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January 21, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 21, 2009 |

“Lie to Me” has a couple of things working for it, and a couple working against it. On the negative side, it airs on Fox, so even if you find that you like it, good luck finding it on the Fox sked next month. Don’t get too attached to the characters, is all I’m saying. Second, it’s got an amazingly dumb premise: It’s about a guy who has a freakish ability to tell whether a person is lying or not, a gimmick they work into yet another criminal procedural. Hooray! Another criminal procedural. I wonder if they’ll rip from the headlines, too?!

On the other hand, that guy is Tim Roth, and Tim Roth was Mr. Orange, and Mr. Orange gets the benefit of the doubt. Also, Tim Roth is the shit. He’s also pretty frickin’ great in “Lie to Me.” He’s slick, kind of squirrely, devilish, sly, and weirdly sexy. You know: Basically Tim Roth. He plays Cal Lightman, the world’s preeminent deception expert. He can analyze a person’s micro-expressions — a raised eyebrow, a crinkle of the chin, a dart of the eye — and instantly detect whether that person is telling the truth or not. Obviously, that’s a skill that comes in handy when interrogating suspects.

I’ll also grant the show this: Though the idea that such an expert exists (and is paid extremely handsomely) and can tell with absolute accuracy whether someone is lying within 30 seconds is outright preposterous, the pilot episode at least suggested that the series would reveal a lot of neat information about facial expressions and what they mean. Whether that information is accurate or just a bunch of horseshit the writers come up to fit within their melodramatic plotlines is another question all together (the premise is allegedly based, in part, on the work of Paul Ekman). But it is kind of fun to imagine that such a person exists and that such a person could, in a way, read your mind without any actual telepathic powers. It also makes the show somewhat similar to “The Mentalist,” although “Lie to Me” has one thing that “The Mentalist” does not: Tim Roth. It all comes back to Roth, and the ability of the show to succeed past the admittedly moderately entertaining pilot episode rests almost entirely on his shoulders.

It also feels like a show with limited possibilities, though the same could probably be said of most high-concept gimmicks. Writers tend to work around that by devaluing the concept or re-running the same episode over and over with different victims and suspects (see “House”), which I suspect will be the fate of “Lie to Me.” There’s almost no way to stretch the premise beyond 12 or 13 decent episodes. The pilot episode involves a teenager accused of murdering his teacher, and a politician accused of sleeping with a prostitute. There’s almost no mystery at all to their outcomes, nor is there much reason to care about the suspects. But, there’s a lot more entertainment value than you might imagine in watching Tim Roth stare down someone while his partner, the gammy Gillian Foster (“The Practice’s” Kelli Williams), asks the questions. They make a fairly fun duo and potential romantic interests, and Williams is significantly less somber than she was in “The Practice” (though, she still has a certain robotic quality about her). The rest of the cast is mostly somewhere between annoying and obnoxious (there’s the deception expert prodigy as well as an oversexed colleague, of course), with the exception of Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom), who plays a cop, and who looks like he might play a bigger role in the future of the series (I’ve also decided that all characters from “The Wire” will heretofore be known by their character names in “The Wire” until they manage to do something worthy of their talents).

All in all, “Lie to Me” is not a great show, but when your alternatives are “American Idol,” “Desperate Housewives,” or that lie detector reality show on FOX, “not great” with a side of Tim Roth gets at least a four show commitment from me.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.

"Lie to Me" / Dustin Rowles

TV | January 21, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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