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The secrets, lies, and absurdities of that 'Secrets and Lies' finale

It’s been a few days since the Secrets and Lies finale. You know, the one where Ben was cleared in the murder of little Tom Murphy, but ended up being incarcerated for it anyway. The one where we found out pre-teens can be sociopaths. The one that made us question how far parents should go to protect their children (and at what expense). And the one that, infuriatingly, put the critical, plot changing final scene on the show’s web series instead of in the actual finale. It’s been a few days, but I’m still reeling—for these and other reasons. Let’s break down the good, the bad, and the downright maddening ways it all wrapped up.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that since week one fingers have been pointing to Abby as Tom’s killer. And by “fingers” I mean those of pretty much everyone who watched the Australian series this one was based on and wanted to spoil it for the rest of us. (Thanks for that, BTW.) I don’t know about you, but I tried to ignore them, hoping ABC would be smart enough to realize this would happen and would have altered the original story in some way—at the very least the ending. Seems logical, but I’m just a viewer, so what do I know? As the weeks went on, the signs sure kept pointing to Ben’s little monkey (the eruption of anger to the boy at her school; the continued pleas for the family to stick together; her insistence that they celebrate Christmas as normal—as if her little neighbor buddy hadn’t just died a horrific death; the way she harbored such resentment towards Jess) even though we were thrown off her path again and again. Hey, at least Ben shook up the neighborhood a bit in the process and weeded out a few shady neighbors, so I guess it wasn’t all a waste of time.

But while the paths we were taken on over the course of the season might be a bit frustrating to think of now that we know they were dead ends (lies—they were all lies!), it’s the things that still don’t make sense that are annoying.

Cornell’s fixation on Ben: Now that we know that Cornell ended up exonerating Ben, why was she so hell bent on prosecuting him from day one? I mean, the woman was on a mission to lock him up and toss the key. If she’s such an awesome detective, why wasn’t that steely gaze zeroed in on Abby from the get go?

Brother-in-law Michael’s complete 180: It was clear from the first episode that Michael had a strong distaste for Ben, but suddenly in the last couple of episodes he became his champion. What caused the change of heart? Was it the fact that he suddenly realized Ben didn’t kill Tom? Was it because he saw that his sister was as much of a skank as he accused Ben of being? Whatever the reason, I feel like we were initially led to believe that the animosity Michael felt for Ben was going to come into play, and not only did it go nowhere, it flipped so quickly that it became disbelieving.

Dave’s intelligence and sudden wealth: Obviously, Dave was the comic relief of this serious show, and Dan Fogler played him brilliantly. But for awhile we were given hints that Dave might not have been showing his whole hand when we discovered that he had an off-the-charts IQ (you’d have to have watched Cornell: Confidential to learn this, which we’ll get to in a minute) and that he suddenly was flush with cash (remember when he paid the tab in the bar when he and Ben were recreating the fateful night?). Both revelations raised suspicion of Dave—which I get is part of the game in this kind of show and adds to the mystery—but then they went nowhere, which is the irritating part. If you’re going to throw things like that at us to lead us off the path, fine. But at least respect our intelligence enough to follow it through with some kind of explanation.

Jess’ sudden breakdown: Well, that was quick. I mean, I get it: We don’t know the secrets our neighbors are harboring. The woman has some serious psychological issues and went off her meds. Let’s face it, there are probably a handful of my own neighbors who might throw scissors at my head that I don’t know about, too, but it seemed a bit sudden and conveniently timed, didn’t it? Plus, how did she know Abby was missing that last night?

The flashlights in the garage (did we ever find out if it was the psycho neighbor who did that?), Christy’s Jekyll and Hyde behavior throughout the series, Cornell continually appearing out of nowhere (who else thinks she’s really a witch?)—the list of discrepancies could go on and on. But let’s cut to the chase and get to one of the biggest shockers of the season: Ben’s fateful decision.

As a parent, let me say that I totally understood his knee jerk reaction to protect his daughter at all costs and take the fall himself to save her. Let’s remember, he believed her when she insisted that killing Tom was an accident. And as horrified as he was when he learned what she did, his instinct was right on. Having said that, I absolutely cannot understand how he kept his little charade going after the heartbreakingly honest conversation he had with Natalie, and especially after learning that Abby killed Tom in anger. When Cornell told him that Abby would kill again, how could he consciously keep quiet? And he’s not the only one to blame. Christy heard Abby’s chilling words—”None of this would have happened if I’d just gotten Tom to the river”—yet she also chose to protect the crazy, dangerous one at the expense of Natalie, not to mention the rest of society. My guess is that besides being dumb, misguided parents (and human beings in general), they’re both terrified of Abby. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

While Ben and Christy’s decisions were frustrating and borderline unbelievable, perhaps the most maddening part of the finale is how it all actually ended online. Keeping the final, plot-changing scene from the network broadcast was simply a bizarre and maddening move. ABC has been pimping this extra web series all season (trying to be innovative, perhaps), and because I’ve been recapping the show I’ve been faithfully watching the short postscripts. While they provided a bit of color to the show, they haven’t really been necessary to the plot until this last one, which changed the network ending completely. If you didn’t go log on to your computer after the show ended, you’d never have known that a little over a year later Natalie rats Abby out; that Ben is presumably dead (child killers get no mercy in prison); and that Cornell finally has enough ammo to cage the monkey. Ironic that the show could possibly have kept such big secrets from some of its viewers, isn’t it?

Will Secrets and Lies return next season? The jury’s still out, but if it does the rumor is that Detective Cornell will be the only one returning to crack open a new case. Fingers crossed we get to see more of the lady who let her hair down (literally) and finally showed some emotion at the end … and that she gets some different pantsuits, obviously.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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