Lie To Me

It seems every new cop show these days needs a gimmick, and here we are, watching "The blah Mentalist-type one where the guy is really good at reading people's body language, and kind of a dick." Tim Roth plays said guy: He works for an agency that consults on cases with police and other government officials, especially when polygraphs are concerned. For you see, Roth's Cal Lightman (the name rarely makes an appearance, except for referencing the name of his company) is like a human polygraph machine, so no matter what conclusions everyone come to, he's got a better one rooted more firmly in the way people behave. Others see black-and-white, lie or no; he sees shades of gray. It's like the Dr. House of his particularly specific niche of psychology—he's such an enigma!

In the pilot, he and his team investigate the case of boy-lusts-for-teacher-then-possibly-murders-her-only-no-one-knows. James, the student, is discovered at the crime scene, but it becomes increasingly clear that his strict, über-Christian parents—who are none-too-happy with the amount of time he supposedly has been spending with his teach—may have had a hand. Lightman's job is to figure out what the hell really happened. They interview students at school, the principal, and James himself, each time picking up on some facial tick or shoulder shrug that might lead them down a different path. Why are they lying? What's with the contempt all of a sudden? How many goatee close-ups is too many for an hour of primetime TV?

The show is ostensibly about lying in general—questioning when it might be okay, and the nasty habit they have of scrambling the truth beyond recognition. We get a glimpse of that in the B-story: a senator is caught in a sex scandal, but thanks to some mighty fine detectivin' by the "Hard-nosed, vaguely Latina newbie" agent, it comes out that the prostutite he's been sending all that money to is his daughter, who he gave up for adoption. All he wants is for her to run away and have a better life, but exposing the truth will label her forever as "The senator's whoring daughter." He'd rather resign and be labeled a perv than tarnish his daughter's reputation—who, by the way, has no idea of the senator's relationship to her. Oh yeah, and Lightman lies, claiming that James hung himself in his cell, in order to get information out of a pregnant teen about the real teacher killer.

Problem is, outside of those two moments, the show is pretty boring. No, not offensively bad or anything, but not nearly compelling enough to warrant repeat viewings. Lightman might be to blame: Yeah, he lied to expose a liar, so what? After 47 minutes with Lightman, we still know nothing about him other than his obsession with truth. (He double parks in front of a car who scooped his parking spot; he bluntly asks his daughter's boyfriend if there's sex in their future; his bluntness!) Thus the show rings like a straight-up procedural, a mighty predictable one where the mysterious guy referenced only at the beginning of the episode turns out to be the killer. Roth is certainly capable of a richer leading man, but this episode doesn't provide him with much of the legs he needs to stand, let alone run with the role. And his cronies are no better; I'm struggling to remember much about any of them.

If you're watching purely to learn a few nifty party tricks—like asking a liar to recite the events backwards, which they'll never be able to do—this might be up your alley. But with enough body language books (and wholly original television) out there, it might be best to seek the truth elsewhere, unless you're willing to hold out for a bit.

Grade: C

Stray observations:

- "I want to have sex with you." Ugh.

- I think the imdb entry for this episode is way off. I could have sworn that the first kid interviewed at the school was the curly haired drug dealer from Freaks and Geeks, and that the cop at the prison was Bunny from The Wire.