy’s young son, Tom, in the woods while out for an early morning run. Ben vigorously defends himself and in doing so, the show’s title comes into play as secrets and lies are unearthed and shock waves reverberate throughout the suburban community. Ben’s family is at the center of it all: his marriage to Christy (KaDee Strickland), already on shaky ground, starts to crack even more when Ben becomes a person of interest in Tom’s death. The Crawford daughters, Natalie, a typical 16-year-old with an attitude, is upset by Tom’s death, she used to babysit the little boy. And younger daughter Abby is very upset by Tom’s death but she is fiercely loyal to her dad.

Ben’s life and that of the Crawford family, is turned upside down the moment Detective Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis) starts working the case. She becomes a constant intrusive presence in their lives as she tenaciously and doggedly questions Ben and because he makes one bad decision early on, the key plot point at the end of the first hour puts Ben in even greater jeopardy. No spoilers here, but Ben’s family lawyer realizes he’s out of his depth when it comes to this case.

Tom’s mother Jess is a neighbor of the Crawfords and her troubled marriage becomes a focal point in the case against Ben, because her estranged husband Scott is a troubled war veteran with a violent temper. The one person Ben can vent to is his childhood friend Dave Lindsey (Dan Fogler). A tenant in the Crawford’s guest house, he’s basically a good guy who is supportive of Ben and the girls. However, as backup for Ben’s alibi, he’s dubious at best as he’s a day drinker and not the most reliable source.

Writer Barbie Kligman developed “Secrets and Lies,” based on the Australian thriller of the same name. What she does well is quickly establish that while the surface trappings of the upscale suburb the Crawfords live in are beautiful – the Crawford house is shabby chic – the enclave is brimming with skeletons in every closet and emotional minefields hidden in the cul de sac.

Ben broods about his situation a lot – which is good because Phillippe looks really good when he broods – and it quickly becomes apparent that his neighbors aren’t going to support him. Maybe, it’s all the press camping out at the Crawford house – that can’t be good for property values. Maybe, they’re just tired of seeing Ben’s perfect six pack as he jogs around the neighborhood. Maybe, it’s because they see him making late-night visits to Jess Murphy’s house. Can you guess where this is going? I bet you can.

In the first two hours of “Secrets and Lies,” Ben repeatedly maintains his innocence in young Tom’s death, but he makes one crucial mistake (I can’t reveal it here as it’s a major spoiler) and that mistake results in a domino effect of reveals that threaten to tear the already fragile Crawford family apart. By the end of the first hour, I was wondering why Christy wasn’t asking Ben to move out for awhile. Guess she subscribes to the “stand by your man” school of thought. After the reveal at the end of the first hour, the muck and mire deepen and Ben consults with a criminal defense attorney, played by Timothy Busfield. Their short, terse scene made me hope we’ll see a lot more of Busfield’s bluntly honest and darkly humorous character.

The second hour doles out more bits of information that divert some of the suspicion away from Ben, but dogged Detective Cornell just won’t leave him alone, showing up at their house unexpectedly and prompting Ben and Christy’s willful older daughter Natalie to joke, “Why doesn’t she just move in?” Hmm, now there’s something we haven’t seen yet in a murder mystery.

Will you care about this group of upscale suburban neighbors? Probably not. Will you be pulled into their web of interconnected secrets and lies? Possibly. Will you be treated to various shots of brooding Ryan Phillippe jogging, sweating and showing off his aforementioned abs? Definitely. Is that enough to keep you watching? Maybe.