Tim Roth leads Lie To Me's cast
Lie To Me's protagonist is Dr. Cal Lightman, founder of a private-investigator firm that specializes in catching liars through scientific observation. Lightman, a cantankerous but brilliant man, is played by veteran actor Tim Roth with the requisite gusto, although so far the character has been a bit thinly written. The abrasive oddball professional with a dysfunctional home life, after all, is a mainstay of the TV detective genre, from Columbo to House.
Kelli Williams plays Dr. Gillian Foster, who heads up the sub-plot investigations in various episodes, as well as acting as Dr. Lightman's second-in-command. Foster brings some warmth and balance to the team, opposite Lightman's lack of social graces, and she is noticeably similar to the second-banana role Williams took on the short-lived series Medical Investigation (2004-2005). Dr. Foster is not without her own problems, however, and hopefully early hints about her troubled marriage will bear dramatic fruit in subsequent episodes.
Rounding out the cast are newcomers Brendan Hines and Monica Raymund. Hines plays Eli Loker, a member of Lightman's team who is brutally honest (and thereby provides comic relief). Raymund is Lightman's newest recruit, a savant at spotting liars who still has a way to go in honing her analytical skills.
Although Lie To Me's cases have enough twists and turns to keep its audience guessing, the show's wittier moments should not be overlooked. Watching Dr. Lightman use his deductive powers to outwit an obnoxious driver in a transitional scene, for instance, makes for more fun than solving some of the mysteries.
Lie To Me also demonstrates a kind of visual wit often missing in prime-time television. After Dr. Lightman points out a particular expression or stance typical of a certain kind of lie, a stock photo of a celebrity "liar" (such as Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton) might flash on the screen by way of example. The graphic juxtaposition is often funny, and serves to lend credence to Lightman's premises for the casual viewer.
Setting the series in Washington, D.C. – arguably, the world's capital of lies – is another nice touch, and allows the Lightman Group to butt heads with mendacious politicians and government agents.
Lie To Me not entirely free of the "CSI effect"
But Lie To Me also suffers from some current fads on prime-time television. Like CSI and its imitators, episodes of Lie To Me are often intercut with flashy close-ups; instead of bullets spiraling through flesh, however, facial tics, hand gestures, and other kinds of body language fill the screen.
Sometimes, these close-ups are unnecessary and distracting. In the second episode, "Moral Waiver," Dr. Lightman examines a photograph in which a woman is smiling in the company of her accused rapist. To find out the woman's true feelings, the team members take the photo back to their hi-tech office, blow it up on wall-sized screen, and only then come to the conclusion that she isn't smiling "with her eyes". It strains credulity that Lightman and company couldn't determine that on the spot (as even most laymen viewers could).
In cases such as these, the show – and others laden with flashbacks or Fantastic Voyage-style trips inside the human body – would do well to put more faith in the perceptiveness of its audience. Most of us don't need a doctorate to spot a bogus smile.
A Promising Start
Ultimately, the strength of Lie To Me is its premise and its potential. With many detective shows throwing complicated scientific tests about like so much spilled luminol, Lie To Me's focus on human expression is refreshing and ultimately more dramatic. It also, incidentally, demands a higher caliber of acting skill on the part of guest stars.
That's not to say that Lie To Me isn't still saddled with some of the conventions of its genre. But with a little more character development amongst its ensemble and by avoiding formulaic plots, the show can easily mature. It may yet find its true voice.