Is there a point where the personal fallout from a quest for truth and the consequences of uncovering long-buried secrets become so detrimental that the quest itself should be stifled? That seems to be a question at the heart of Truth Be Told, a new AppleTV+ show that stars Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as a podcaster who might have contributed to an innocent man Aaron Paul being put in jail. But it seems to be a pair of twin sisters, played by the great Lizzy Caplan, whose lives hang in the balance if the real truth is discovered. Check out a new featurette for the series below.
“Am I just trying to find the truth so badly, it destroys everybody else?” is a compelling hook for a show, especially one with ties to the true crime genre that’s been experiencing a surge in popularity over the past few years. And with a cast this solid, Truth Be Told is going to be tough to ignore.
While this is being called a “first look featurette,” a full trailer for the show was already released back in October. That trailer seemed to focus on the dynamic between Spencer’s journalist character, Poppy Parnell, and the man whom she helped imprison, Warren Cave Aaron Paul. Perhaps it’s because Spencer and Paul are the two best-known cast members. But this featurette seems to indicate that other mysteries afoot may be just as important, including those surrounding the twin girls at the center of this story, both played by Lizzy Caplan Party Down, Masters of Sex.
Nichelle Tramble Spellman Justified, The Good Wife is the creator and showrunner of this series, which is based on author Kathleen Barber’s novel Are You Sleeping – and it’s worth noting that the official description of Barber’s book also puts the focus on the twin girls instead of the podcaster/prisoner relationship. Are You Sleeping was the original name for this show before it shifted to the much better Truth Be Told. Elizabeth Perkins, Brett Cullen, Michael Beach, Mekhi Phifer, Tracie Thoms, Haneefah Wood, and Ron Cephas Jones round out the supporting cast.
Here’s the official description of the series:
When new evidence compels podcaster Poppy Parnell Octavia Spencer to reopen the murder case that made her a national sensation, she comes face to face with Warren Cave Aaron Paul, the man she may have mistakenly helped to put behind bars. Her investigation navigates urgent concerns about privacy, media and race.
The title of Netflix’s miniseries “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” implies that it’s not entirely a factual retelling of the pioneering entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist’s life. In fact, the influence fundamental to Walker's remarkable story barely exists in this rather underwhelming jumble.
The one thing that’s clear is that writers Nicole Jefferson Asher and Elle Johnson working from a bio written by Walker's great-great-granddaughter A'Lelia Bundles and directors Kasi Lemmons and DeMane Davis want to tell a story that inspires and entertains. The degree to which they succeed in doing that is what’s ultimately in question. It’s pointless to critique creative license here, as many critics continue to do, so don’t expect much of a deep dive into the itinerant history of Walker’s business, which is highly abridged in the series, as are her philanthropic and social work. But what did end up on the screen is very awkward at best.
When we first meet star Octavia Spencer as Walker, it’s as a boxer in a boxing ring, draped in a satin robe, holding up her boxing gloves to apparently knock out whoever and whatever stands in her way, as an upbeat contemporary hip-hop track overwhelms. That it’s not L.L. Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” is actually one of the few smart choices made here. This somewhat cringeworthy motif is repeated throughout, almost serving as visual interstitials, because the series is set up as a title bout between Spencer’s Walker née Sarah Breedlove and Addie Munroe — a cartoonish reimagining of Walker's real-life rival Annie Malone, played by a typically reliable Carmen Ejogo as a “baddie” so over the top in her vindictiveness that she’s laughable. It unnecessarily belittles Malone, who established a significant and prominent commercial and educational venture for African-American women cosmetics.
But where “Self Made” ultimately fails, in four episodes that are each roughly 45 minutes to an hour long, is to give a very firm idea of who Walker was or how she built her empire. It instead relies too much on an unwarranted flair in order to tell, what on paper, is an already thrilling story of a black woman — born to former slaves just after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — who eventually became the richest self-made woman in America of her time. There are more than enough tales of legendary rivalries and turbulent relationships in this mostly untold and highly unlikely story of the black hair care pioneer during turn-of-the-century America.
Additionally, instead of attempting to make “Self Made” hit several beats of Walker's life, it should have focused on a shorter, more significant time...
Apple continues to hand out second-season pickups to its crop of original scripted series. The latest to get a Season 2 renewal is drama Truth Be Told, starring an executive produced by Octavia Spencer. The series is created by Nichelle Tramble Spellman and is produced by Hello Sunshine, Chernin Entertainment and Endeavor Content.
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Truth Be Told was billed as a limited series but had been designed for a multi-season run. It will be a quasi-anthology in the vein of USA drama The Sinner and NBC comedy Trial & Error where there is a central protagonists that carries over as each season focuses on a new story with new characters.
Spencer will reprise her role as Poppy Parnell in season two, which will unfold around a new case. The first season of Truth Be Told follows podcaster Parnell as she is compelled to reopen the murder case that made her a national sensation, and comes face-to-face with the man she may have mistakenly helped to put behind bars.
“Working with Octavia Spencer has been a dream come true for me. I am honored to continue to build the character of Poppy Parnell with her, and my partners at Hello Sunshine and Chernin Entertainment,” said Tramble Spellman. “Apple continues to show their tremendous support for us and the show. I am thrilled to dive back into exploring our national obsession with true crime and how it plays out with our rich canvas of compelling characters.”
There has been a divide in the reaction to Truth Be Told, with lukewarm reviews by critics and high marks by regular viewers. The series recently landed two NAACP Image Award nominations, for Spencer and Tramble Spellman, with the latter going on to win.
“Octavia's performance and Nichelle's story struck a chord with audiences,” said Matt Cherniss, head of development, Apple Worldwide Video. “We are proud of this powerful show and the incredible team behind it, and look forward to a second season.”
Truth Be Told is executive produced by Spencer, alongside writer and executive producer Tramble Spellman, Reese Witherspoon and Lauren Neustadter for Hello Sunshine, Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping for Chernin Entertainment, and Mikkel Norgaard.
Truth Be Told joins the other original Apple scripted series that have debuted or are pending, all of which have been renewed for a second season. That includes Home Before Dark, Little America, Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet, Dickinson, See, Servant and For All Mankind. The Morning Show also is returning for a second season.