Lie To Me: TV For Shrinks

Art's Visual Media Review

Lie To Me

Actor Tim Roth is an odd creature. He can divide his face into zones and create two or three expressions simultaneously. He can be smiling and tender with his eyes while his lips and teeth express a feral snarl. It’s unsettling. In the TV series “Lie To Me” it’s supposed to be unsettling. Roth plays psychologist Cal Lightman. The character is a knock off of Dr. Paul Ekman, the innovative explorer of human body language. Dr. Ekman is the shrink who can read every tiny twitch of a person’s face. Termed Micro-Expressions, these muscle movements can be revealing of a subject’s inner state.

In Jungian psychology the mask that people wear for social interaction is called The Persona. It is just that, a mask. It’s essentially false, a place in which to hide our true anguish, guilt, depression and fear. It is a Lie, and we put it on our faces without knowing what we do.

In the series “Lie To Me” Dr. Cal Lightman is often dubbed “the human lie detector.” He sees through the Persona to the core emotions. This is a great device upon which to build a crime thriller series. It’s got enough of the cerebral to be interesting. It’s virtually shorn of physical violence. There are no car chases or fist fights, and guns are drawn only occasionally. It nearly makes me sigh with relief.

In short, there’s none of the usual crap.

Dr. Ekman was a consultant for the show. Nothing happened without his approval, including the casting of Tim Roth as his alter ego. Tim Roth bears no resemblance to Dr. Paul Ekman. Casting an Ekman lookalike would have been a dismal failure. Roth plays a feral, slouching, Cockney hoodlum with a lot of Phd’s behind his name. He works closely with the FBI and local police. He goes wherever he wants, barges through crime scene tapes, gets in people’s faces and stares into their eyes. Though Roth is guilty of many excesses (what actors call ‘carpet chewing’), these excesses work to keep the viewer fascinated. After a couple dozen episodes his mannerisms can get wearying. But Roth and the cast were having so much fun making the show that no director stepped in and said, “Tim, ease up on the ball scratching, eh? ‘Nuff sliding off couches in the conference rooms of posh developers eh?”

There’s method to Cal Lightman’s madness. He wants to push people out of their comfort zones. He wants them to get angry, to flip out and reveal the TRUTH, that they’re murderous scheming bastards. His mannerisms are a technique to break down the Persona.

Actress Kelli Williams (The Practice) plays Dr. Gillian Foster, Lightman’s business partner and possible love interest. Do they? Or don’t they? Will they or won’t they? Kelli Williams is a fine actress who looks like one of CNN’s high-end newscasters: model-perfect, every hair in place, always simmering with understated sexuality. She has a wonderfully kind face and is the perfect foil for Tim Roth. Chemistry makes for a good production and this is a cast that’s loaded with chemistry.

“Lie To Me” uses standard police procedural plots, but skews them just enough so that the detective (Dr. Lightman and his staff) work these cases using a different set of tools. Their skills may be exaggerated, but that’s TV, innit? Footnote: the “innit” I just used is an emulation of Roth’s cockney accent. That’s his back story. He is a one-time thug and petty criminal who lifted himself out of that scene to become the world’s foremost body-language theorist and human lie detector.

Dr. Lightman and his staff are called The Lightman Group. They catch serial murderers, thwart abusive psychiatrists, forestall assassinations, bombings and biological attacks. The stories are pretty good. The work of Brendan Hines as Eli Loker and Monica Raymund as Ria Torres keeps the ensemble small and tight. Cal Lightman has a teenaged daughter, Emily, played by Hayley McFarland. Emily’s presence helps to humanize the abrasive Dr. Lightman. Emily gives as good as she gets. To Emily the almighty Dr. Lightman is just her dad. She can mock him, annoy him and tease him. with hints at sexual liaisons. As the father of a teenaged daughter, Cal Lightman is hovering, hyper-protective and infuriatingly paranoid. Little Em knows how to drive her dad nuts.

The three seasons of “Lie To Me” satisfy like a good burger. They are sturdy and hold up well over time. Tim Roth shows that you don’t have to be good looking to be a leading man. You don’t have to be a Kung Fu master, you just need a healthy dose of confidence and aggression. You must be ready to wade into a brawl even if you’re really intending to sneak away from it at the first opportunity. When push comes to shove, Cal Lightman displays abundant courage. ‘E just ain’t stewpid, oi?

I enjoyed “Lie To Me”. I give it four and a half muskrats.

A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. and

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