First look TV review: True Lies
James R | On 01, May 2023
Episodes of True Lies arrive on Disney+ UK on Wednesdays.
Love it or hate it, James Cameron’s iconic 1994 hit True Lies is certainly a film that sticks in the memory, whether you’re a fan of the set pieces or creeped out by some of its components. Either way, you certainly remember it being a movie about a husband who’s secretly a spy lying to his wife until she becomes aware of that fact. True Lies, a new TV series inspired by the film, jettisons that premise almost entirely – for better and for worse.
Matt Nix’s espionage comedy begins at the same point as the source material introducing us to Steve Howey (of Shameless fame) in the Arnie role as Harry, an operative for the still-wonderfully 90s-sounding Omega Sector. Ginger Gonzaga takes the Jamie Lee Curtis role of Helen, his wife, who begins to realise that her hubby doesn’t have his head in their marriage. But rather than discovering that her computer salesman partner is having an affair, she winds up in the middle of a mission, kidnapped alongside him and alarmed to find that he’s a secret agent – and can fly a helicopter.
If that sounds like a spoiler, be reassured that the series gets all that out of the way within the first 20 minutes of the opening episode. It’s a key decision that completely does away with the tension and suspense of the initial concept – which is a real shame, given that it almost immediately becomes something much more generic. On the other hand, it also takes us away from the more unpleasant subplots that are perhaps the things that most stick in the memory about Cameron’s original.
The result clears the table for an altogether different set-up that has some potential for Mr and Mrs Smith-style shenanigans, complete with efficient and slick set pieces. It’s a disappointment, then, that Steve Howey’s Harry is as bland as they come, which makes it hard to get invested in his and Helen’s relationship – even as they playfully introduce two big exes on both sides of their second mission.
However, the series’ new direction unexpectedly opens up room for a key character to flourish: Helen. Gonzaga emerges as the show’s MVP, and the fact that her character is a linguistics professor and yoga veteran does actually give her some agency and backstory to build upon as a spy. We’re not talking substantial depth here but, compared to Harry and his sidekicks (a suitably wise-cracking ensemble played by Erica Hernandez, Mike O’Gorman and Omar Miller), she’s a plausibly rounded person.
If the show can find a way to raise everyone else up to her level – and particularly develop the parental anxieties around their kids, Dana (Annabella Didion) and Jake (Lucas Jaye) – True Lies could become an entertainingly low-stakes, enjoyable predictable weeknight watch. Either way, be prepared to divorce your expectations from that title and leave the 1990s in the past.