Telling Lies

FBT is searching for the truth amongst the lies. And the boredom.

I loved Her Story, so this ‘spiritual sequel’ went straight on my Sales wish-list. If watching one person talk for hours can get me that excited, four talking heads has to be awesome…

Karen (Karen?) sets about reviewing recordings related to David Smith, a deep-cover FBI agent to understand what happened after he infiltrated an environmental terrorist group.

While in Her Story we’d watch a lone woman’s statement to eke out clues and keywords to pin down what happened, in TL we only see one side of a conversation, meaning a whole lot of just nodding and ‘uh-huh’. You can find files of the other end of the conversation, but it means a lot of nothing to trawl through. It’s basically like watching me on the phone with my mum.

As David joins the terror group’s public front, a social media pressure group, he gets in with Ava, an idealistic environmentalist and develops feelings for her, compromising both his marriage and the mission. Struggling with his dual-life, David starts using a camgirl, ‘Max’, to confess, while secrets start to surface as he cracks under the pressure.

That makes it sound complex and compelling, but it isn’t. It’s largely watching him chatting, then tracking down wife Emma, Ava or Max’s reaction, which is usually them getting annoyed with him. The deep cover operative blurs the lines plot is already overused and this takes it nowhere new, so it struggles to keep your interest – and we’re supposed to be piecing it together. Twice.

I quickly run out of things to search for, bored of another argument with the wife, a clip of him convincing the group he’s legit, Ava getting needy, Max clearly scamming him. We're just watching him blur lines, get into trouble with various women, pout and brood while getting told off for not being home. Whereas Her Story’s approach worked because it was focused and you had to concentrate to pick up the subtleties, here I’m not drawn in so I don’t know how to reach the inevitable ending, and start searching for phrases from undercover cop films. Some of which work.

This feels worryingly close to those great/terrible FMV of the 90s, we're one step away from Night Trap.

Another unfocused element is Karen’s intentions. Is she trying to prove David innocent, track down someone who knows what really happened, learn a covered-up truth? We’re not told what Karen is after, so we don’t have any direction. Karen only has until 5am before the FBI shuts down the connection, and it winds down in semi-real time. There’s actually few lies to uncover, what we’re really doing is deconstructing David’s deluded ‘knight in shining armour’ self-belief.

We’re basically spending hours watching three women realise they’re better off without him. And that’s fine, but whenever I find a video of one of them telling him he’s out of their lives, I spend ages trying to find out why and keep coming back to he’s a deep-cover agent with emotional problems who’s unable to handle the pressure he’s under. David is far from innocent, but he’s something of a victim too and even Karen arguably destroys his legacy by releasing the footage (no idea why) - well, releases what we uncovered.

And in my case, that wasn’t a great deal. My FBI after-report showed that I’d watched half the videos and focused mostly on cam-girl Max… can’t lie about that. But in my defence, her way of getting info out of David while giving nothing away was compelling. And I could guess the rest, although I didn't need to as I managed to find the final video by luck. It’s like knowing exactly what you want to Google, but clicking I Feel Lucky instead. I didn’t.

Within five minutes of starting TL, I’d understood the story and what was going to happen. What I hoped for was some fun figuring how it all unravelled, but there’s no intrigue, threat, danger, or surprise to it all. The terror group plot goes nowhere and what we’re left with is a cautionary tale of an unfaithful husband and a warning not to trust Camgirls – who go on to become successful writers who produce novels with ‘strong female leads’.

TL is basically a bad daytime soap opera where beautiful people whine about how unfulfilling their lives are. The characters are paper-thin, the plot reheated and the point of it all hazy. If the story was how a corrupt FBI agent got taken down by three unconnected women that would be something, but it’s not that, it’s not anything really. It’s like an episode of Thirtysomething on random, and just as forgettable. Who remembers Thirtysomething?!

I am so disappointed in this. It took me three hours to reach the end, and it was exactly what I expected at the beginning. It’s a great concept, and at times I did get involved, but mostly it’s like listening to one side of someone’s phone call. Telling Lies lacks the originality and twists that compel you to keep digging. Karen should have just demanded to speak to the manager.