With the release of the first three episodes of the limited series Truth Be Told on Friday, Apple TV+ throws its hat into the overpopulated crime-drama ring. The cultishly irresistible genre has yielded countless hits for other platforms, like HBO’s True Detective and Big Little Lies, along with true-crime adaptations like Hulu’s The Act and Netflix’s Mindhunter. Netflix in particular seems to have cornered the market most effectively this year, producing two gorgeous, moving series rooted in failures of the criminal justice system: Ava DuVernay’s powerhouse portrayal of the Central Park Five, When They See Us, and the quietly heartbreaking Unbelievable, starring newcomer Kaitlyn Dever.
Unfortunately, in spite of its stacked cast, Truth Be Told is a muddled, soapy disappointment. Based on the novel Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber, the 10-episode series is about a decades-old murder for which an innocent man was framed and given a life sentence, but it is also about prison violence, Nazis, an evil twin, questionable journalistic ethics, fractured familial ties, corrupt cops, a car accident, and terminal cancer. And it’s all unnecessarily framed by a fictional true-crime podcast. So yeah, it’s a lot.
From producer and writer Nichelle Tramble Spellman (The Good Wife), the series stars Octavia Spencer as Poppy Parnell, an award-winning veteran journalist who has worked at The New York Times and now hosts a popular true-crime podcast. It’s implied that Poppy’s career took off in the late ‘90s because of a series of negative articles she wrote profiling Warren Cave (Aaron Paul), a teenager at the time who was sentenced to life in prison for killing his neighbor. Now, 19 years later, new evidence suggests that Warren is innocent, and Poppy decides to re-investigate the murder on her podcast to help clear his name. Lizzy Caplan (and Lizzy Caplan in a blonde wig) plays Lanie and Josie, the estranged twin daughters of the victim, Chuck Buhrman. Other impressive supporting players are Michael Beach as Poppy’s husband, Elizabeth Perkins as Warren’s mother, and standout Ron Cephas Jones as Poppy’s father, a dementia-ridden former member of the Black Panthers.