You know the fabled warning bandied about by particularly gruesome horror movies that suggests you pass if you’ve got a heart condition? Lie To Me should come with a warning too – do not watch if you have a tendency to obsess.
Based on the work of a real life scientist much like Bones, its contemporary at Fox, Lie To Me is a series revolving around the life and work of Dr. Cal Lightman (the always excellent Tim Roth). Like Dr. Temperance Brennan, Lightman is a world famous scientist at the top of his game but unlike her, his problem with science isn’t that it has distanced him from emotion – rather, his long study of body language and, in particular, what he calls “microexpressions” and their significance has left him unnervingly attuned to the feelings of other people.
There’s no such thing as a poker face when he’s in the room and he can always tell when you’re lying – and teach you how to lie better, too, if it comes to that. As expected, this means he’s tremendously successful in his professional life and a big fat pain in his personal life.
Think of it as The Mentalist (fun trivia: Roth’s middle name is Simon) with science instead of fake psychic powers. Patrick Jane would count as a “natural” in the Lightman universe. Unfortunately, this means Lightman and his cohorts are thus at full liberty to explain exactly how they arrived at their conclusion.
You know how a magic trick is never magic once it’s been explained? Well, it turns out the magic trick here is liable to turn into a nervous tic if explained. If you’re easily sucked into a groove as I am, then you may well find yourself obsessively reading the body language of people all around you – look, that guy walking his dog shrugged one shoulder! What does it mean? That woman over there is rubbing the back of her neck! What does she have to hide?
It’s maddening. And also the show’s greatest strength. If it drives you crazy to automatically analyze the hidden motives of strangers after just watching a TV show, then you can imagine what a disaster Lightman’s personal life must be when he can’t simply take the word of his family and friends at face value.
If you’re able to work past that though (and the show seems to be progressively dialing it down as the episodes go on), then Lie To Me is pretty darn entertaining. Providing balance to Roth’s bulldozing Dr. Lightman, for example, is Dr. Jillain Foster (Kelli Williams) whose relationship with Lightman should pay rich dividends sometime in the future. Add Brendan Hines as the dishy young Lightman-in-training and Monica Raymund as a natural (people who have an innate ability to recognize the microexpressions on other people’s faces without the rigorous training folks like Lightman have to undergo) and it’s all set. A whole cast of characters who need to somehow make peace with the fact that they have an awful ability to detect hidden meaning in the faces of everybody they meet, taking part in a procedural that airs right before American Idol.
Plus, you get tons of pictures of famous people captured in the midst of an emotion they’d rather you didn’t see. Which: always fun! Take a shot when you see Bill Clinton lying his ass off.
[thanks to musicthis for the tip]