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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Truth Be Told is a dark drama about a podcaster who decides to take on a murder case she reported on earlier in her career as an investigative journalist. The focus on a murder brings an element of violence with it, and we see flashbacks to it with some frequency, particularly in earlier episodes, with a dead bloody body, a man crawling away from an assailant with a bloody shirt, stabbing noises, spattering blood, and terrified family members discovering a body. Sexual content is less frequent but also mature, like a scene in which two characters (one who is married to someone else) have casual sex in the backseat of a car (we see rhythmic motions but no nudity). Characters hang out in bars having cocktails or beers; they generally just seem to be drinking socially but at one party people drinking appear sloppy and silly. Two characters share a cigarette, and a woman refers to her first cigarette as a "monster" that stole her life (she has terminal lung cancer). Language is mature: "motherf--ker," "a--hole," "f--k," "s--t," "hell," and "damn." One character refers to prison rape rather mockingly, asking a prisoner if he was a "b---h" for other inmates and if they were "popping [his] ass like bubble gum." Characters are complex: Poppy is a smart and determined woman who has principles and power; she also betrays confidences and threatens a character who's much more vulnerable than she is. Warren is a man who's been wronged, but he also has white supremacist views (and tattoos). This show's cast boasts extensive diversity (in terms of race, age, gender, and body type) and its characters demonstrate integrity and perseverance -- though its messages are somewhat undermined by unrealistic plot twists.
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What's the story?
Almost two decades ago, Poppy Parnell's (Octavia Spencer) investigative reporting helped put Warren Cave (played as an adult by Aaron Paul) away for life for murdering his neighbor, a prominent author. But as TRUTH BE TOLD begins, Poppy sees new evidence that the murdered man's teenage daughter Lanie (played as an adult by Lizzy Caplan) may have been coached by police to finger Cave for the murder. With new questions about Cave's innocence -- and about her own responsibility for portraying him as a monster -- Parnell decides to use the soapbox of her successful true crime podcast to delve into the murder once more.
Is it any good?
With its five-star cast and a fresh premise, this drama comes on like something new and notable but it plays out more like a middling crime drama, a poor man's How to Get Away with Murder, maybe. But when Murder premiered in 2014, the idea of a movie star on a TV series was still enough to bring some frisson to the proceedings; now, deep into television's modern golden age, it takes more to attract loyal viewers, even though -- and who could deny it? -- principal players Octavia Spencer, Aaron Paul, and Lizzy Caplan are all enormously appealing and sympathetic. And it's not that Truth Be Told is even bad, it just doesn't rise above what viewers are already watching. There are soap-opera-ish revelations -- secret lives, mistaken identities, illicit affairs -- and twists and turns, and characters with fatal flaws, and storylines that could be cleared up if people would just talk to each other like human beings instead of dropping cryptic clues.
The show also suffers from a slow pace, taking its time to get to places it knew you would get, which robs some of the sudden revelations of their urgency. And it cranks up the stakes unrealistically: Poppy podcasts every week? And she plans to keep up her podcasting schedule even while she investigates Warren's case? That's not a thing. It takes investigative journalists weeks, months, years to gather evidence and put together any kind of narrative because in real life, twists aren't conveniently doled out on the reg. Warren's mom has terminal cancer; she was given six months to live four months ago, and hopes that Poppy's podcast will free her son in time for her to see him on the outside before her death. Um, you thought your son's life in prison with no parole sentence will be overturned in 8 weeks after a journalist has just begun her investigation? Wishful thinking is a thing but this is ridiculous; what a shame, Caplan, Spencer, Paul and everyone else in the cast deserves better.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why dramas about violent crime and legal cases are such an enduring staple of network television. What types of ongoing possibilities for plots do they offer? Why would this be attractive for a television series? Does giving the main character a podcast change the show significantly?
Does Poppy Parnell seem like a journalist who might write about homicide cases? Why, or why not? What about her or her job seems realistic or unrealistic to you? Do you buy that she might have a major true crime podcast with a huge audience? How does Truth Be Told signal how successful and powerful she is? Does Poppy's reach and power seem realistic?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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