Lie to Me centers on the character of Dr. Cal Lightman, the world’s leading expert in deception detection. At the Lightman Group, a private consulting firm that specializes in using micro-facial expressions, body language and other often-missed cues and clues to tell when, and sometimes why, someone is lying. Lightman is based on real-life facial expression expert Dr. Ekman and much of the basis for the show is inspired by Ekman’s pioneering research and many books on the subject.
It may be purely coincidence that Lie to Me has several things in common with other current and recent Fox dramas, such as 24, House and Bones, but it’s interesting that, like all three of those shows, it’s focused on someone with uniquely specialized skills and who is the best in his or her field. Lightman, like Dr. House, is brilliant but easily bored, and like Bones‘s Dr. Brennan, writes books based on his work, consults with the FBI and often helps solve crimes. There’s not a lot of Jack Bauer in Lightman, but there frequently are government plots, bombs and scenes involving torture in the show (though it is usually only of the mental variety and is mainly inflicted by Lightman on his co-workers). What keeps Lie To Me from seeming like something we’ve seen several times before, however, is Tim Roth (To Kill A King, The Legend of 1900,Reservoir Dogs, Vincent & Theo, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead).
Roth is riveting. He plays Lightman with a combination of inscrutable intensity and loose-limbed nonchalance that elevates the entire show, even when the plots are a bit predictable or the story arcs uneven. In Lie To Me: Season Two, the episodes do seem to be a little hit-or-miss, as if the writers can’t decide which direction to take the show. Is it a weekly action thriller with secret government subplots, explosions and violence? Or is it an ongoing psychological study of the core characters of Lightman, his colleagues and his family?
Well, of course, ideally it’s a little of both, but it works best when it stays rooted in the characters and their relationships with Lightman. Some of the best moments are those in which Lightman is shown in personal interactions with his daughter (Hayley McFarland), and, to a lesser extent, his ex-wife (Jennifer Beals) or his partner in the Lightman Group, psychologist Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams, The Practice). The off episodes are those that spend too much time on the tactical, gun-brandishing details of, say, stopping a bomb threat, or those that stray too far from exploring the life of the human lie detector and just letting Roth inhabit Lightman as he looks for the tell-tale traces of truth amid the masks of deception.
One of the best episodes is “Grievous Bodily Harm”. The whole episode is a study in solving several simultaneous people-puzzles given only the most minute cues and carefully chosen close-ups. It’s very engaging for the new information learned about Lightman as well, as a pal from Lightman’s past (Lennie James) turns up to collect on a debt, and we find that this talent for deception detection has always had darker uses.
Season Two also delves into some backstory and personal information on Lightman and Foster, and yet more ways in which Lightman’s gifts were previously employed, particularly in the episode “Sweet Sixteen”, but even that episode is more about the detonation of a bomb outside the building than it is building the characters. We also get to learn a little more about FBI Agent Ben Reynolds (Mekhi Phifer, 8 Mile) and his previous deep cover assignment in “Lack of Candor”, and about Ria Torres (Monica Raymund) and her troubled family history in “Delinquent”. In fact, the only member of the team we don’t learn much more about is Eli Loker (Brendan Hines), which is a little disappointing, but perhaps a big reveal in Season Three will rectify that.
Lie To Me: Season Two includes 22 episodes on six DVDs, and a number of deleted or extended scenes. Each episode’s special features section also contains excerpts from “Dr. Ekman’s Blog”, that reveal further details as well as inaccuracies of the science used in the show. These are interesting to a point, but the problem is that they must be read within the features menu, which gets tedious after the first few entries. The DVD set also features a gag reel, a “Lie Detection Tutorial” featurette with Dr. Ekman and Eli Loker: An Honest Man. As you might suspect, the features vary in consistency, much like Season Two itself. However, they too are mostly worth watching, even if it’s mostly for just watching Tim Roth.