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Humour Without The Humour — The Following Is Based On A Pack Of Lies (TV Review)

3 min read
The Following Is Based On A Pack Of Lies (2023)

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

Three apparent strangers with nothing in common… except Rob's dupes, deceptions and delusions. 

The latest BBC original series, The Following Events are Based on a Pack Of Lies, written by Penelope Skinner and Ginny Skinner, revolves around three characters trapped in a triangle of complexly layered half-truths and lies of epic proportions. 

Cheryl (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a bestselling fantasy author who, recently bereaved, now lives alone with her poodle, Goblin.  Alice (Rebekah Staton) is a formidable but long-underestimated PA, and Rob (Alistair Petrie) is an eccentric and celebrated ecopreneur (allegedly). 

With all five episodes available from the 29th of August, on the series, which has an absolutely outstanding cast, fails to deliver on much of a storyline. There's a saying in the screenwriting industry: “Get to the meat and potatoes quicker.” It's not an instruction for your Sunday roasts but instead means to get to the main point of your story quicker. With Pack of Lies, it takes roughly two whole episodes for us to get to the point of where we truly begin, and even then, it's pretty mundane. 

The series boils down to three characters coming together to defeat a man that's conned them. It's a story we've all seen before, and all know what's coming. 

Billed as a dramatic , fails to be both dramatic and comedic… and that's just episode one. Whilst binging the series doesn't help with matters, it does give the performers a chance to stretch their muscles and bring a subpar script to some remnants of life. 

Alistair Petrie, who's best known for his work on Sex Education, stars as the alleged conman and main villain of the series, and shines as a rather nasty piece of work that viewers will instantly love to hate. It's his performance throughout this five-hour event that definitely stands out.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Without a Trace, Broadchurch) plays Cheryl, the unsuspecting wife of Petrie's Rob, and despite the audience knowing she's being conned, she gives you little chance to sympathise with her character. 

Rebekah Staton, plays Alice, making you want to scream at your television set. Logic seems to fly out of the window when she becomes convinced that she's the only one who can save the day.

But whilst the series itself fails to wow the audience over, there are a couple of aspects of the series that are worth sticking around for.  The unexpected budding friendship that builds between Cheryl and Alice as they each find their own path and ways to deal with Robert, is both surprising and terrifying. There hasn't been a friendship this rivalrous since the days of Scandal's Olivia Pope and Mellie Grant.

Whilst the writing is so-so, the direction of Robbie McKillop and Nicole Charles is intriguing and complex enough to keep you somewhat interested. Given that McKillop is best known for his work on fellow BBC series Guilt, you would expect some of the same brilliance when it came to Pack of Lies, but again, it just somewhat misses the mark.

But the same can't be said for Nick Martins' cinematography.  He takes Oxford and makes it its own separate character, as he brings the vast Oxford countryside to life with the stunning and unique views the city has to offer.

As each episode ends on a cliffhanger, you are left wondering just where this series goes, but find yourselves being disappointed at each episode's resolution.  So when it does come to the season finale that leaves you with an underwhelming feeling of “Was that it?” You'll definitely be wondering just how you can get the last five hours of your life back.

Overall, this is a series that tries just a little too hard to be subtly funny but comes across as not being humourous at all.

The Following Is A Pack of Lies is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.