Lie To Me: Season 1
For as long as the television has been the entertainment center of our living rooms there is one type of series that has dominated the airwaves; the crime drama. Typically this would take the form of either a police/detective or perhaps a court room drama featuring adversarial lawyers’ battle for justice. Recently the crime series has focused on the investigation targeting the technological marvels of the forensic sciences. Usually, great popularity spawns numerous variations on the same themes with most networks waiting no time at all leaping on the band wagon. At least one network decided to think a bit out of the box and managed to come up with a twist in the venerable crime drama format that is refreshingly novel and well made; ‘Lie to Me’. This series follows the cases presented to a group of people trained in the reading of minute changes in body language and facial expressions permitting them to act as high accurate lie detectors. While the science they refer to, micro expression analysis, does exist the series does push a human ability to master this practice to an extreme. Considering the popular forensic are actual about a decade in advance of current technology this cannot be considered a point of contention for the series under discussion here. ‘Lie to Me’ offers a different vantage point to the genre and the plot device used here permits an exceptionally varied ranging from basic criminal investigations to covert government inquiries. This broader scope affords a far greater freedom to the writer that reflects in a much more interesting time for the audience. Admittedly I didn’t watch this series during its initial broadcasts but while checking out series on Netflix I happened to add this to my queue and found myself an instant fan. When the opportunity to review the first season presented itself I gladly jumped at it.
The series is the creation of Samuel Baum who’s only other item on his resume was the one season show, ‘The Evidence’, another variant of the forensic format. The central character is Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth), world renowned pioneer and expert on micro expressions and founder of the Lightman Group, a research organization largely financed by consulting fees for their unique services. Lightman has been studying faces and body language across numerous human cultures for over two decades. Lightman’s partner is Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams). While almost equal to Lightman in her perception she is ability to mitigate what she observes with a greater degree of humanity. Lightman is typically exceptionally blunt to the point of rudeness but Foster has greater concern for people’s feelings, at least whenever possible. Serving as student and co-worker is Eli Loker (Brendan Hines), who is much more laid back than his superiors in the firm but extremely effective in what he does. Working in a place where your bosses can tell in an instant when you are lying presents a unique challenge so Eli has taken up a preventative course of complete and brutal honesty; a course that frequently gets him into trouble. The latest member of the team is Ria Torres (Monica Raymund). Before coming to work at the Lightman group she worked at the airport in security screening the passengers. Ria had the best record in pulling out potential threats. Cal tests her by flashing warning expressions while brining a briefcase through. It turns out the case was full of cash, a signing bonus and Ria is a natural in reading people. When she discusses they distant way Cal treats her with Eli he informs her that she was born able to see things it took Cal twenty years to learn.
Cal’s ability is a constant source of consternation for his teenage daughter, Emily (Hayley McFarland). For a teen having a father you can’t lie to can all can be tricky. One example is when a boy comes over to take Emily on a date. She makes her dad promise’ no covert techniques to see if he wants to have sex with her. Cal remains true to his word foregoing any covert techniques asking the young man out right if he plans to have sex with his daughter. While this was not what Emily had in mind it was typical of Cal to play with words, meaning and intent. In one episode Lightman and Foster are called in to determine whether a female solider who is accusing her superior officer of rape is telling the truth. It turns out that although she is lying her motivation for doing so are even more problematic. This is an ongoing plot device through this season when the choice between a lie and the truth has less to do with reality than most expect. The potential of the series is in its diversity of story lines. The next episode goes from military rape to a very lucrative cheating scam in an elite high school. The focus can then shift to a massive cover-up involving a deadly building collapse.
The acting here is impeccable. Roth has been a hard working character actor in such notable pieces of cinematic history as the opening and closing segments of ‘Pulp Fiction’. He slips easily into the role of Lightman with style depicting him as a man with on excess of professionally proficiency but seemingly unable to hold his personal life on track. As this first season progresses we also get a lot of insight about Foster regarding her relationship with her husband. Many crime dramas fall apart when they delve into the personal background of the principles. The pitfall is when the writers tend towards the soap opera methods eclipsing the actual investigation of the crime. Here there is a balance that is rarely seen; an ability to balance the special skills of the characters without sacrificing their humanity. The season is under way with confirmation of season three already made by Fox.