Review: ‘Desperate Lies’ Completely Mishandles Its Premise

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: July 5, 2024 (Last updated: 1 weeks ago)
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Desperate Lies Review - A Story That Shouldn't Have Been Told
Desperate Lies | Image via Netflix
1.5

Summary

Desperate Lies takes a premise worthy of some careful consideration and treats it far too flippantly, spiralling into insensitive soapy nonsense almost immediately.

Every now and again Netflix will indulge in a soapy telenovela with a preposterous number of episodes, and Desperate Lies fits the bill. A grim, 17-part Brazilian series with a slightly archaic attitude, it’s a tough sit for several reasons, the length perhaps the least of them.

People like these shows, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s hard to imagine anyone liking this one above its many competitors, which are easily accessible on the same platform. It’s littered with coincidence and contrivance, espouses dated viewpoints, has a cavalier approach to complex and sensitive subjects, and generally doesn’t work in an especially entertaining way.

Plot-wise, we’re primarily concerned with Liana, who has been determinedly trying to conceive a child with her husband, Tomas, but is not succeeding. We’re talking ovulation tracking, routine passionless sex, legs in the air to let gravity get involved, medical intervention – the whole nine yards.

The effort has taken a toll on Tomas, who is indulging in the affections of another woman. When he goes off sulking after being confronted, Liana blows off some steam with her workmate Debora and gets sexually assaulted by Debora’s brother Oscar, who claims to have always had a crush on Liana and thinks the best way of pursuing it is to force himself on her when she’s out of her mind on drugs.

It is through this scenario that Liana ends up pregnant with twins – the first episode’s opening gives this away, without specifics – to both men. One of the fetuses is Tomas’s, the other is Oscar’s. This is a phenomenon called heteropaternal superfecundation and is the hook of Desperate Lies, and you can see why it’s a bit problematic.

It doesn’t help that the show doesn’t show much respect for the circumstances of this premise. Using sexual assault as a hook for a soapy drama is a weird approach, especially when it’s attached to a medically miraculous conceit that removes some of Liana’s agency. This isn’t really a show about a woman dealing with trauma, but a woman dealing with an incredibly unlikely predicament, the rarity of which pushes the trauma to one side.

There’s something to be said for deliberately dark and provocative storytelling, but I’m not sure that’s what’s happening here. There’s every chance that Desperate Lies is just thoughtless and hasn’t properly considered all of its implications. It seems in more of a rush to get where it’s going than a 17-part show should be.

The runtime is instead devoted to a lot of weird connections and coincidences, as always tends to be the case with these things – as it turns out, editors have jobs for a reason – and virtually never works.

When you have this many episodes, they need to be filled with something, and the core plot is rarely enough. That’s standard practice, but usually, these shows don’t have core plots that need to be navigated with a degree of sensitivity and nuance to not feel exploitative and a bit irresponsible. Desperate Lies is unsuited to this kind of approach.

Then again, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which this story premise would work all that well, and it might just be a case that this tale shouldn’t have been told at all.

Read More: Where was Desperate Lies filmed?

Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
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