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Tell Me Lies

Hulu, September 7, 2022

Sep 07, 2022 Photography by Josh Stringer/Hulu Web Exclusive
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Blame the super-popular Normal People for navel-gazing, coming-of-age, trauma-riddled, self-obsessed, college era stories based on popular books. Tell Me Lies, adapted from Carola Lovering’s novel is the latest in these series, which premieres with three episodes.

Tell Me Lies starts with an almost-sex scene with Lucy, played by the Shailene Woodley look-alike Grace Van Patten (Nine Perfect Strangers). The scene turns out to be a sex dream about a different guy than the one she’s in bed with. This is just the first of many, many soft porn-like sex scenes that litter Tell Me Lies, whose underlying, and overarching theme is that of toxic yet addictive relationships.

Cut to the wedding of a college friend of Lucy’s and the tense reunion of her one-time close-knit group, four years after graduation. There is a burning gaze across the wedding reception between Lucy and Stephen (Jackson White), with flashbacks to passionate embraces and/or weeping. Rewind to Lucy leaving for college and the early college days of meeting your roommate(s) and the girls across the hall and connecting with boys. This is Stephen’s entry into Lucy life, with the same burning gaze, within a few hours of arriving on campus.

College parties with young girls in strappy tops with boobs spilling out and drunk dudes pitifully hitting on them and preying on their freshman insecurities, Tell Me Lies starts predictably and gives off the impression of being gratuitous in its excessive exhibitions of flesh. But, it doesn’t take very long to realize that Lucy has a terrible relationship with her seemingly caring, if overbearing mother. It’s unclear why, and it’s also unclear what happened to her father. Lucy starts nonchalant and tries to stay that way, but she soon unravels becoming in turns harsh and cutting, then entirely undone and fragile.

The other characters, party girl Pippa (Sonia Mena), innocent Bree (Catherine Missal), football star Wrigley (Spencer House), younger brother of football star Drew (Benjamin Wadsworth), trust fund kid Evan (Branden Cook), too-good-to-be-true Diana (Alicia Crowder) and of course Stephen, stop being obnoxious long enough to, however briefly, share personal facts about themselves. This is where the investment in the series lives. It is also the real draw of Tell Me Lies.

Stephen portrays himself as the typical corny and horny college guy preying on incoming freshman. He shows a better side to himself when Lucy is in distress, but quickly ruins that when he bumps into Diana, his ex-girlfriend. He tells her a bunch of lies and almost has sex with her, which she stops, then comes back to take Lucy out. He seesaws between these women more than once, showing entirely different versions of himself to each of them, none of which win him any fans among viewers. But when Stephen reveals private details about his family life, you grudingly forgive some of his behaviors.

This is the same intoxicating characteristic that drives the toxic relationship between Stephen and Lucy, which is maddening in how painfully harmful it is. Not just these two but all the interactions in Tell Me Lies are riddled with the titular lies. The kind of fibs that, especially when you are younger, you decorate your life with, both in order to shield yourself, and to seem better to each other.

The cast comes across as natural, even in their stereotypical roles. The dialogue is similarly fluid and representative of the kind of conversations that would happen in these circumstances.

There are a lot of secrets threaded through Tell Me Lies, the hinting at which is enough to keep you tuning in. Ten episodes total in this season, with episodes streaming weekly.

Author rating: 6/10

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