Everyone knows crime rates go up with the temperature, so it's no wonder networks are anticipating the spring thaw with a fistful of new procedurals.
ABC and CBS go head to head Sunday, with two movie-star-powered if very different offerings. Secrets & Lies from ABC is an eminently serious, disturbing, and always absorbing mystery about a child murder in the heart of suburbia.
CBS goes for laughs with Battle Creek, a wonderfully off-kilter, mildly surreal satire featuring Josh Duhamel, Dean Winters, and Janet McTeer .
We are all sinners
Adapted from the Australian drama, Secrets & Lies pits Ryan Phillippe and Juliette Lewis in an intense if sometimes overboiled battle of wills over the murder of a 4-year-old boy. He's the suspect, she the morally righteous, obsessive detective convinced of his guilt.
Phillippe plays Ben Crawford, owner of a small housepainting business who is immensely popular in his sleepy, suburban Charlotte, N.C., neighborhood.
While jogging one morning, he discovers the body of Tom Murphy, a neighbor's child he has known since the boy's birth. Before Ben knows it, his apparently idyllic world is shattered with brutal finality.
It's clear from their first meeting that Detective Andrea Cornell (Lewis), an intense, scowling creature given to staring at people with a disarming mix of curiosity and aggression, believes Ben killed the boy.
The once-beloved family man flails about as his family - wife Christy (Private Practice's KaDee Strickland) and their two daughters, 16-year-old Natalie (Aussie beauty Indiana Evans) and 12-year-old Abby (Belle Shouse) - watches helplessly.
Secrets & Lies is anything but a straight-up procedural. It burrows deep inside Ben and Christy's world to reveal its ugly underside and dangerous fault lines.
In a clever narrative strategy, the viewer is given access to the story through Ben's point of view. We become intimate with his distress, his disorientation. Yet Secrets & Lies withholds an essential truth: We must endure with Ben without being told whether he's innocent.
He certainly is determined to prove his innocence. To do so, he puts his community under the microscope, uncovering layer by layer the various facades, hypocrisies, and untruths that hold people together. That includes the sorry state of his marriage. After 17 years, it has all but withered away into empty gestures and daily routines.
Secret & Lies is especially good at showing the media's power to keep the public in a state of perpetual panic. Forced by the 24-hour news cycle to sensationalize every development in the murder case, the local news twists hearsay and rumor to turn Ben into a monster in a matter of hours.
Secrets & Lies suffers from some serious overacting. Lewis' confrontations with Phillippe feel less like police interrogations than as Scenes (with a capital S) performed for a seminar on method acting.
Despite its faults, ABC's drama is a winner.
Murder in cereal city
Why set a cop show in the sleepy town of Battle Creek, Mich., world headquarters of the Kellogg Co.? It's not exactly a hotbed of crime, with fewer than 10 murders a year.
Ah, but that's the kooky Zen wisdom behind CBS's Battle Creek, a loopy satire set in a parallel universe in which crime families don't deal in heroin or guns but achieve notoriety for keeping a stranglehold on the maple syrup industry.
Battle Creek is the brainchild of Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and of David Shore, the man responsible for the medical dramedy House. Theirs is a perfect mix of sensibilities.
The series stars Rescue Me's Winters as Detective Russ Agnew, a tough veteran cop whose department is woefully underfunded and understaffed. His pleas for resources finally are met when the feds send him FBI Special Agent Milt Chamberlain (Duhamel), an insufferably polite, preppy, straightlaced Pollyanna more Dudley Do-Right than Dick Tracy.
Duhamel and Winters were born to share the screen as the odd couple who must solve a seriously strange series of crimes. CBS is so confident in it that it sent critics copies of the first season's entire 13-episode run.
Their faith is well-placed.
Secrets & Lies
Premieres 9 p.m. Sunday on ABC
Premieres 10 p.m. Sunday on CBS