Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 4/5
Deception and lies were perhaps the keywords for writers while scripting season 1 of Tell Me Lies. Although the title is also indicative, this phenomenon overwhelmingly defines Hulu’s newest sexy drama. In familiar the setting of a college where booze, parties, and fornication form the trifecta mojo for students, we focus on some of the most unlikeable and unbearable characters put to screen in recent times. In fact, that is a special dynamic that the show offers that sets it apart.
At the same time, it is a genuinely frustrating element of the storytelling but because it is intentional, the viewer must take that into account. Tell Me Lies season 1 fulfilled the impressive feat of twisting human emotions to produce compelling drama and hardly relied on jarring story turns and twists.
It has become a fashion among creators recently to unnecessarily introduce layers to make their narratives lively. This is mostly done through complicated and mostly uncalculated creative decisions that end up derailing their projects. For a story to constantly unfold, you do not need new characters and settings and diversions in the script to achieve it.
Tell Me Lies is based on the novel of the same name by Carola Lovering. The social group it focuses on includes freshmen Lucy, Pippa, and Bree, and seniors Wrigley, Stephen, Diana, and Evan. There are two timelines – the past and the present – and season 1 shows the events that happened in the former. The mismatch in the time that creators give to them is not an issue here.
There are quite promising chances that we will have a second season as well. That would be a great opportunity to reverse the positions and focus on how the past shaped the present. We are yet to see that and it is an exciting, unexplored territory in the cinematic universe. So, the good things first. For a show like Tell Me Lies to work, you really need actors who can be convincing. Not just to others but to themselves as well. In their skin, they must be convinced that the characters themselves are worth putting up a fight for. Their perspective of seeing them must be completely detached from the neutral standpoint.
Telling lies is an art and this ensemble cast seems to have struck the right chords. They deliver quite resounding performances and share even better chemistry with each other. Whether it is two on two, or them as a group, the cast leaves no stone unturned. Grace van Patten (Lucy) and Jackson White (Stephen), whose real-life mother Kate Sagal also plays her reel-life mother, play the toxic couple capably on screen. Both roles demand a certain kind of setup that is unconventional and not very attractive to many actors. It is deeply challenging to play a morally skewed character and both of them hit the right nerves without going overboard. This stands true for the other members of the main cast as well. In terms of storytelling, season 1 gets a decent score as well.
Although I must resist using words like “hooked”, there was an urge to watch the new episode on the day it aired. There is a central “lie” that sort of sets up the story this way. In its absence, maybe things would have turned out differently. But it is not a defining moment. And keeping it o the same level, the writers and Meagan Oppenheimer, the showrunner, must be praised. All the tension in Tell Me Lies is extremely volatile and mostly comes from some particular scene. There are occasions where it is sculpted through motifs and other storytelling tools but majorly, the individual work on creating those situations and organically allowing them to create replicas is smart and effective.
It would be safe to say that there is somewhat of a balance between the negatives and the positives, with the balance tilting toward the latter. But it is time to talk about the negatives. Tonal inconsistency is definitely one. For football aficionados, the Gattusso meme is a great reference. In some moments, there hardly seem to be any better written or performed shows on OTT platforms. The one where Stephen becomes vulnerable in front of Lucy about the accident is an example. But it crumbles without a fight in so many others. And that in crucial ones. Moreover, the uneven dialogues feel very derivative. If you have a trained, familiar ear, hearing them would instantly give you an alert that you have heard it before.
There is no way even Euphoria is beating Tell Me Lies for the number of parties it creates in the universe. Every other day we have one, so much so, that the story seems to be fitted in between those voluminous events. Tying up the the different moving parts is shabbily done. In the end, the writers choose to prioritize some dynamics more than others, which is understandable. But they do it all of a sudden. It feels a bit jarring and perhaps could have been done smoothly.
Overall, Tell Me Lies is not a show for everyone. I know it is a cliché line but in this case, it is true. Do not go into it expecting any warmth or color. There is only marginal joy that you can extract from the story. Everything else is bleak, raw, and jaw-droppingly seductive. Season 1 is time well spent.
Verdict - 7/10