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Truth Be Told: An Advance Review of FOX's "Lie to Me"

I won't lie to you: I am not typically a fan of procedural series. I'm usually more interested in the sort of character development and long-term plotting that are involved in a serialized drama but every now and then a procedural mystery comes along with a unique enough premise that it makes me question my standpoint.

Tonight, FOX launches its new procedural drama series Lie to Me, starring Tim Roth, Kelli Williams, Brendan Hines, and Monica Raymund.

Unlike those cops on CBS, this squad of sleuths isn't solving crimes using the latest in forensic technology. Rather, their characters comprise a crack team of, well, human lie detectors. Instead of ultraviolet wands searching for blood splatter, the team uses videotaped interviews with suspects and witnesses and reads the almost imperceptible micro-expressions that each of them make. Suspects can lie with their words but it's pretty hard to lie with your body language and facial expressions, especially when some of them last mere fractions of a second. (The science is based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, author of the book "Telling Lies.")

Operating under the aegis of the The Lightman Group, a consultation company run by former government contractor Dr. Cal Lightman (Roth), the group is available to consult on any number of cases, ranging from criminal to corporate and a wide array in between. In the pilot episode, the team tackles two cases: one a Jehovah's Witness-practicing teen is arrested for the murder of his teacher and another involving a US Congressman, the head of the ethics committee, suspected of frequenting a prostitution ring.

It's the the unique twist on the crime-solving series and the wide variety of cases which gives Lie to Me a certain charm as well as some much needed breadth; it's reassuring to know that the Lightman Group won't be chasing after criminals every week. After all, we all lie, the series posits, but it's up to these investigators to determine why the suspects are dissembling... even though they clearly have a hard time telling one another the truth. To wit: Lightman is in a bit of a bind because he knows that the husband of colleague/friend Dr. Gillian Foster (Williams) is lying to her but won't do anything about it. So much for truth always setting you free.

It's good to see Roth on an American television series and he plays Lightman with a mix of jaded cynicism and bursts of unexpected joie de vivre, such as when he blocks a lying driver who has stolen his parking space in with his car. Williams is well suited to playing Gillian but I still hope that there is more to her character than her odd couple friendship with Lightman and penchant for junk food.

While there's certainly a wide range of cases and situations that the series can tackle, the writers--operating under the watchful eye of series creator Sam Baum--do need to ramp up the tension and suspense of the mysteries of the week. In watching the somewhat predictable cases i the pilot episode, I felt one or two steps ahead of Lightman and Gillian the entire time, so it was frustrating having to watch them play catch up. The science behind lying is fascinating but it doesn't replace the need for a top-notch mystery plot each week and if Lie to Me hopes to stick around longer than its initial run, the writers had better start generating some creative and twisty whodunits (or even, in the case of this series, whydunits).

Additionally, I couldn't help shake the feeling that the supporting cast members felt particularly one-note. The introduction of "natural" Ria Torres (Raymund), a TSA agent working at Dulles Airport, felt particularly forced and clunky. Arriving at the airport to recruit Ria for her deception-detection abilities, Lightman and Gillian immediately make contact with Ria, offer her a job, leave her a suitcase filled with money ("your signing bonus," Lightman explains), and walk away... leading Ria to show up the following day and--without any on-the-job training or instructors--she's suddenly following leads of her own, going undercover, and gathering evidence. Wha-huh? (Typically on my first day at a job, I'm trying to figure out how the phone works.) The result is that Ria comes off as an odd combination of being a bit prickly and completely dull.

Likewise, Lightman and Gillian also employ another consultant at the company named Eli Loker (Hines). I say consultant but he could be an assistant at the firm. In any event, Eli practices radical truth-telling as in he only ever tells the truth. This quirk could be interesting (why bother lying when you work with Lightman?) but it quickly wears out its welcome with Eli meets Ria and tells her that he wants to sleep with her after staring at her for half a second.

No lie: these two definitely need some deeper brushstrokes.

All in all, Lie to Me could be a compelling procedural drama in the vein of FOX's own drama Bones, but without the latter's trademark blend of forensic mystery and sexual tension. Unlike Brennan and Booth, Lightman and Gillian don't have the sort of chemistry that will keep you guessing about when they'll trade in their professional relationship for a personal one, but there is an ease between Roth and Williams that is refreshing to watch in this day and age of oversexed TV leads.

But if I'm telling the truth, Lie to Me definitely needs to ramp up the character development and create some memorable mysteries if it has a shot of surviving up against ABC's Lost, which has more than excelled at doing both.

Lie to Me launches tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on FOX.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the review! I thought this looked interesting and better than the average procedural and I like that Tim Roth is the lead. I'll definitely check it out!
Unknown said…
It was sort of interesting, but the "science" quickly becomes absurd, and the characters aren't very deep (yet). I'll watch at least two more eps to see where it's going. FOX will probably cancel it after six. :-)
Anonymous said…
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