TV Review: FOX’s ‘Lie to Me’ With Tim Roth Makes Early Return

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CHICAGOFOX’s “Lie to Me” with Tim Roth and Kelli Williams proved to be a summer 2010 smash, finishing the just-wrapped season as one of the most-watched programs in key demographics. The tale of a team of professional human lie detector tests should still be waiting for the right moment to start its third season, but so few people watched the critically acclaimed “Lone Star” that it became the first casualty of the 2010 to 2011 season. This opened the door for “Lie to Me” to return tonight on Oct. 4, 2010. Television Rating: 3.0/5.0
Television Rating: 3.0/5.0

“Lie to Me” started a little muddled but gained serious focus when the great Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) took over the program and evolved it into more than just another generic mystery-of-the-week series. Tim Roth’s Cal Lightman became much more than just a cog in the serial machine and the program developed a loyal audience. The writing improved, the performances became more refined, and the program approached must-see television.

Lie To Me
Lie To Me
Photo credit: Greg Gayne/FOX

Now, Shawn Ryan is gone, having moved on to FX’s “Terriers” and the FOX mid-season replacement, “Ride-Along.” Will the show devolve back into its generic first season or stay as consistent as it was under his guidance? It’s a bit too early to tell but there’s reason for concern after the third season premiere, an episode that has its moments but doesn’t play to the program’s strengths and highlights a few of its remaining weaknesses.

Lie To Me.
Lie To Me.
Photo credit: Patrick Ecclesine/FOX

“Lie to Me” is based on the real scientific work of Dr. Paul Ekman, reimagined as Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth), the head of The Lightman Group, a small collection of truth experts who assist government agencies, police detectives, federal law enforcement, and more in the world of deception. As the new season starts, the group (and the program) are in a transition phase, no longer working for the F.B.I. and free to take their own cases. On a writing level, the move seems designed to open up the show to new variety of plot arcs but the first episode of the season plays more like an action series and that’s not the strength of “Lie to Me.”

In the first episode, after a brutal meeting with the attorney looking for progress on the book for which Cal received a hefty advance and appears to have not even started, Lightman happens to be at a bank when he “reads” one of the customers and surmises that he’s casing the joint for a robbery. Lightman immediately confronts the man and becomes almost an undercover agent in the planned robbery. Shawn Doyle (“Big Love”) gives an excellent guest performance as the wannabe bank robber with very personal reasons to commit the crime.

Roth can sometimes over-play the exaggerated antics of his characters with an abundance of tics and talking with his hands. I love Roth in the quieter, more mentally-manipulative moments, but the season premiere of “Lie to Me” allows for a lot of fast-talking, over-gesturing monologues and he feels less genuine. “Lie to Me” works best when it’s a show about little things — the subtle facial cues or vocal patterns that separate the truth from the lie — not shotguns, handcuffs, and undercover stings.

I’m also exhausted at how much Williams is wasted as Lightman’s right-hand woman Dr. Gillian Foster. Williams is simply a better actress than what she’s given here; her character has always been the weak link on the show. And the rest of the cast seems similarly under-utilized recently. Since Ryan took over, there’s been an emphasis on guest stars that’s been fun but I believe it’s also been to the detriment of the talented supporting cast and considering Doyle’s guest turn is arguably the highlight of the premiere, it feels like a pattern that will continue despite Ryan’s departure.

There’s nothing particularly “wrong” with the third season premiere of “Lie to Me” but the show built momentum over the summer and could have really built on that to pull FOX out of the misery caused by this time slot by the horrific ratings for “Lone Star.” In theory, Dr. Cal Lightman should make a perfect companion to Dr. Gregory House and make for two hours of ratings glory on Monday night. For that to happen right away, the third season premiere needed to be more representative of the series as a whole and I hope that the program is not turning into the action-thriller genre seen in the season premiere. Fans of the show will shrug it off as a slightly sub-par episode and be back next week for more but people curious about what all the buzz was about over the summer may be surprised that the third season premiere of “Lie to Me” isn’t better.

‘Lie To Me,’ which airs on FOX, stars Tim Roth, Kelli Williams, Brendan Hines, Monica Raymund, and Hayley McFarland. The show was created by Samuel Baum. The third season premiere airs on Monday, October 4th, 2010 at 8PM CST. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Victoria's picture

I agree...sort of

I definitely agree that Kelli Williams is under-utilized on the show. She is a fabulous actress (and I admit…just gorgeous eye-candy) and her character should have much more to work with in most episodes. Tim Roth is great, but he can’t be the entire show anymore. Talk about boring!

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