Friday, January 23, 2009

Lie To Me - Recap & Review - Pilot

Lie To Me

Original Air Date: Jan 21, 2009

JD - TwoCents Reviewer

A brand new show for 2009! And one that uses human behavior to solve crimes? I'm so in. Not to mention there's Tim Roth in the staring role; there was no way I wasn't checking this one out. Lie To Me is centered around Dr. Cal Lightman, played by Roth, and based on a true story of a real life deception expert who discovered a new way to study body language, and used it to assist in solving real life crimes.

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  1. A brand new show for 2009! And one that uses human behavior to solve crimes? I'm so in. Not to mention there's Tim Roth in the staring role; there was no way I wasn't checking this one out. Lie To Me is centered around Dr. Cal Lightman , played by Roth, and based on a true story of a real life deception expert who discovered a new way to study body language, and used it to assist in solving real life crimes.

    We get our first look at Dr. Lightman doing exactly what he does best. He's sitting in a room interrogating a prisoner. Scary-looking Skinhead guy has been instructed by his lawyer to remain silent, but that's all right! Dr.Lightman doesn't have much faith in words anyway, as he tells it. In fact, he says the average person tells three lies per every ten minutes of conversation. Yikes.

    Instead of relying on words, Lightman simply reads every tiny expression that flits across the prisoner's face as he asks questions about a church the prisoner is trying to blow up. Now, in spite of the fact that the FBI watching through the glass tells us they interrogated the guy for four hours and got nothing, less than two minutes into the show, Dr. Lightman figures out the right answer and is saving the day! My money is on Lightman being psychic.

    Or, well, you know, it might have been if I hadn't already known the premise of the show.

    We sweep from that scene to a new one, set present day, and we see Lightman standing in front of a classroom lecturing. The interview we just watched is framed up on a giant screen behind him, and he's explaining to the class exactly how he figured out the mystery, pointing out the tiny 1/5 of a second smile on the prisoner's face that he just couldn't help when Cal guessed wrong, the teeny shoulder shrug when the prisoner was unsure of what he said. Cal refers to these as microexpressions, and explains that expression are expression are expressions. That is to say that emotion looks the same on everyone, no matter who we are or where we're from. "The truth is written on all our faces."

    And that, my friends, is the premise of the entire show in a nutshell. Kind of neat, huh?

    So now that we have that established, let's jump right in and meet Main Characters Numbers Two and Three: Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams) and Eli Loker (Brendan Hines).

    Lightman owns his own company, The Lightman Group, and we run into these two there. Dr. Foster is a shrink who seems all pre-set up to be Lightman's foil, of course: she talks about their desperate need to hire someone new; he frowns and asks why. She talks about all the new requests they have for help from governments all over the world; he gets grumpy.

    Along their walk, they run into Loker, who's right away set up at the 'oddball' character. He promptly informs them that he spent the night before drunk, and debated about whether to come in today at all because there was no one to fantasize about at work. As we find out later, Loker practices what he calls "radical honesty", so this whole bit of shtick makes sense now (about as much sense as it can make), but all I want to know is why.

    This episode eventually gets on track and off the introduction phase, and winds up following its first case of the show, one in which a teenage boy accused of killing his teacher and set to be tried as an adult. Before the boy faces the possibility of life in prison, however, they want Lightman to tell them if he really is telling the truth when he says he didn't do it. Lightman and Foster set about using the same techniques as they interview the teenage boy (as well as his classmates and teachers) as were demonstrated in the interview at the beginning of the episode. Then before we get to case number two of the episode, we're off to the airport! Here we meet Main Character Number Four, Ria Torres (Monica Raymund), who makes her entrance to the show rather inauspiciously by dragging Lightman out of line at the airport and trying to sic security on him.

    As it turns out, though, that was the point. Lightman deliberately flashed her a "partial fear expression" from the line to see if she would react. Apparently, Lightman and Foster have had their eyes on Torres. She's made seven times more arrests than the average TSA agent and scored a 97% on the TSA Deception Diagnostic, a test Lightman created. Torres is a rare natural in the field of deception detection, and just like that, we have the new employee that Foster was trying to hire at the beginning of the episode! Viola!

    So now that our team is in place, we get to the second case, one in which a politician is in the midst of a sex scandal. Now, I'm not even going to get into the cases themselves. Quite honestly, I'm running out of space. That's the problem with pilot episodes, really. There is so much to fit into the first show to set up the series, and this is especially true of dramas.

    I actually wish they would have focused on just one case in this episode instead of two. Not only was there a lot of groundwork to lay down here, but the cases themselves felt a bit shunted to the sides. In fact, when I wrote this, I thought to myself, 'ah, well, the cases didn't really matter too much in this one, so I can skim them'. That's probably not a sign the show did too terribly hot on the plot side of things this time.

    The first case with the teenage boy was the most interesting of the two, and it was played out nicely, playing on the boy's religious upbringing. I like how that impacted the case in a totally different way than I expected. The second case, though, felt a little rushed and extraneous.

    The landscape of characters seemed a little on the sitcom side, as well. We've got the grumpy guy, the "cute" girl, the kook, and the fierce minority. I'm not sure yet how I feel about Foster or Loker. Loker's "radical honesty" feel a little like a one-note joke that'll get old fast, and Foster felt a little lacking in personality, in spite of how they tried to inject her with some via pudding and fruity drinks.

    Tim Roth was as excellent as I'd hoped, and I was happy he was allowed to keep his accent. I like Lightman, but I also don't like him. He's a man who knows too much about people, and therefore doesn't trust many of them. I think I might be grumpy too. I do think he's a good guy under the grump factor, though, and the scene with his daughter was especially funny. Oh yeah, he has a daughter, let's cram more information into the pilot!

    Torres was also excellent. She's already established as a strong, smart asset to The Lightman Group in just a few short scenes. Not only that, she seems to have a sense of justice and rightness about her, evident in the scenes in which she questions Lightman about him not telling certain people that other people are lying, even when he knows they are. I like that they don't understand each other, and I love that the arguments in favor of each of them are valid on both sides. I really hope Torres becomes a more prominent character in future episodes.

    Overall, I liked the episode, though I'm not in love with it. It had its issues, but I think on whole, the episode suffered from what I'll call "pilot-itus". I can't say I can look back on the pilot episode of many new shows and say that they got it all right on the first go, or that the pacing and plot were perfect. Pilots are all about setting up the series, so I can forgive a lot as a show goes through growing pains, if I think it has promise.

    And I think this is a promising first go.

    What did you guys think? Give me your two cents!


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