Maverick detectives on television have always been with us but, recently, following The X-Files (where Gillian Anderson’s Dr Scully made the sciences sexy again), and its varied imitators and obvious sci-fi derivatives, a new breed of eccentric experts with highly specialist skills have appeared, although few have managed to achieve much popularity beyond cult appeal. It is indeed true that breaking the conventional beliefs is not that easy, especially if what you offer is not so exciting or extraordinary! For example, the unconventional Crypto Code, an automated crypto robot has captured the attention of the traders because it is far more superior and powerful than the conventional trading means prevalent! So, let’s see what these new breed of unorthodox detectives are up to! Perhaps this new cycle of unorthodox crime-show heroes began with Lance Henriksen’s brooding Frank Black in Millennium (itself, partly inspired by films like Manhunter), but of the current batch of TV regulars some are particularly relevant to a considered shortlist of nonconformist super-sleuths. They include Tony Shalhoub, great as the phobic OCD-affected yet perfectly sympathetic private investigator of comedy-drama Monk; Hugh Laurie, playing the bitterly antisocial seemingly misanthropic doctor who solves medical mysteries in House M.D.; and Kyra Sedgwick, brilliantly cast in the role of a former CIA interrogator turned quirky LAPD deputy chief and homicide case solver in The Closer.
It’s also worth noting Bones, starring Emily Deschanel as Dr Temperance Brennan, which was inspired by the dual career of real-life forensic anthropologist/ novelist Kathy Reichs. In a similar twist, for Lie To Me, we have Dr Cal Lightman (Tim Roth), an authority on deception detection, whose character is based upon some fascinating scientific discoveries by Dr Paul Eikman, an expert in body language and universal ‘micro-expressions’ that reveal a whole catalogue of ‘indicators’ (far greater than just the familiar ‘tells’ commonly attributed to gamblers), and gestural ‘manipulators’ for human dishonesty. The Lightman group has an engagingly witty and savvy psychologist, Dr Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams, The Practice, Medical Investigation), top researcher Eli Loker (Brendan Hines, Middleman), practicing a type of ‘radical honesty’ which tends to alienate him from people – making him an ‘outsider’ supporting character but also this TV show’s default comic-relief, and “natural lie-detector” Ria Torres (newcomer Monica Raymund), artfully recruited – from airport police duties – by Lightman during one of the pilot episode’s cleverest introductory scenes.
Even with Lightman’s acute perceptions as trained observer, much of the evidence of lying presented for this programme is usually only visible during a slow-motion playback of camera footage, so there’s a monitoring room with biometric computer displays and video feeds into main offices, which aid some jargonised explanations by delivering information visually. We also share face-readings and keen insights by Lightman and his team of skilled people-watchers via mind’s eye imagery edited as inserts into the continuous flow of visuals, which are often punctuated by candid shots of celebrities or paparazzi headline slideshows like a game of snap with news photos to better illustrate or prove the deductions about frauds and liars. Overall, it is very effective as illuminating discourse on the hidden truth of all our lives. Better still, our guide to these criminal investigations is British actor Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Incredible Hulk, Skellig), whose intense gaze, penetrating stare, quirky and occasionally caustic behaviour, and dryly humorous penchant for duplicity – which uncovers many suspects’ deceits simply by lying to any interviewees about what he already knows – makes Lightman a mesmerising TV protagonist, and a charismatic leading man. However, in the hi-tech offices and on the field trips of a professional consultancy firm where personal secrets are practically impossible to keep from the boss, what happens to the privacy of employees?
“There is no universal [facial] expression for gratitude.”
Despite the intriguing nature of its apparently-groundbreaking scientific rationale, didactic revelations and visual info-dump techniques, Lie To Me is commercial TV, nonetheless, and obeys many of the conventions of such an entertainment format, with obviously clichéd shortcomings and hopelessly formulaic traits. Lightman is a divorced single-parent coping with a (mildly) rebellious teenage daughter (Hayley McFarland), and though he’s clearly an obsessed genius, and conceited about his work, Lightman is also rather predictably carrying a torch for ex-wife Zoe (Jennifer Beals, Vampire’s Kiss, The Prophecy 2, The L Word), an assistant US attorney who joins the main cast for a couple of episodes, including first-season finale, Sacrifice, about terrorist bombings. Other plots range from a high school murder, the rape of a soldier, hostage negotiation, and suicidal mothers, to a NASA test-pilot crash, stockbroker fraud, bogus ‘autobiography’, and checking whether a millionaire’s bride is a gold-digger. Sometimes, narrative credulity is stretched rather blatantly in scenarios to find a meaningful purpose for Lightman’s involvement, or contribution to a stalled investigation. The ‘gay rapper’ story, and the rescue mission on a building site, are clumsily fashioned to accommodate our unlikely heroes’ face-time interventionism, or else Lightman & Co are otherwise shoehorned into a situation just because they turned up and bluffed their way through from beyond the yellow crime-scene tape. The finest episode of this limited premiere season’s batch of 13 is Blinded, which concerns a copycat serial rapist, and Lightman’s electrifying mind-game confrontations with the original convict, both in prison (where Lightman goes undercover), and back at the company’s own secure observation and interrogation booth.
With its eclectic tone and changeable mood, switching almost effortlessly between a light-entertainment comedy (that avoids falling into a tar-pit of soap opera clichés) and heavyweight dramas with ethical dilemmas bridging the gaps between jealousy and justice, rage and retribution, this often works quite brilliantly as a self-reflexive masterclass on acting, when Roth shares the honours with co-stars Williams (whose Dr Foster is not afraid to play along – in unrehearsed ‘street theatre’ – and give Lightman a slap when he starts ranting to gauge a suspect’s emotional reaction to misbehaviour and violence), and Raymund, whose feisty Ria unwittingly becomes Lightman’s protégé, but is disconcerted by hints that her new boss might be concealing a dark past, and has some Washington D.C. ‘connections’ in unfeasibly high places.
This four-disc boxset includes behind-the-scenes interviews (including comments from the programme’s advisor Paul Eikman), and a featurette about lying, amongst other standard DVD extras like deleted scenes and trailers.