Apple TV+ review: 'Truth Be Told' is a compelling, podcast-focused mystery

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in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited December 2019
The show, starring Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, is boosted by a strong cast and a compelling mystery, even as it doesn't say much new about the podcasting form.

Octavia Spencer in
Octavia Spencer in "Truth Be Told," premiering December 6 on Apple TV+ (courtesy of Apple)


The true crime podcast phenomenon gets the fictionalized streaming TV treatment with Truth Be Told, the latest new series from Apple TV+. Truth Be Told features excellent performances from a deep cast as well as a compelling murder mystery, even if it doesn't have a lot to say about the podcasting medium.

This review, which contains light spoilers, is based on the first three episodes.

Serial killer

Aaron Paul in
Aaron Paul in "Truth Be Told," premiering December 6 on Apple TV+. (courtesy of Apple)


Created by Nichelle Tramble Spellman and based on Kathleen Barber's novel Are You Sleeping, Truth Be Told has a decent hook. Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer stars as Poppy Parnell, an investigative journalist who had written a series of newspaper articles 20 years earlier about a notorious murder case, in which a famous professor was slain in his home while his wife and twin daughters slept through the crime. The stories propelled Poppy to fame and career success, and were decisive in putting away that case's defendant.

However, Poppy soon begins to question whether the accused murderer (Aaron Paul) from the case was actually innocent after all. So she launches a Serial-like true crime podcast, taking another look at the case. Complicating the situation, Cave has become a Nazi behind bars, leading Poppy's African-American family to question whether his case is worth taking up. This does lead up to a great moment, when Poppy threatens to stop looking into the case if he so much as hints at saying anything racist.

Paul, best known from his years on Breaking Bad, plays Warren Cave, the accused killer, while Lizzy Caplan (from Mean Girls and Masters of Sex) plays a dual role of the murder victim's identical twin daughters, one of whom sports a blond wig and an affected English accent. Elizabeth Perkins, from Big and Weeds, plays Cave's dying mother.

As with other shows, there is also quite a lot of Apple product placement, including prominent use of the Voice Memos app for recording of interviews. It isn't heavy-handed, but it can be distracting.

All in the family

In addition to the murder and the podcast, the show is very much about family dynamics. The extended families of the victim, the accused murderer, and the journalist, and their opinions about the truth of the case, all figure in the show.





Well-acted and compelling as the show is, it doesn't have a ton of light to shed on podcasting as a medium or a phenomenon, aside from making clear that the podcast-within-the-show is very similar to Serial, including nearly identical music. It's also somewhat odd that a journalist who likely knows the case backwards and forwards would have her mind so thoroughly changed by watching one video of one deposition, years after the fact.

With the exception of The Morning Show, Truth Be Told features the strongest top-to-bottom cast of any Apple TV+ show, featuring several performers who aren't seen on screen nearly enough these days.

Traci Thoms, from Death Proof, is Poppy's sister. Mekhi Phifer (from 8 Mile and ER) plays an ex-cop and veteran TV actor Michael Beach is in the show as well, as Poppy's husband. Ron Cephas Jones (from This is Us) plays Poppy's father. Annabella Sciorra, the actress who was off-screen for many years, also appears on the show as the twins' estranged mother.

Spellman, the creator, is a longtime TV writer and producer who has previously worked on The Good Wife, Justified and Women's Murder Club. She's perhaps best known for having been a producer of Confederate, the controversial series for HBO, created by the Game of Thrones creators, that ultimately never went forward.

Danish filmmaker Mikkel Nrgaard, known from his work on Klown, directed the first episode.

The Bottom line

The series will run for ten episodes, each of which are about 45 minutes long. The first three episodes debut December 6, with one a week to follow for the following seven weeks. There's no word yet on a renewal, but this is the sort of format that could easily run for multiple seasons, focusing on a different case each time.

Truth Be Told is yet another show in the Apple TV+ lineup that isn't PG-rated or Disneyfied. The whole thing, after all, hinges on a grisly murder. It's looking more and more like the fears about Apple TV+ shying away from edgy content were misplaced.

It's not the best show from Apple TV+'s initial run, as it comes in below Servant, Dickinson, and For All Mankind,, but it's still an enjoyable effort with a compelling hook at its center.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 3
    It's not the best show from Apple TV+'s initial run, as it comes in below Servant, Dickinson, and For All Mankind,
    It's interesting how AppleTV+ shows are reviewed in comparison to other streaming services/networks. It's like each new show is treated like a new hardware version of a flagship product. When the iPhone 11 was released it makes sense to compare it to the Xr. Art is more subjective than that though. The authors personal opinion may be that Servant, Dickinson and For All Mankind are the best of what Apple has to offer (I also really enjoy each of these shows) but others will have a different opinion. My wife for instance is really enjoying The Morning Show but has no interest in Servant or For All Mankind.  


    When Netflix releases a show like Bojack Horesman I wouldn't try and compare it with House of Cards. I guess it might make sense to talk about which shows you enjoyed the most in the early days. But I wonder how long this will go on for....
    macgui
  • Reply 2 of 3
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 948member
    I have a free year of Apple TV+ available and have yet to see anything to make me bother with it.

    I have Hulu + HBO, Criterion Streaming, PBS Passport (if you contribute to a PBS member station you get full on demand streaming access) and Amazon Prime. I get ESPN+ for free from Comcast because it is my home ISP.

    I watch less TV than anyone in the house but know that content is king and Apple has a very empty closet. Disney seems to be off to a strong start and has a truckload of content already online and plenty more that they could add whenever they wish. AT&T/Warner will be coming shortly with a product that could be quite compelling. Now that CBS and Viacom are getting back together, we could see CBS All Access become a much bigger player with Paramount, Showtime and all the Viacom channels added in. Comcast, who owns Telemundo and NBC, Universal and a stable of cable channels such as MSNBC and CNBC has something in the works for 2020 as well.

    As a long term project, maybe. In the here and now, Apple is the “lastest with the leastest”.
    edited December 2019
  • Reply 3 of 3
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,428administrator
    lolliver said:
    It's not the best show from Apple TV+'s initial run, as it comes in below Servant, Dickinson, and For All Mankind,
    It's interesting how AppleTV+ shows are reviewed in comparison to other streaming services/networks. It's like each new show is treated like a new hardware version of a flagship product. When the iPhone 11 was released it makes sense to compare it to the Xr. Art is more subjective than that though. The authors personal opinion may be that Servant, Dickinson and For All Mankind are the best of what Apple has to offer (I also really enjoy each of these shows) but others will have a different opinion. My wife for instance is really enjoying The Morning Show but has no interest in Servant or For All Mankind.  


    When Netflix releases a show like Bojack Horesman I wouldn't try and compare it with House of Cards. I guess it might make sense to talk about which shows you enjoyed the most in the early days. But I wonder how long this will go on for....
    Reviews are like that. Find a reviewer whose tastes dovetail with your own for best results.
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