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.
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.