Because I review a whole tv series rather than individual episodes, there is a chance of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the whole series yet, stop reading now!
A tv show just needs that one unique angle to make it stand-out amongst the various, very similar shows that are already on the air. This is even more the case when you are dealing with police or hospital dramas, meaning that you’ll need to approach the series from a brand new angle or with a new type of character or crime analysis.
Most of the shows on air, particularly the crime and medical variety, are failing at this task. There is very little that is actually new when it comes to Cops and Docs. This means that a show with a genuinely unique angle, something not seen before and done in a very effective way, can stand-out. Lie to Me has this unique angle, although it actually resembles a lot of other shows in the rest of its design.
The unique angle is of course the ability to tell if someone is lying, scared, surprised, anxious or happy, just from looking at the “micro-expressions” on their faces. You have a team of experts, led by Tim Roth’s Cal Lightman, who are hired to investigate and use their deception-detection skills to help the police, businesses or everyday people. It’s a great set-up and its presented fantastically.
The “science” of detecting lies is explained in such an interesting and accessible way that you can’t help but be sucked in. The pilot introduces a new member to the team, Ria Torres, played by Monica Raymund, who is a natural at detecting lies and reading people’s expressions. It also gives us a person who needs the science explaining to her, which in turns explains it to the audience. Add to this some real-life examples, like Bill Clinton or O.J Simpson and it adds credibility, believability and a much more entertaining approach to the science.
The science alone isn’t going to keep the show entertaining and Lie to Me does have some good cases for Lightman and his team to investigate. There is everything here, from a fireman’s suspicious death to the “Chilean Miners” style disaster which ups the tension and danger. The show finds its feet and becomes ambitious with its stories very quickly. It’s also very good at throwing in red herrings, changing the case for the Lightman group halfway through an episode, keeping the show at a fair, interesting pace.
The simplest stories are the best though. The areas where Tim Roth’s character gets to manipulate and read people in a more bizarre or unconventional way. Having Cal tell the audience a character is lying is entertaining for the first few episodes but when he can find the location of a missing girl from a witness who won’t speak to him or manipulate a school girl into a confession by guessing her reaction to a fake note, its adds an extra layer and keeps the show fresh.
Unfortunately, the show does fall into some similar traps of all these types of dramas. Each character has baggage which presents itself when a case similar to event in their past is investigated. It’s a common and quite lazy way of developing a character. We also have the makings of at least two “will-they, won’t-they” relationships, something else which has been done to death.
The worst example but also the most forgivable is Tim Roth’s central character of Cal Lightman. He’s obnoxious, to the point, arrogant but a genius. He doesn’t abide by the rules and manages to annoy everyone until he presents his brilliant plan. He could very well be played by Hugh Laurie and diagnose medical mysteries. It’s become a common trait to have a lovable rogue as your central character, hoping to appeal the side of people who wouldn’t dare act like the character they are watching. Its been done before but luckily, Tim Roth is such a good actor that you don’t mind seeing it again.
This is a small complaint and even though there are a lot of less than original aspects to the show, the central, very unique theme of lie-detecting and micro-expressions will keep the show fresh. Add some very intriguing and complex cases and you have a successful show which could even rival House.
Overall, Lie to Me is a fantastic idea, presented in a very accessible way. The stories are engaging and original and although there are aspects to the series that we have all seen before, it’s so well acted, particularly by Tim Roth, that this can very easily be forgiven.
Best Episode – Blinded; Cal faces a serial killer who offers a genuine challenge to his ability. It’s brilliantly acted with a great finale to the episode.
Best performance – Tim Roth as Cal Lightman
Should there have been another season? – Yes, there is loads of scope here for more stories. As long as they keep it as fresh and original as this season.
Season Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)