Who's the real 'Liar' in this new TV show?

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
Joanne Froggatt in ‘Liar’ (Photo: SundanceTV)

In the new British-made miniseries Liar, Laura — played by Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt — goes on a date with a handsome doctor, Andrew, played by Ioan Gruffudd. The next day, she decides she’s been raped. He denies this, vehemently, and for a while, the show keeps you in the dark about what really occurred. Liar is written by brothers Harry and Jack Williams (The Missing) and airs on SundanceTV starting Wednesday. The series is interested in exploring the ways in which women can feel violated, and how their assertions are believed or disbelieved on an institutional level. Whether she’s dealing with the police or the school where she teaches or with the hospital at which Andrew works, Laura is met with varying degrees of seriousness. Then the writers compel us to question whether Laura is telling the truth…

Liar is a mixture of social-issue drama, romance-novel exaggeration, follow-the-clues thriller, and an elaborate ruse. It trades in shameless coincidences. One of Laura’s students just happens to be Andrew’s son. Her nurse-sister — the one who introduced Laura to Andrew — just happens to be having an affair with Laura’s ex, who just happens to be a cop, who is enlisted to get the skinny on what kind of person Andrew really is.

One of the points Liar wants to make is that sometimes “difficult” women are less sympathetic — even, appallingly, less often believed — than docile victims who react to a sexual crime with meekness or shame. Froggatt has no trouble portraying Laura as an assertive person — all those years of curtsying in a maid’s uniform on Downton Abbey seem to have set her up to blow away any assumptions that her most famous role limits her range. But as Liar proceeds, the plot gets thicker — as one woman says, “She’s done this before”; made this accusation against someone else — and the drama becomes more and more melodramatic. About four hours into this six-episode series I just wanted to know how it all turned out so that I could be free of these mostly-unpleasant people. That I stayed to the end is a measure of the Williams brothers’ skill as plot-creators, I guess, but it’s also not a huge recommendation.

Liar airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on SundanceTV.

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