Lucy Albright (Grace Van Patten) and Stephen DeMarco (Jackson White) in Episode 1.
In Carola Lovering’s romance-meets-psychological-drama novel, Tell Me Lies, protagonist Lucy Albright jets off to freshman year of college in 2010. Facebook was in, Instagram was on the rise and MySpace was out.
But with the TV adaptation of Tell Me Lies, showrunner Meaghan Oppenheimer wanted the state of the world slightly less complicated. After all, Lucy and love interest Stephen offer enough drama.
Instead, Lucy enters Baird College in 2007 with the rest of the limited series stretching into the early 2010s as her life unravels.
“We really didn't want to go past 2016 in the future because of so many things that happened in the world after that,” Oppenheimer explains to LA Confidential. “And 2007 felt like the last time… college students were able to go to college and not have everything being filmed and put on the internet and were able to really make mistakes and be gross the way college kids always have been in an isolated bubble.”
On-and-off couple Wrigley (Spencer House) and Pippa (Sonia Mena) in Episode 4.
In a world peppered with Sidekicks and Ugg boots, the paths of Lucy (Grace Van Patten) and Stephen DeMarco (Jackson White) cross, setting the pair on a tumultuous, intoxicating journey that lasts nearly a decade. When they meet, Lucy and Stephen are at such formative ages that everyday choices— like momentous dorm room hook-ups— end up leading to lasting consequences.
Things start as a typical campus romance, but quickly transform into an addictive entanglement backgrounded by new friends, first-time freedom, a peer’s sudden death, balancing coursework and career choices.
Along the way, Tell Me Lies features a number of excellent late aughts-era needle drops. Perhaps most perfect is Lucy’s arrival to Baird soundtracked by MGMT’s “Time to Pretend.”
Oppenheimer details that she put in a lot of her favorite songs in the show, including alt-J’s “Breezeblocks” in the pilot. “There's one in the finale that is a very personal song to me, and I was so excited when we got it,” she hints.
Friends Pippa (Mena), Lucy (Van Patten) and Bree (Catherine Missal) attend a party in Episode 1.
Van Patten says she knew she was “melding with the character” when her opinion about low-rise jeans did a 180.
“In the beginning, when I saw my first pair of low-rise jeans, bootleg jeans, I wanted to throw up and by the end, I was buying them off of Depop,” she admits. “I totally got sucked into the 2007 aesthetic.”
“There were some Ed Hardy pieces in my dresser by the end of the shoot,” White adds.
The slight shift in Lucy’s timeline from book to TV only enhances Tell Me Lies. It’s juicy like the young adult soaps on The CW and ABC Family during that era, but still emits the palpable turbulence of Lucy and Stephen’s relationship fans of the book know and new fans of the series will come to be drawn in by.
Primarily, Tell Me Lies was brought to life by women. In addition to its star and showrunner, the team includes writer Mona Mira and directors Erin Feeley and Robin Wright. Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss served as executive producers under Belletrist Productions, among others.
The trio reunite for wedding festivities.
“We had an all-female producing team, which was amazing. They were all so great and so impactful. I think that all of us had had some experience with a Stephen-like character, and so we wanted it to be authentic. And not glamorizing it was really, really important to all of us,” Oppenheimer says.
She also talked a lot with White about not romanticizing Stephen, who came into the role aware of this duty. He describes Stephen as an example of what not to do.
“I think men or people in general keeping feelings in can lead to anxiety and then that can lead to destructive behavior and that can lead to hurting people around you,” White says. “It's just a chain reaction.”
Like Stephen says, Tell Me Lies serves as a cautionary tale for young people and understands that impulsive decisions and fleeting carelessness toward people matter. Van Patten captures it best when she notes how the show takes people’s feelings seriously.
“They're feeling a million things over the course of 10 episodes,” she says. “[Lucy] has such an insane emotional journey, and I've never gotten to do that.”
“I hope people see that it is very powerful to be honest and to be vulnerable,” Van Patten later says. “The whole message of the show is that if they were all honest with their feelings and with themselves that none of these things would have ever happened. Vulnerability is really scary sometimes, but it's really beautiful once you tap into it and accept it.”
Tell Me Lies is now streaming on Hulu.
Photography by: Photos by Josh Stringer for Hulu