Lucy Albright (Grace Van Patten – Nine Perfect Strangers), a young woman just starting college, finds herself falling for a charming man, who’s just a little too good at lying. Although their relationship begins like any typical campus romance, they quickly fall into an addictive entanglement that will permanently alter not only their lives, but the lives of everyone around them.
The story actually kicks off some years later, post-tumultuous relationship. When we first meet Lucy, we see her attending one of her best friend’s wedding. We quickly realise she’s lied to her boyfriend about attending a college reunion, just to avoid any weird confrontation with her ex. Flashbacks of their fights and steamy bed encounters flash by while Lucy throws back a couple of glasses of champagne.
We then go back several years to see our protagonist exploring college and meeting her soon-to-be best friends. As most young people do, they attend parties, get wasted, have sex with strangers… but Lucy has caught the eye of a handsome student who has a few secrets of his own. Stephen DeMarco (Jackson White – Ambulance) is still figuring out how to cut ties with his ex-girlfriend, while his friends get into trouble.
The first five episodes of Tell Me Lies, which is based on the New Adult-novel by Carola Lovering, leave little to the imagination when it comes to sex, seduction and betrayal. It’s quite graphic and aggressive in its depiction of certain sexual acts, and one time even goes overboard (TW: rape). Sure, love comes with lust and the chemistry between Van Patten and White looks genuine, but I think the focus doesn’t have to be on sexual intercourse in every single episode. There’s plenty of cheating, lying and gaslighting, but there’s also a more grounded story hiding underneath that wants to explore Lucy’s relationship with her mom, and Stephen’s involvement with a possible off-campus accident/murder, I was much more interested in.
Lucy certainly makes horrible decisions and ignores all the red flags surrounding Stephen, but haven’t we all had a similar relationship like that at one point in our life?! It’s an honest portrayal of the naive decisions we make just to feel loved by someone, knowing this could blow up in our face at any moment. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how the rest of the season will evolve, other than Lucy and Stephen’s toxic relationship getting more intense to the point of self-destruction.
Most of the supporting cast actually does a pretty good job, with clear standout performances by Lucy’s college friends, played by Catherine Missal (Vacation) & Sonia Mena (The Deuce), and Stephen’s ex-girlfriend played by Alicia Crowder (The Society). I’m glad the series was written from a female perspective considering it mostly revolves around Lucy’s character, but I’d love to have seen more women in the director’s chair.
I’m certainly intrigued, even though not fully invested in Tell Me Lies. To me that’s a positive thing, but I can see other viewers certainly bail on the entire series before it gets to the more intense bits.
The 10 episode season will premiere Wednesday, September 7 with three episodes on Hulu. New episodes stream weekly.
Reviewed online (screeners provided by Hulu), September 1, 2022. Running time: 10 episodes of 50 min.
PRODUCTION: A Hulu release of a 20th Television, Belletrist, Rebelle Media, Refinery29 & Vice Studios production. Producer: Mathew Hart. Executive producers: Jonathan Levine, Meaghan Oppenheimer, Shannon Gibson, Stephanie Noonan, Karah Preiss, Emma Roberts, Laura Lewis, Stephanie Drachkovitch & Samantha Schlaifer.
CREW: Directors: Jonathan Levine, Sam Boyd, Erin Feeley & Ed Lilly. Writers: Meaghan Oppenheimer, Samir Mehta, Mona Mira, Sinead Daly & Chisa Hutchinson (based on the novel by Carola Lovering). Cinematography: Luc Montpellier & Charlie Gruet. Editing: Jeff Israel. Music: Jay Wadley.
CAST: Grace Van Patten, Jackson White, Catherine Missal, Benjamin Wadsworth, Spencer House, Branden Cook, Alicia Crowder, Sonia Mena, Savanna Gann & Alayna Hester.