First look Apple TV+ review: Truth Be Told
Ivan Radford | On 07, Dec 2019
Octavia Spencer. Aaron Paul. Those names enough are a reason to try Apple TV’s new series, Truth Be Told. Unfortunately, they may not be enough of a reason to keep watching until the end.
Spencer plays Poppy Parnell, a podcaster who became a national sensation off the back of a renowned case: the murder of an author, Chuck Buhrman, by Warren Cave (Paul). But almost 20 years after Cave was given a life sentence, new evidence comes to light that suggests he might not have been guilty after all. And so Parnell takes it upon herself to reopen the case and find out whether she mistakenly put a man behind bars – and, hopefully, redeem herself in the process.
From Hidden Figures to Fruitvale Station, Octavia Spencer has repeatedly proven herself one of the best screen talents around, able to bring a lived-in humanity to any role. Even she, though, has her work cut out with Poppy Parnell, a character whose own Scooby Doo-esque name gives you an idea of the lack of depth and cohesion that threatens to undo the show’s intriguing premise.
Aaron Paul, too, feels like he has to try too hard to make something of Cave, a character whose introduction feels far too artificial to ring true; he growls more than talks and talks more than he needs to.
In between the pair are a host of other impressive faces, from the always brilliant Lizzy Caplan, who does double duty as Chuck’s twin daughters, Josie and Lanie, to Poppy’s father (Ron Cephas Jones). There’s also Mekhi Phifer as Markus, a former detective and old flame of Poppy’s. But while Jones is fantastic, and Tracie Thoms and Haneefah Wood are convincing as Poppy’s sisters, none of the characters really get much of a look in, as the series tries to tackle too many themes for its own good.
On the one hand, there’s the murder-mystery plot at the heart of the story, which is layered with the topical exploration of true crime podcasts. Then, on the other, there’s the conflict between Cave and the white supremacists behind bars, as he appears to join their Brotherhood and causes all kinds of moral dilemmas for Poppy and her family. Is anyone beyond justice? Does individual guilt trump social conscience? On top of the racial tensions, how does the gap in wealth and class between Poppy and those around her impact their relationships and attitudes? And why are we all so obsessed with true crime as entertainment as well as justice?
These are all worthy issues to consider, but Truth Be Told doesn’t have the discipline to do so with any real substance or coherence, instead cramming so much in that everything ends up feeling shallow and superficial. The fact that the book on which this is based – Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber – doesn’t feature Poppy as the main protagonist is indicative of both the show’s ambitions and the challenge it faces, as it tries to create a whole world of people to give Poppy’s perspective more weight. The result, based on the opening few episodes, unfortunately winds up too light to linger in your mind. We struggle to sympathise with Poppy’s decisions, as her behaviour begins to unravel her marriage, and never quite believe that she really is the podcasting sensation we’re told she is.
Truth Be Told wants to be the next Making a Murderer or TV answer’s to Serial, but this underwhelming drama is more likely leaves you wanting to catch up with either of those instead.
Truth Be Told is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.