‘Truth Be Told’ premiere ‘Monster’ sees Octavia Spencer’s Poppy fight for neo-Nazi she may have helped wrongly convict
Poppy’s articles on the murder of Chuck Buhrman, a professor and author, profiled his alleged and later convicted murderer; a 16-year-old called Warren Cave. She painted Warren the titular monster and they may have affected the jurors, or at least that’s what a guilt-ridden Poppy wants to believe
The following article contains spoilers for episode one of 'Truth Be Told'
“As long as a journalist tells the truth, in conscience and fairness, it is not his job to worry about consequences. The truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run. I truly believe the truth sets men free.” Ben Bradlee, the celebrated former editor of the Washington Post who presided over the discovery of the Watergate scandal, said these words in 1973.
In Apple TV+’s ‘Truth Be Told’, based on the novel ‘Are You Sleeping’ by Kathleen Barber, these words are not just referenced, but they’re also central to the story’s theme. The first episode of the crime drama, ‘Monster’, has a lot for viewers to unpack.
It follows investigative journalist Poppy Parnell (Octavia Spencer), who now runs a massively popular true-crime podcast. At an appeal for opening a 19-year-old murder case -- it was instrumental in kickstarting Poppy’s career -- she realizes she might have made a mistake.
Poppy’s articles on the murder of Chuck Buhrman, a professor and author, profiled his alleged and later convicted murderer; a 16-year-old called Warren Cave (played by Hunter Doohan and Aaron Paul).
Poppy’s articles painted Warren the titular monster. And they may have affected the jurors in the case, or at least that’s what a guilt-ridden Poppy now wants to believe. So poppy decides to reexamine the whole story through her podcast.
The Apple TV+ show is an ambitious one and both Spencer and Paul provide great performances. The story feels gripping enough with all the right elements of a modern drama -- relationships, family dynamics, crime and lies. But something feels off.
Rebecca Mead, in a 2018 long read on The New Yorker, said, “... podcasts are unusual in their commitment to a slow build, and to a sensual atmosphere.” Yet, somehow, in a show that centers around investigative journalism and podcasts -- both let information marinade slowly -- things happen too fast.
Minds are changed quickly, decisions are made suddenly and even the scenes cut too fast. There’s an unnecessary urgency in bringing the viewers up to speed in ‘Truth Be Told’ that mars the effect of the richly-told story. But one can perhaps excuse that in the first episode.
The show, despite this issue, manages to touch upon some interesting themes. Deception is one of them, obviously. But race wasn’t a theme to expect. A grown-up Warren who’s still in prison has turned into a Nazi. And that affects Poppy, a black woman, and her motivations to deliver justice.
How race will affect Poppy further in this ordeal is one that would be interesting to watch, after all, she is literally trying to help a person who hates her for being black. As a storytelling device, ‘Truth Be Told’ has a fantastic opportunity here.
With the narrative strength of a podcast and a show’s ability to visualize the past, viewers get to watch what is happening now juxtaposed against what actually happened. And it managed to do that in episode 1.
‘Truth Be Told’ is available for viewing on Apple TV+