Review: ‘Secrets and Lies’ on ABC

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With a recent track record of sinister-sounding titles (“Revenge”, “Scandal” and the defunct “Betrayal”), it is no surprise that ABC would choose the name “Secrets and Lies” for its newest drama, which opens with a two-hour installment this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

In the pouring rain, Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) feverishly runs through his neighborhood yelling for help. He has just witnessed a young boy, the son of a neighbor, lying dead in the nearby woods. The story captures the attention of the local media as the hunt for the boy’s murderer now begins. Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis) is brought in as the lead investigator and almost from the start sets her suspicions upon Crawford himself as the suspect. Details of the night in question seem to get murkier the more the investigation unfolds, as Crawford’s potential role in the crime turns sour for his sake, especially upon what is revealed at the conclusion of the first hour of the two-hour premiere.

“Secrets and Lies” obviously wants to depict a complexity surrounding Crawford — do we root for him or not? In doing so, however, it offers a cold distance from highly engaging into the story. Phillippe is adequate as the show’s lead star, yet his role, along with the rest of characters, exudes a big disconnect. We get that Crawford’s innocence is questionable, at best, but it is unclear if it is worth spending our time figuring out if it truly is so. The episode even featured a scene where Crawford inquired to his wife and two daughters why they haven’t been more affected by the boy’s death since the boy had often stayed at their house. If they don’t seem to care, why should we? There probably will be other suspects to consider in subsequent episodes, but Detective Cornell seems so intent to target Crawford initially that it emphasizes the singular dimensionality of her character.

“Secrets and Lies”, based on the Australian series of the same name, delves in similar plot territory as another small-town murdered-child mystery adapted from foreign shores this season, Fox’s “Gracepoint”. That Fox drama failed to spark much interest last fall in what seemed to be a copy of United Kingdom’s more superior original “Broadchurch”. And, unfortunately for ABC’s new drama, underwhelming “Secrets and Lies” might ultimately travel that same route.

Grade: C-