TV REVIEWS : Revealing ‘Secrets’ Too Loud and Clear

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An advisory regarding violent content will accompany ABC’s “Shameful Secrets” (at 9 p.m. Sunday on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42). More helpful would be a warning that this Joanna Kerns vehicle about a battered wife fighting to keep her children is an interminable assault.

That could well be the intention--keep up a relentless barrage of physical and verbal abuse, injustices, cuts and bruises to get viewers to identify with Kerns as Maryanne, the wife victimized by both her husband and a court system that did not allow spousal abuse testimony in custody cases. But the intention backfires.

The recurring scenes of violence, shrieks, tears and child trauma, directed by David Carson, cross the line into exploitation; the fragile vulnerability Kearns brings to her role isn’t enough to combat the calculated string-pulling, or the most wince-making line in Stephanie Liss’ script: A counselor’s response when Maryanne reveals that her husband’s abuse killed her unborn child is, “How does that make you feel?”


Tim Matheson has the thankless task of portraying the smirking, all-purpose wife-beater. The rest of the cast, including La Tanya Richardson as a social worker-advocate who helps Maryanne take her case public, play satellite roles.

Nothing that this issue drama has to say about the tragedy and injustice of spousal abuse is false, but bludgeoning viewers isn’t the best way to say it.