Tube talk: Lie to Me

I’m tired of always being Johnny-come-lately when it comes to hip new shows.  So when I saw the previews for Fox’s newest drama, Lie to Me, a few weeks ago I thought it looked like a good chance to get on the ground floor of something decent.  Having watched the pilot episode I think I may have found something worth following, which means it will probably be canceled by February.  That’s not to say I was blown away by it, but I’m intrigued enough to set a series recording on my DVR, so that’s gotta be worth something.

Here’s the gist of Lie to Me: It stars Tim Roth as Dr. Cal Lightman, a freelance expert in the practice of detecting deception (the character is based on real-life deception expert Paul Ekman).  He was formerly employed by Uncle Sam, but now runs the for-profit Lightman Group.  Lightman and team (played by Kelli Williams, Monica Raymund, and Brendan Hines) are hired by government agencies, local police, businesses, etc. to help ferret out liars and maybe solve some crimes.

Lightman’s special skill is that he can spot a liar within a few seconds by picking up on the slightest of body movements.  So basically he’s like a cross between Dr. Gregory House and the guys from The Mentalist and Psych.

Tim Roth in "Lie to Me"

In the pilot episode Lightman and the gang are working two cases at once.  The first involves the death of a high school teacher, and the team’s quest to both find the killer and prove the innocence of the prime suspect – a sexually repressed teenager and Jehovah’s Witness.  The second case sees the group looking to clear the good name of a Democratic congressman accused of paying for sex.  As Lightman pithily observes, “we all pay for sex one way or another.”  Or something like that.

Roth is a capable actor and not without his charms, but he’s going to need to step it up a bit if he’s going to carry the weight of an entire series.  That’s because his co-stars are pretty milquetoast, with the exception of Raymund as Ria Torres, a sassy Latina who was recruited from the ranks of the TSA for her natural ability to spot liars.  She spends most of the episode being incredulous over Ligthman’s shenanigans, and is effectively the foil of the group.

Whether or not Lie to Me succeeds will likely hinge on how well the writers can expand beyond the whole “liar liar, pants on fire” gimmick and flesh out the characters.  House has done this successfully despite still being very formulaic, so it’s not without precedent.  But I won’t judge the show too harshly based on one pilot episode (that’s what dimwitted studio executives are for).  It kept me entertained for an hour, and that’s really the important thing, isn’t it?

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