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LIE TO ME (FOX)
(Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00c beginning January 21; written by Samuel Baum; directed by Robert Schwentke)
The network's description: "FOX has given a series commitment to LIE TO ME, a compelling new drama from Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox Television. Tim Roth ("The Incredible Hulk") and Kelli Williams ("The Practice") star in this fascinating character drama inspired by a real-life specialist who can read clues embedded in the human face, body and voice to expose the truth behind the lies in criminal investigations. LIE TO ME is scheduled to premiere midseason. When you scratch your chin, wring your hands, wrinkle your nose or swallow too much, Dr. Cal Lightman (Roth) knows you're lying. He doesn't just think so he knows so. As the foremost deception expert in the country, Dr. Lightman can uncover the deepest secrets and crack the hardest cases. More accurate than any polygraph, he knows whether those in front of him be they family, friends, criminals or complete strangers are honest or not. Dr. Lightman heads up The Lightman Group, a private agency contracted by the FBI, local police, law firms, corporations and private individuals when they hit roadblocks in their searches for the truth. Joining him at the agency are a variety of experts in the field of behavioral evaluation: Dr. Gillian Foster (Williams) is a gifted psychologist and Lightman's professional partner, a woman whose guidance he needs whether he knows it or not; Will Loker (Brendan Hines) is Lightman's lead researcher who practices "radical honesty" at all times; and Ria Torres (Monica Raymund) is the newest member of the team, selected for her innate ability to read body language and catch certain clues that her colleagues may miss."
What did they leave out? It's not quite "The Mentalist" nor is it quite "Psych."
The plot in a nutshell: "Statistically speaking, the average person tells three lies per ten minutes conversation," explains Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth). You see, Cal is a deception expert - a human lie detector who can pick up the subtle clues we offer up in our facial expressions and body language. Slightly lift your shoulder - you don't have confidence in what you're saying; act surprised for more than second - you really aren't surprised; briefly clench your mouth - you don't like the news you're getting. They're universal "microexpressions," a fact that's cleverly demonstrated via clips of everyone from Kato Kaelin to Hugh Grant to Bill Clinton to even FOX's own Simon Cowell. And so, after cutting his teeth at the Defense Department's deception detection program, Cal's opened The Lightman Group - a private firm devoted to outsourcing his tools to everyone from the FBI to the average Joe. His associates include Dr. Gillian Foster (an adorably plucky Kelli Williams), an idealistic psychologist who refuses to be affected by Cal's gloomy demeanor; Will Loker (Brendan Hines), who's incapable of lying - even if that means fessing up to his crush on Nancy Grace or his fair sexual performance; and newbie Ria Torres (Monica Raymund), a feisty former TSA agent who serves as our window into the show.
Their latest case: James Cole (Jake Thomas), the son of a family of devout Jehovah's Witnesses, is accused of killing his attractive teacher after being caught fleeing the scene. The Justice Department wants to try James as an adult but the local mayor wants to use Cal's skills to make sure it was premeditated murder. Cal then, thanks to his "Psych"-esque flashes of James's microexpressions, turns up a few leads and they're off and running down the procedural rabbit hole. Intermixed in their investigation is a second case, in which the Democratic National Committee hires Cal and company to look into rumors of a senator's visits to a sex club. As you might expect, both cases take various twists and turns as nothing is as it initially seems. In the end, Cal finds the truth - as usual, amongst a sea of lies.
What works: There's an inherent cleverness to the show that drives the procedural engine in unexpected ways. "Deception detection" initially feels like quackery - we can't really be that easy to read, can we? - and yet when placed in the context of public figures, one can't help but take it as gospel. Show me that a random bad guy is uncomfortable because he scowls for a second is one thing, connecting it to footage of Kato Kaelin doing the same thing on the witness stand during the O.J. trial is another. True or false - and according to Dr. Paul Ekman's "Telling Lies," the book/man who inspired the show, it's very much true - in the television world of "Lie to Me," the case is convincingly made. And so instead of DNA or legalese, we go through the well-worn procedural motions through the prism of lies.
Holding said prism then is Tim Roth's Cal Lightman, who in turn is living with the consequences of spending a lifetime knowing how little words often end up meaning, an attitude that makes him surprisingly enigmatic. Sure on the surface, he's an overprotective father to his daughter (Kay Panabaker), a stickler for courtesy and not above using his skills to embarrass a douchey ASA (Josh Stamberg). But he's also willing to let a lie from Gillian's husband (Tim Guinee) slide, not to mention sit on information he's been hired to find. They're facets which, when questioned by Ria, causes Cal to simply shrug: "You believe whatever you want. It's what everyone else does." Cal definitely does not wear his heart on his sleeve. Serving as his counterweight is Kelli Williams's Gillian Foster, whose unabashed optimism and belief in people is infectious. She reads romance novels and eats chocolate pudding at 10 o'clock in the morning because they make her feel good - damn if Cal's rain clouds are going to ruin her day. Their interplay makes for a nice backdrop for the emotional fallout of doing their jobs.
What doesn't: The Lightman Group's offices seem unnecessarily futuristic - look, I can scan in a picture to blow it up on the wall to hammer home a point! - and the "Psych"-esque zoom-ins tend to overplay each character's hands - we get that in Cal's eyes we're all open books, but it'd still be nice to let us connect a few dots ourselves. That being said, director Robert Schwentke brings a feature flair to the show, most specifically a beautiful closing sequence that lets a few glances from Cal and Gillian tell an entire story and a final pop that tells you everything you're ever going to need to know about Cal. All in all, "Lie to Me" is definitely...
The bottom line: ...the new show to watch for in January.