I’ve been away on vacation and had a mini-marathon catching up on Lie To Me. Watching three episodes in a row really underlined how this show has found its groove. Now it needs to find the kind of audience it deserves, so I decided to offer up my thoughts on why more folks should be tuning in every Monday.
1. The plots. I’m pretty sure the first item on the agenda when Shawn Ryan stepped in as show runner last year was to find a better balance between science, character, and plot and he succeeded. Given that new show runners Alexander Cary and David Graziano were very involved this season as well, I see no reason to think the tight, smart, fast-paced stories will unravel under the new regime taking over in the fall. The last three episodes—”Delinquent,” “Bullet Bump,” and “Headlock”—all focused on one main plot with different supporting characters getting featured. This is a huge improvement over an earlier structure which tried to spin an A and B case, with the B case almost inevitably falling a little flat. Ryan, Cary, and Graziano have brought character forward in the mix and the stories are now just as fascinating for what they reveal about The Lightman Group as what the The Lightman Group reveals about the case.
2. And on that note, I have to praise the supporting cast. When Lie To Me first started, Tim Roth immediately owned the show. He was the reason I decided to give the drama a chance and he was the reason I continued to tune in even though the show was at first science-heavy. But even Tim Roth cannot carry a show himself. Last season, the writers did a great job exploiting the natural chemistry between Tim Roth (Lightman) and Kelli Williams (Foster), and this season Monica Raymund (Torres), Brendan Hines (Loker), Mekhi Pfifer (Reynolds), and most delightfully, Hayley McPharland (Emily) have all shown they can step up when called and bring all kinds of shading to their parts. Monica Raymund made “Delinquent” a very moving exploration of the tensions between sisters. Torres was believable in both her love and her guilt and I loved the touch of her trying to seduce Cal when she drunkenly shows up at his place to talk about her sister. It’s a nice call back to earlier episodes when Cal and Ria had an uneasy relationship over her natural ability. I also loved Loker in “Bullet Bump” when he reacts with horror to Emily kissing him because she misread (or did she?) his intentions when he friended her on Facebook. The supporting actors are able to make their parts, even when small, meaningful and usually funny and I look forward to seeing them every week.
3. I’m going to give Hayley McFarland her own bullet point. The young actress has an amazing chemistry with Tim Roth. These two are completely believable as father and daughter and with Emily making strides toward growing up this season, their relationship has been a joy to watch unfold. Emily is both a typical teenager and her father’s daughter, making her a handful for even Cal to read. From Cal’s stress at teaching his daughter to drive to Emily’s ability to force her dad to apologise to Loker when Lightman punches him because Emily kissed him, these two are just plain fun to watch. It doesn’t hurt that Emily is clearly Cal’s vulnerable point, so much so he puts The Lightman Group at risk again when he compromises a case with the FBI so he doesn’t compromise his custody of his daughter. McFarland has a delicate touch, keeping her character sweet and real and yet more than anyone else able to challenge Cal’s ability to read faces.
4. The guest stars. Both Tim Roth and Shawn Ryan have said they think their show is somewhat unique in television drama in that guest stars are encouraged to come in and play with the material, allowing for surprises and real use of the actors’ potential. That freedom pays off, because the guest stars on Lie To Me consistently find both chemistry and nuance with the regular cast, from Jason Dohring in “Beat The Devil” to Melissa George in her current mini-arc. The next episode will feature several actors from Ryan’s previous show, The Shield.
5. Cal and Gillian’s relationship. The lead’s romantic life is often a problem in episodic drama, because if s/he gets involved with someone in the regular cast, it can throw the entire ensemble off balance. At the same time, if the will they/won’t they tension gets stretched out too far, it can kill the interest fans have in the pairing. House, for example, has had huge problems working out this issue, but Lie To Me so far has found a great groove for Cal and Gillian. The actors started out creating a solid friendship for the two characters, with flirtatious undertones based on their as yet not completely revealed history. That friendship allows both characters to get involved with other people while still keeping their own relationship fresh and just a little ambiguous. I love the way the two tease each other, as they try to either breach or shore up their boundaries. And it’s clear they care about each other, whether or not they ever try a romance. I can imagine these two spinning their tension across several seasons quite successfully, with the audience both rooting for them and understanding why Gillian in particular is reluctant to commit to a relationship.
6. Tim Roth. Roth is a fascinating actor and he’s having fun with Cal Lightman. Roth’s approach is both physical and cerebral, and he is believably tough and intelligent as Cal takes up as much space as he can in a room. Roth handles Cal’s hidden but very much there tender side equally as well, whether showing his fear of losing his daughter or his horror when his schemes backfire on Gillian. Roth is funny, challenging, and moving and he can play as many levels in a scene as the writers can dream up. If any point in this list should persuade a viewer to give Lie To Me a try, it is this one: Tim Roth delivers.
The show is currently finishing up its second season and will continue with its third season in the fall. It deserves to be a much bigger hit than it is and I hope FOX will give it the kind of promotion that draws new viewers in. Lie To Me is worth it. Start by tuning in Monday, August 16, at 8 PM (ET/PT) for “Pied Piper.”