Review: I Know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True, HBO’s six-part series based on the Wally Lamb novel of the same name, is a heavy, dark yet enlightening drama that offers a compelling and complicated look at a family tormented by its past and unsure of its future.

‘I Know This Much Is True’

‘I Know This Much Is True’

The series (see The Watchman) revolves around the lives of twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey — both played by Mark Ruffalo — who couldn’t be more different. Dominick serves as the strong overseer of the schizophrenic Thomas, who suffers from delusions revolving around the events of the 1990s Gulf War. In an early scene, Thomas literally takes a knife to his own body in protest of the war, forcing his eventual commitment to a mental hospital.

As Dominick deals with Thomas’s situation through interactions with Thomas’s social worker, Lisa Sheffer (Rosie O’Donnell), he’s also trying to resolve his own issues concerning his sick mother Concettina (Melissa Leo) and his anger toward his stiff, affectionless stepfather Ray (John Procaccino). Hovering over all of this are family secrets, including the intrigue surrounding his grandfather and Dominick's own questions revolving around the mystery of his own father.

Ruffalo turns in a terrific performance, and convincingly draws the many contrasts between the thin, goateed Dominick and the heavy-set, clean-shaven Thomas. Also turning in strong performances are Archie Panjabi, Imogen Poots and Juliette Lewis.

Viewers will have to decide whether the often depressingly dark and violent adversities that plague the Birdsey family — both past and present — overshadow what is a well-developed family saga that eventually reveals an underlying tale of personal sacrifice and ultimate forgiveness. The series was originally scheduled to debut on April 27 but was pushed back to May 10. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.