Lie to Me: Season One

(2009) *** Unrated
572 min. FOX. Director: Clark Johnson. Cast: Tim Roth.


Whose lie is it anyway? That's the question in Lie to Me, a clever new FOX procedural about lie detection specialists. The Lightman Group doesn't use old-fashioned and demonstrably unreliable lie detector machines; rather, they apply the Facial Action Coding System to interpret microexpressions. Biting your lip? Flashing a glance? Displaying vocal stress or facial markers of contempt or shame? Not only are you lying—as the show reminds us we all do—but you're giving yourself away. Lie to Me also demonstrates the British Invasion of American TV exemplified by FOX's House, starring Hugh Laurie. In casting the great Tim Roth as psychologist Dr. Cal Lightman, Lie to Me won the added value of a weekly master class in acting.

As Lightman puts it, "The truth is written on all our faces." The methodology of recognizing microexpressions was developed in part by Paul Ekman (author of Emotions Revealed), on whom Lightman is loosely modeled. One of the series' wittiest conceits is to score points by showing photographs illustrating microexpressions on the faces of scandalized politicians and celebrities: Obama, Bush, Clinton, Hitler, Bin Laden, the British royals, and Kato Kaelin among them. Lightman's character is a transparent attempt to make the House lightning strike twice: he's brilliant, eccentric, cynical and sarcastic. In the hands of an actor as capable as Roth, the character is plenty interesting (and entertaining) in his own right. In the show's initial run of thirteen episodes, creator Samuel Baum also begins to explore the roots of the human lie detectors' career motivations and skill sets and, particularly, what led Lightman to develop his methodology.

Lightman's team includes Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams of The Practice), a longstanding colleague of Lightman who "keeps him honest." The team's nurturing earth mother, Foster provides a balance during interrogations; where Lightman is an impatient emotional pit bull, Foster cajoles and soothes subjects to gain trust. Eli Loker (Brendan Hines) practices "radical honesty," claiming always to tell the truth," while the team's newest member—Ria Torres (Monica Raymund)—is a "natural" lie detector learning to supplement her instinct with a scientific basis. On the periphery is Ben Reynolds (Mekhi Phifer of Clockers), an FBI ally whose role graduates to regular for this fall's second season.

Since lying breaches all areas of life, The Lightman Group consults with police and government agencies in a wide variety of criminal investigations, from murder, kidnapping, international incidents to potentially embarrassing situations in arenas like the corporate world (the efficacy of experimental drug trials) and the army (a possible case of "command rape"). Lie to Me has already shown a penchant for exploring the romantic entanglements of its core characters. Though single, Lightman once met his match in his ex-wife Zoe (Jennifer Beals), still in the picture as mother to their teenage daughter Emily (Hayley McFarland). Meanwhile, Foster's husband Alec (Tim Guinee) is keeping a secret she'd rather not see on his face. And in a sure-to-be-ongoing subtext, Cal and Gillian share deep and possibly romantic feelings for each other.

Since the series deals with a subject of fascination to actors (how thought and emotion are expressed facially and verbally), it's not surprising that the show provides juicy roles for guest stars. Season one guest players include Sean Patrick Thomas (A Raisin in the Sun), Daniel Sunjata (Rescue Me), Clea Duval (Heroes), David Anders (Heroes), D.W. Moffett (Friday Night Lights), Daniel Benzali (Murder One), Richard Brooks (Law & Order), and Sunkrish Bala (Notes from the Underbelly). The allure of working of Roth no doubt contibutes to the series' high caliber of guest directors, from Clark Johnson (Homicide, The Wire) to Twin Peaks vets Tim Hunter and Lesli Linka Glatter. As the show moves into a second season, it gets a new and well-tested showrunner in Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit). It's a move that bodes well for a series that could easily use up its gimmick in lesser hands.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/25/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Lie to Me arrives in mirrored Blu-ray and DVD sets. On Blu-ray, fans can enjoy more detailed and vibrant picture quality. Though not perfect (due to edge enhancement from digital sharpening and a bit of stray video noise), these transfers offer spot-on color and deep blacks, as well as a satsisfyingly sharp image. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes deliver all that should be expected of them: don't expect robust effects and ambient directionality that will show off your system, but the crystal clarity of dialogue puts the focus where it ought to be.

The sole featurette, residing on Disc Three, is "The Truth About Lies" (26:06, HD), a glossy making-of overview of the series, its creation, its themes, its casting, and its prodution. Interviewed are creator/executive producer Samuel Baum, scientific advisor Dr. Paul Ekman, executive producer Brian Grazer, executive producer David Nevins, Imagine Television Executive V.P. of Development Robin Gurney, casting director Sharon Bialy, Tim Roth, Kelli Williams, Monica Raymund, casting director Sherry Thomas, Brendan Hines, supervising producer Josh Singer, co-executive producer Adam Davidson, executive producer Steve Maeda, consulting producer Tom Szentgyorgyi, writer/co-executive producer Dustin Thomason, consulting scientist Erika Rosenberg, staff writer Ilana Bar-Din Giannini, director Clark Johnson, producer Jeff Downer, and writer Jami O'Brien.

Though the featurette is generous in length, the absence of commentaries is conspicuous, and a rumored tutorial in The Lightman Group's lying detection methods is absent for now. But there is another significant extra on Disc Three, a sizeable collection of "Deleted Scenes" (19:19, HD). Well, you know what they say in show biz: leave 'em wanting more. No doubt future season sets will offer a greater variety of bonus content.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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