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Octavia Spencer Must Reinvestigate on 'Truth Be Told'
December 6, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Few things are subtle in Truth Be Told, an unsettling new series about a journalist and her subject who are both looking for redemption.

Truth Be Told, which becomes available Friday on the new streaming service Apple TV+, revolves around a man who may have been falsely convicted of murder and the reporter who became famous writing about that murder.

Based on Kathleen Barber's novel Are You SleepingTruth Be Told gives us an A-list of actors playing characters drawn so boldly that they occasionally teeter on caricature.

It provides plenty of reinforcement both for those skeptical of contemporary journalism and those who argue that despite human flaws, most journalists aim, at the end of the day, for the truth.

Octavia Spencer stars as Poppy Parnell, a long-time print writer who now hosts a successful podcast. She earned her reputation 20 years earlier with an extended profile of Warren Cave, a 17-year-old who was accused and then convicted of murdering his next-door neighbor, a prominent college professor.

The evidence against Cave was modest and circumstantial with one exception: one of the victim's twin daughters, Josie Burhman (Lizzy Caplan), said she was certain she saw Cave leaving the house. That, plus the fact his fingerprints were found in multiple locations around the house, overrode the fact there was no DNA evidence, no murder weapon, and no clear motive.

Parnell's original series played into and possibly helped write that narrative. It was called "Making of a Monster," and for her, it was, as they say, a career-maker.

Now, two decades later, Parnell is faced with a troubling addendum. A videotape of the initial police interview with Josie Burhman shows that when she was first asked whether she saw Warren Cave that night, she hesitates and says she thinks so. She's not sure, a significant contrast to the courtroom witness who said she was "100%" certain he was the one.

So Parnell decides she should revisit the case, partly because she senses there might be an untold story here and partly because she feels a rapidly growing sense of guilt over her original reporting.

Her revisitation plan does not start out well. The surviving Burhmans don't really want to rip open a wound they've never fully closed, and not surprisingly, Cave (Aaron Paul) and his mother Melanie (Elizabeth Perkins) don't have a lot of use for the writer who branded him a monster without so much as a brief nod to presumption of innocence.

To get any cooperation at all, Parnell has to break a cardinal rule of journalism and then convince the Caves that, however much they despise her, she might be the only person who could help them.

And so we plunge into the details of the case which seemed so tidy with Cave's original conviction and now turn out to have papered over a snakepit of sordid secrets. We also poke into how an acclaimed piece of journalism came about, and that's not always pretty, either.

One of the most interesting aspects of Truth Be Told is the contrast it draws, or in some moments overdraws, between Warren Cave then and now.

The teenage Cave (Hunter Doohan) was a deer in the headlights. The contemporary Warren Cave, hardened and embittered by two decades inside, offers very little to like. Paul plays him with a wired intensity that Spencer's Parnell must constantly struggle to confront and deflect.

Parnell's quest inevitably ropes in her own family, which has issues that mirror in some ways the effect the original case had on the Burhman and Cave families.

Truth Be Told doesn't give viewers any early hints about the real murder story but instead sets up a deliberately paced string of ruminations on what happens to truth, morality, honesty, and decency when the judicial process becomes a public spectacle.

Hint: No one is likely to emerge unscathed.

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I begrudgingly will give Episode 2 a try-- But!
Spencer's justification for the Investigation starts with "but I have a Podcast!"--
It seems of little consequence how anyone else feels about it. I can usually back an Investigator "looking for the Truth" but her culpability in the case has not brought any humility. Other Human Beings be Darned. She has a Mission.
If she grows no humility soon, I'm gone.
Dec 9, 2019   |  Reply
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