Fox // 2009 // 572 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 7th, 2009
He sees the truth. It's written all over our faces.
"You can have truth or happiness, never both."
Pursed lips. A facial twitch. A wrinkled nose. Widened eyes. Raised eyebrows. A furrowed brow. Rapid breathing. Dilated pupils. To most of us, these are just ordinary aspects of body language. To Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth, Youth Without Youth), they're telltale giveaway signs (known as "microexpressions") that help him successfully determine whether or not someone is lying. It's all part of the Facial Action Coding System, a relatively new form of science that Lightman uses as the basis for his company, The Lightman Group. With the help of his perceptive colleagues, Lightman accepts assignments on a work-for-hire basis from various individuals, companies, and governmental agencies. Is there any case that can't be solved by a man who can almost always tell when someone is lying?
13 episodes are spread across three Blu-ray discs.
* Moral Waiver
* A Perfect Score
* Love Always
* Do No Harm
* The Best Policy
* Depraved Heart
* Life is Priceless
* The Better Half
Lie to Me began life as nothing more than an easy-to-digest mid-season replacement, but it caught on quickly and became a surprise success for the FOX network. Technically, it's just another crime show with a gimmick (see pretty much every network television crime show of recent years), but I can definitely see the appeal of this particular gimmick. Unlike something like Medium, Lie to Me is rooted in real science and proven techniques. I can easily imagine many viewers carefully scrutinizing the body language of their family and friends after watching this program. The plots of the program are typically sensationalized slices of melodrama, but the scientific techniques that serve as the inspiration for Lie to Me are undeniably fascinating.
The other element Lie to Me has going for it is star Tim Roth. I've long regarded Roth as an unfairly overlooked actor. In my review of Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth, I wrote of Roth: "What a face he has. Roth is capable of quietly expressing such a wealth of feelings and motivations; the slightest twitch or glance can mean so much." That's a quality that definitely aids Lie to Me, because as Roth is intensely studying other people, we're intensely studying Roth. Most of us aren't trained in understanding the body language of other people, so as Roth's Dr. Lightman is reading the faces of others, he uses his subtly revealing form of acting to clue the audience in.
Even when he isn't plumbing for the truth, Roth remains equally fascinating. The show does a good job in terms of characterizing Lightman; making him an amusingly obnoxious man who seems just a bit full of himself. Lightman's very good at what he does, and he's not a bit modest about it. He enjoys holding his knowledge over the heads of the helpless people he's interrogating, cheerfully spelling out every mistake they've made until they finally crack. Still, despite the smug sense of superiority and occasional flashes of sneering disdain for his peers, Roth manages to bring out just enough humanity and decency in Lightman to prevent us from actually disliking him. The only other regular cast member in the show who comes close to matching Roth is Kelli Williams as Lightman's considerably more optimistic associate Dr. Gillian Foster. Her vibrant sense of life contrasts effectively to Lightman's near-Shakespearean aura of gloom.
As with a conspicuously large number of recent Fox shows, Lie to Me starts out weak but gets better as it proceeds. One of my favorite episodes is "The Better Half," which introduces us to Lightman's ex-wife Zoe (Jennifer Beals, The L Word). Circumstances kinda-sorta force them to work on a case together, and what results is an entertainingly prickly episode that features (A) loads of well-executed relationship tension, (B) a very intriguing mystery, and (C) the first instance in which the show demonstrates signs of offering ongoing plot arcs.
The Blu-ray transfer is pretty stellar, though at times the show intentionally attempts to look gritty and grainy (particularly during the main title sequence, for no reason I can determine). There's evidence of significant edge enhancement at times, too. Still, there's more good than bad when it comes to this transfer when you consider the deep blacks, the strong detail and the accurate flesh tones. Audio is perfectly adequate without ever becoming anything special. The sound design is curiously heavy on "swooshing" noises as each episodes cuts from scene to scene, while the rock-influenced score is thoroughly underwhelming. Extras are limited to an EPK-style 26-minute making-of featurette and a handful of deleted scenes.
Despite the intriguing premise and a great lead actor, the debut season of Lie to Me still has plenty of problems. Most notable among these is the fact that the early episodes feature rather terrible writing that introduces the concept in an unbearably condescending "prime time edutainment" manner. This is one of those shows in which a bunch of very intelligent people speak to each other like grownups speak to children; carefully explaining every single thing they're doing to each other for the benefit of the audience. The information is interesting, but the writers should have found a way to convey it without making the characters of Lie to Me seem like third-grade teachers.
Speaking of characters, two of the four lead actors fail to make a strong impression during the first season. The first is Monica Raymund (Fighter) as Ria Torres, a woman who has a non-scientific natural ability to pick up on body language. Initially she comes across as an unfortunately stereotypical hot-headed Hispanic character. Later, the writing allows her to be less pushy and aggressive, but she still isn't fleshed out in any interesting ways. Even worse is Brendan Hines (The Middleman) as Eli Loker, a man who seems to have a complete inability to lie. During the early episodes, the writers try to use this for the sake of Liar, Liar-style comic relief: "Hey, I'd really like to sleep with you!" Yet again, the character is toned down later on but not developed in an interesting way.
Finally, I'm disappointed in the show's supposed attempts at creating arc-based storytelling to balance out the very self-contained elements of the episodes. Most episodes offer not one, but two mysteries, both of which are pretty much always wrapped up by the conclusion. For the first nine episodes or so, the show offers only two ongoing strands: a relationship between Lightman and his teenage daughter that receives much too little screen time to become compelling and a few hints that Lightman has a dark secret in his past. Sorry folks, but having someone say something like, "I remember what you did back in your days at the Pentagon," and then cutting to Roth scowling every couple of episodes doesn't really count as arc-based storytelling.
Lie to Me is nothing special, but you could do worse if you're seeking an easy-to-digest diversion. Too bad the Blu-ray release brings nothing special to the table.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 572 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site