Engrossing Truth Be Told returns to the scene of the crime [Apple TV+ review]

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Octavia Spencer as Poppy Parnell on Truth Be Told
Octavia Spencer plays true-crime podcaster Poppy Parnell.
Photo: Apple TV+

Truth Be Told, the Apple TV+ series about a true-crime podcaster, makes its triumphant return this week after winning a host of awards and setting up a new-yet-old-fashioned kind of TV heroine.

In the show’s second season, which kicks off today, star Octavia Spencer and a host of the greatest actors in America keep Truth Be Told rooted in a relatable reality.

Truth Be Told review: ‘Other People’s Tears Are Just Water’

The first season of Truth Be Told introduced the world to Spencer’s character, Poppy Parnell, a true crime podcaster who gets embroiled in real-world controversy when she investigates a cold case.

With that behind her, Poppy’s not looking to raise her profile any higher, but the universe never cares about that sort of thing. She’s barely started to unwind when an old friend, lifestyle guru Micah Keith (played by Kate Hudson), invites her to an art opening. And then the two discover Micah’s husband dead in the arms of another man back at her loft.

Poppy has a host of reasons not to say “yes” to the case. For one thing, if she finds anything unsavory during the course of the investigation, it’ll ruin her friendship with Micah — and possibly Micah’s public profile and career. Plus, Poppy’s father (Ron Cephas Jones) is ill, and she has to take care of him at least part-time on top of heading up a clandestine investigation.

The police, from the detective in charge of the investigation (Jason O’Mara) , to her contact in the bureau (Michael Beach), and even her old friend ex-cop Markus Killebrew (Mekhi Phifer), are wary of an amateur coming in and showing them up. And yet her friend is grieving, so Poppy relents. There are gonna be stormy seas ahead.

A new kind of procedural

Truth Be Told review, season 2, episode 1 review: Kate Hudson and Octavia Spencer head into the unknown.
Kate Hudson and Octavia Spencer head into the unknown in Truth Be Told’s second season.
Photo: Apple TV+

Truth Be Told won an NAACP Image Award for its first season. If I had to guess why, it’s because the Apple TV+ show didn’t downplay any part of what a woman like Poppy’s life would actually be like.

She’s got strong ties to her family. She goes to church. She’s hard-headed. She makes mistakes. She’s human. This isn’t the kind of ordinary person who usually headlines show like this. (That is to say, shows halfway between a David Simon crime saga and a Shondaland/James Duff murder-of-the-week show.)

Spencer being Spencer, she imbues Poppy with a kind of agreeably world-weary professionalism. It is unfortunate that the brain I possess is so broken, because in the first 10 minutes of season two she, Hudson, Tracie Thoms and Ron Cephas Jones start dancing around a jukebox and all I could think of was the jaw-dropping house party sequence from Ma, a movie that will follow Spencer for the rest of her career.

A movie about a podcaster?

Regardless, I expected to be put off by Truth Be Told because the idea of making TV about a podcast sounds sort of like filming yourself turning the pages of a book.

However, it’s pretty engrossing. It helps that the cast is so impressive (I haven’t even mentioned that Andre Royo is in the show). But also, Truth Be Told exhibits a grounded-enough sense of reality that the introduction of Hudson as a mega-rich influencer who happens to have known Spencer her whole life doesn’t throw off the balance the way it threatens to.

Crushing on Kate Hudson

A word about Hudson. If you’re 12 years old and you see Almost Famous, you develop an undying crush on her. You just do. No avoiding it, no getting around it, best just to embrace it.

My affection for Hudson has led me to some desperate places (Gossip, Bride Wars, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, You, Me and Dupree) throughout her wildly uneven career. But I maintain that she’s a very likable screen presence, even if her movies got, err … dicey.

Fortunately, no qualification is necessary here because she’s basically playing Gwyneth Paltrow. (Anyone who’s spent any time researching Paltrow’s mega-grift lifestyle brand Goop will know before the first scene with Hudson has ended what she’s doing here.)

When Hudson wants to lampoon her peers, there’s frequently no one more reliable. Recall if you will her impression of Drew Barrymore on Saturday Night Live some 20 years ago. The idea of her playing a harried, pampered WASP princess is just a bull’s-eye from everyone involved, so I’m all in on this idea. Let’s hope my confidence is not misplaced as Truth Be Told season 2 develops.

Truth Be Told on Apple TV+

New episodes of Truth Be Told arrive on Apple TV+ on Fridays.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.