TV Series Review: Lie to Me

LieToMeThumbby 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. • (949 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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2 Responses to TV Series Review: Lie to Me

  1. Michael Burtch says:

    Brad, First of all, your website is great. Thanks to all of the great writers!

    Regarding “Lie to Me”… I can’t share your enthusiasm. The idea for LTM is unique and these days with all the cops and robbers shows on TV, to survive you gotta have something unique. “former Fox TV series”… really? I didn’t know it was done already. Guess the unique thing didn’t work.

    To be fair Roth is a good actor, and some of the episodes were interesting, but that kind of formula runs out of uniqueness pretty quickly and gets predictable.

    It also bugs me that the characters written into many of these dramas (not just LTM) are just so super-human… and cool… and aware… and gifted.. and cool… and smart… and beautiful… and cool… and tolerant… and politically correct.. I mean, come on!

    Hey, thanks again for the great site! Will visit often.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It also bugs me that the characters written into many of these dramas (not just LTM) are just so super-human… and cool… and aware… and gifted.

      Michael, I’m glad you like the site. Regarding your quote above, that’s probably what rubs me wrong about the two yutes in the series. And you’re right about it being highly formulaic. But I think if you like Roth (and it took me several episodes to warm up to him), it works.

      And the nice thing about Roth is that his character isn’t particularly PC. That’s one of the reasons I like the show. He’s hardly Don Rickles. But he’s not your typical GQ girly-man metrosexual. Still, it is one of those shows that I can see grating on people. I just happen to think Roth makes it work.

      And as far as I know it ran on FOX.

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