Secrets and Lies Is As Unoriginal As They Come

Can we go home now? Photo: Brownie Harris/ABC

Good morning, America! It’s time for Secrets and Lies. We begin with shots of a man running through the rain, bellowing in existential panic. Cut to a shot of a dead boy in a red slicker lying face up in muddy water, rain spattering his face. A child is dead! A poor innocent child! Suffer the innocent children of prime time. Also women, many of them prostitutes for some reason, found in fields or ditches, strangled or hacked up. But I digress.

The boy has a name: Tom. The local homeowner who discovered the dead child is named Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe). He tells the chief police investigator, Detective Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis), that “it’s terribly shocking what happened,” but in a moment or two we start to think how he found the child is a little bit weird. Normally Ben’s daughter babysits the child “two or three days a week,” sometimes at their house; Ben wasn’t supposed to be jogging that morning, and he says he went because “he couldn’t sleep. Everybody has trouble sleeping sometimes.” He then adds he had a couple of drinks that night and needed to “run them off.”

OH DEAR GOD DID HE DO IT? He seems so normal, so handsome, so suburban, so white. He’s got that Bruno Hauptmann thing going, though; his reactions seem off somehow. Did he or didn’t he or did he or didn’t he? Did Sharon Stone kill her husband in Basic Instinct? Was Jeff Bridges a murderer in The Jagged Edge, or a terrorist in Arlington Road? What about Ben Affleck in Gone Girl? There was something off about him, too, some  Hauptmann thing.

What about the neighbors? They seem awfully suspicious. Why, every other one of them could be the real killer. But Ben just seems so unlikely that he seems likely, you know? Detective Cornell wants to know if he got home at two or three in the morning, and how much he had to drink, and wonders how he knew that Tom was dead. “I felt the back of his head,” he says. “So you moved the body?” she asks. “Who’s on first?” He asks. “Third base,” she says. “And how the elephant got into my pajamas I’ll never know.”

There’s a boy in a ditch. There’s a boy at the base of a sea wall. There’s a young woman wrapped in plastic. There’s a frog in the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea. Ryan Phillippe does the blank thing well. Juliette Lewis, once American cinema’s liveliest eccentric, is drained of life, which makes her a perfect match for Phillippe’s blankness.

“Tragedy struck today here in Charlotte on Chelsea Bay Drive when a 5-year-old boy was found dead,” a newscaster says. “The boy’s mother … apparently unaware that her child had gone missing.” Maybe she did it.

Who did it? I think you did it. This show runs ten weeks. I’m out.

A previous version of this piece incorrectly referred to Charles Lindbergh. The correct reference is Bruno Hauptmann.