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“Game of Silence” is messy.

It’s also fairly miserable. Intentionally so, understand, but after a while you may wish some of these characters would lighten up.

Still, this new limited series on NBC carries a punch. Here’s the setup: 25 or so years back, four young boys get arrested after a well-intentioned, if ill-conceived, joyride in a suburb of Houston. They all get sent to a juvenile corrections facility.

As juvie prisons go, this one’s the worst. The kids abuse each other, the guards beat on the kids, and the warden (Conor O’Farrell) throws perverted parties for political cronies in which unspeakable things happen to young inmates.

Flash forward to the present: One of the four friends, Jackson (David Lyons) has moved out of the suburbs and is a high-powered lawyer in Houston with a high-powered lawyer fiancee (Claire van der Boom).

Two others, Gil (Michigan-born Michael Raymond-James) and Tony (Larenz Tate), are besties getting by in their hometown when the fourth friend encounters one of their old tormentors.

Things get bloody. And then they get confused as the former prisoners end up gunning for their old abusers. By now the warden is running for political office and his right-hand man is running a big drug operation. Nobody really knows what’s going on; everybody has their lies to tell, their secrets to hide. And things just keep escalating toward crazy.

The pitch here can be shrill. The warden makes Satan look like a nice guy, and Gil has a temper that can be wearying. But the essential tension — who will finally tell the truth? everybody is lying to somebody — makes for compelling, if exhausting, drama.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic

‘Game of Silence’

GRADE: B-

Premieres 10 p.m. Tuesday, then moves to 10 p.m. Thursday

NBC

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