-MONTHLY FILM & TV REVIEW-
LIE TO ME - main cast (left-to-right):
Kelli Williams, Tim Roth, Brendan Hines, Monica Raymund
Lie To Me - season one|
cast: Tim Roth, Kelli Williams, Brendan Hines, Monica Raymund, and Jennifer Beals
creator: Samuel Baum
581 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Christopher Geary
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. 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,
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
"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 prot�g�, 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.