by Brad Nelson
I wouldn’t want you to totally mistake me for one of those hermits whose life is joyless because he has insulated himself from vapid pop culture. I like my amusement as much as the next guy. I just ask that it not be a wasteland.
And the former FOX TV series, Lie to Me, is at least that. Tim Roth (perhaps most noted for playing the bad guy in Rob Roy) plays Dr. Cal Lightman, world expert in the field that he pretty much pioneered: detecting when people are lying by observing facial expressions and body language.
A lot of Lightman’s detecting-of-lies technique goes by pretty fast on the screen. It’s sometimes more of a backdrop. And although his technique is central to his profession and the plots, it’s not really a “science” show, per se, as much as it is just a good cops-and-robbers show. But it does often bog down a bit in the techno-babble of lie detection theory. And you must wonder if they’re just making all this up as they go along. Surely some of it is rooted in science, but probably not nearly as much as the show pretends.
But if you can suspend your disbelief just a bit, this is a wonderful series. This is true simply because of the generally interesting plots and the truly amazing performance of Tim Roth as Cal Lightman.
Even in a few of the shows which are not so good (and they are at a minimum), Roth is charismatic in his portrayal of a somewhat quirky Sherlock Holmes type of character. Much of his technique relies on ambushing his subjects (psychologically speaking) so that he can gauge their emotions. He’s blunt and tends to say what is on his mind. And Lightman is refreshing if only because he has a distinct personality that is neither over the top nor a construct of clichés (a sign of good acting and writing). He’s just plain fun to watch.
It is very rare to have this kind of quality performance from a lead TV show actor. And matching him, if only by contrast, is the lovely performance of the, of course, lovely Dr. Gillian Foster played by Kelli Williams. She is somewhat unique in that she is a competent woman and yet doesn’t lose her femininity inside what is so typically these days a man-like exterior. Her performance is necessarily low-key compared to the high-key Roth, and this is one reason that it works.
Somewhat spoiling my glowing report of the cast are the two throw-away yutes who are underlings of Dr. Lightman. Neither is a particularly good actor. And both tend to play into modern (and vapid) stereotypes, at least a little. And yet, for me, I can endure this easily enough because Lightman is often just brutal with them. You have to roll your eyes occasionally at them, but no show is perfect, and Dr. Lightman slaps them down enough for me to be satisfied.
Best of all, all three seasons (it was tragically cut short by low ratings on the short-attention-span FOX Network) are streamable on Netflix. I’m about halfway into the second season. And this is really where this series hits its stride.
And this is mostly a family-friendly series. And although I’d hate to unintentionally damn it by calling it wholesome, it is the kind of show where you don’t have to take a shower after watching it. It doesn’t leave you feeling yucky as so many do. I give this above-average series 3.4 shoulder-shrugs out of 5. And I’m not lying. Really. • (936 views)