Lie to Me is a show that has been pulling together a lot of the pieces that would make a show that works, but it’s still missing the one last ingredient that would make it a can’t-miss show. That ingredient may be something that all of the fine-tuning in the world just couldn’t quite fix because the show, as it stands, is just kinda boring way, way too often. The show has a problem that’s very similar to House or The Mentalist. Tim Roth’s Dr. Lightman is fascinating, with Roth giving a terrific performance, but everything else on the show is pretty hit and miss, unless Roth is somehow involved. New showrunner Shawn Ryan has done a great job of spiffing up the things that needed spiffing up, but he can’t get over the fact that there are a zillion shows on the air like this one, and it’s hard for this one to clamor for air.
Tonight made the nearly fatal (to the episode, at least) decision to send Lightman on vacation. Now, episodes of crime-solving dramas where the lead crime solver goes on vacation and has a case fall into his lap are a time-honored tradition. Yes, they’re a little implausible, and yes, this probably wouldn’t really happen when a detective or human lie detector or guy who stares at things really hard went on vacation, but it’s one of those things I’m willing to go with, just because the show clearly needs to switch things up every so often. Tonight, Lightman and his daughter went down to Mexico (which you know is Mexico because the scene is shot with some sort of yellow filter, as though this were Traffic or something), and, wouldn’t you know it, a woman had recently disappeared and Lightman had to look into it. There was a quick aside about how many Americans disappear in Mexico, most part of drug cartel-related crossfire, but mostly, that was trying to hang a lantern on the fact that, well, the idea of suddenly running across crime on a vacation is a little implausible.
From there, Lightman eventually stumbled across a giant conspiracy to create some sort of designer egg factory, where you could get eggs from any type of woman you could want, all for bargain basement prices and for a less … let’s say … legally-challenged process when compared to countries like the U.S. or Canada. I love these kinds of mysteries on procedurals, where you think you’re heading in one direction (here, your drug cartel-related kidnapping) and you end up in some other, weird direction (an egg farm!), with a massive, yet believable, conspiracy that somehow makes a smidgen of sense in the end. The resolution of the Mexico mystery was maybe the best thing about the episode, especially that scene where Lightman and Torres went to meet with the egg guys undercover and Lightman tricked the “doctor” with some mumbo jumbo about the Coriolis effect.
The Mexico trip was also clearly an attempt to give Roth, who often feels like a sports car driving around a suburban neighborhood with extremely low speed limits on this show, something to ACT, and ACT he did. Lightman was off to Mexico with his daughter, Emily, and the trip was a chance for him to realize both how much she was growing up and just how unsafe she could be in a situation like this. Lightman raving about how his daughter was in danger and how she shouldn’t be playing Nancy Drew was another thing that worked in the episode, and actress Hayley McFarland made Emily’s “let’s clean out the barn and play detectives” gung ho spirit a lot of fun. The first season tossed too much sturm und drang into Lightman’s personal life, but this season (or, at least, this episode) is doing a better job of balancing believable parental concern with Lightman just enjoying the fact that he has a smart daughter he enjoys spending time with.
Getting Torres involved in all of this was also a good call. Roth and Monica Raymund are a good pair, and their chemistry has an easy, mutual respect that works onscreen. Hopefully, the show doesn’t lean on the will-they/won’t-they button too hard, since this is the kind of pairing that a show like this would try too hard to turn into some kind of romantic thing. For right now, though, the two of them are fun as people who hold each other in high regard but also seem to have an undercurrent of being friendly adversaries. As mentioned before, that scene where Lightman confronts the “doctor” was an episode highlight, but at least as much of that had to do with how Torres was playing the guy as well.
Everything back in the U.S. was less involving, mostly because it involved Kelli Williams, who’s saddled with the character every show like this seems to need – the nagging female who gives the genius at the show’s center a hard time for expressing his genius. While that’s not quite Williams’ character – whose name is Dr. Foster, if you insist – it’s close enough that she can never quite break free of the comparisons. Anyway, Foster and the poor man’s David Boreanaz attempted to figure out just why tainted blood was showing up, and the whole plotline felt like an afterthought and was pretty boring to boot. Mostly, it just seemed like an attempt to figure out a way to toss in the whole “Is this person lying?” aspect of the show and the play-along-at-home aspect of the show’s science. The show’s central gimmick has always been a little limited, so hopefully, it realizes this sooner, rather than later.
I’ve talked about second episode problems quite a bit in various reviews around the site, but Lie to Me is having pretty classic second season problems at this point. It knows it could be more than what it is, and it knows it has all of the ingredients to become that series, but it’s having trouble nailing down just what it needs to play up and what it needs to bring down to make all of that work. Fortunately, since the ratings of the show shot up last week, it seems like the series might get a little more time to try to figure out what it wants to do and what it needs to be in the future. Ryan’s already made some good decisions by de-emphasizing the central gimmick (though I wish he’d just kill it entirely) and beefing up Lightman’s personal investment in some of the cases – like how he was worried about his daughter in this one – but there’s still something intangible at the show’s center that just needs a little more tweaking before it’s going to be the next great detective series.
- A bad sign: I cannot remember the names of half of the characters on this show. Actually, I can’t remember the name of everyone that’s not Lightman. And I’ve seen just about every episode. This probably can’t bode well for the show.
- I wish more of these shows would just have the guts to stick with the fact that they’re clearly shows that should have two-person ensembles. Lie to Me doesn’t really get a huge value-add from having all of those non-Lightman characters. They’re pretty much just there because ensembles on crime-solving shows are de riguer.
- Noel will be back next week. Also, my apologies for doing this before The Big Bang Theory. Another crazy DVR mishap forced me to watch this live (since my sucky Charter DVR has apparently decided to stop recording anything on Fox - and no need to say anything in comments, Charter guy; I already e-mailed).