Truth Be Told is another crime fiction adaptation for Apple+ TV. While the show is based on Kathleen Barber’s popular novel, Are You Sleeping, the miniseries version has been altered in some significant ways to better orient it for television viewing. The most important of these was to bring Poppy Parnell to the forefront.
In Truth Be Told, Poppy Parnell is played by Octavia Spencer. Poppy is a true-crime podcaster whose show was instrumental in the conviction of Warren Cave for the murder of Chuck Buhrman. As the show opens, it is years later, and Poppy discovers that the testimony of Laine Buhrman (one of the victim’s twin daughters) may have been coerced. Worried that she helped play a part in sending an innocent man to prison, Poppy launches a new podcast series designed to dig deeper into the original case.
Laine Buhrman and her twin sister are portrayed very effectively by the often-underestimated Lizzy Caplan. Here she does a great job of bringing to life two very different characters. The scenes where both twins are on screen simultaneously are extremely well-edited, almost convincing the viewer that it is two different actresses. Their dynamic becomes a highlight of the plot as the eight episodes roll out.
As Poppy digs further into the past, she must meet with Warren Cave – the man she helped to convict who has now joined the Aryan Brotherhood and has serious difficulty trusting anyone. When he finds out that is mother is dying from cancer, he opens up to Poppy in the hopes of gaining his freedom before it is too late. Arron Paul is perfectly-cast for this role that requires both anger and hopelessness – often at the same time.
Meanwhile, Poppy’s family dynamics are almost as twisted as that of the Burhman Family. Poppy has married well and with her success in the podcasting arena, she grew further from her middle-class roots. Resentments about past actions cause the entire family to tip-toe around each other, but it becomes clear that this new investigation will either shatter the family completely or force them to come together in solidarity.
The show takes many detours and keeps viewers engaged throughout. The one challenging aspect for many will be that all of the characters are extremely flawed, to the extent that it can be difficult to cheer for any of them. Octavia Spencer, who is typically beloved, here comes across more harshly than seems warranted. In her defense, a late-reveal sheds now light on Poppy’s character, but maybe should have been introduced earlier. Not so coincidentally, the second twin – Josie Burhman – who was the central character in the novel is probably the most sympathetic character in the miniseries.
Truth Be Told does a nice job of bringing diversity to the screen. Focused on the San Francisco elite, I can see how in the past this show might have featured a white-washed cast, so I am happy that did not happen in our modern times. Apple+ TV seems to have faith in Octavia Spencer as the show has been given a second season. Poppy will clearly have to get involved in a different investigation as Truth Be Told ends with all the threads tied together in a satisfying manner.
For more from Kathleen Barber, be sure to check out my spoiler-free review of Follow Me.