DRAMA SERIES "Secrets and Lies"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday 9-11 p.m. on ABC/7

WHAT IT'S ABOUT One thing you have to give "Dexter" -- Showtime's serial killer saga set much of its brutality against Miami's tropical sunlight. It's the exception that proves the rule demonstrated once again in ABC's 10-episode "event" series "Secrets and Lies" -- dark woods, dreary rain, Christmas lights piercing suburban quietude in eerie irony, punctuating a shocking murder that couldn't happen here, but does.

Two faces make their mark immediately -- Ryan Phillippe's genially relaxed movie-star good looks, poster boy for cool suburban dad, versus Juliette Lewis' sharp features, as unyieldingly tight as that bun clamped to her police detective head. She thinks he did something to that 5-year-old neighbor boy whose body he claims to have found during a pre-dawn trail jog. And we know he's innocent. He has to be, right? "Secrets and Lies" tells the story through his eyes.

And it comes through quick on those title enigmas. Phillippe's Ben and wife Christy (KaDee Strickland) are fighting. He'd been out drinking too much the night before, with live-in buddy Dave (Dan Fogler), who's vague on the details. Ben seems a little too concerned about the dead boy's devastated mom (Natalie Martinez). He isn't coming completely clean with the wife, and maybe not the cops, either.

Then there's that shockeroo at the end of the first hour. With another whopper wrapping the two-hour debut.

MY SAY What should seem spellbinding feels more like The Same Old. Of course the neighbors turn against him, and of course his adoring younger daughter still loves him, and there's that moody music, crescendoing to commercial again. The subtext seems to be heading somewhere -- the unstated tensions of the marriage, the family, the neighborhood, the media, even the Internet "kid killer" posts -- and then leads no place in particular.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Which is essentially where Phillippe and Lewis exist. Though one of the camped-out TV trucks is marked for a Charlotte station, "Secrets and Lies" fails to create much sense of location, or character, or even jeopardy after two hours and oodles of interpersonal conflict. It feels observed, rather than lived in. Enacted, rather than unfolding.

GRADE B-