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LIE TO ME

Lie To Me Jason Dohring Photo

©2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Adam Rose/FOX

“Lie to Me” has been one of those Fox shows flying under the radar for quite some time.  When it premiered, the numbers continued to climb throughout the season, but in its 2nd season return, it struggled to retain its audience.  Fox moved the show to summer, but has also given it a 3rd season pickup.  How much of a 3rd season the show has will likely depend on how the show performs during the summer months.

By : SHAWNA BENSON

“Lie to Me” has been one of those Fox shows flying under the radar for quite some time.  When it premiered, the numbers continued to climb throughout the season, but in its 2nd season return, it struggled to retain its audience.  Fox moved the show to summer, but has also given it a 3rd season pickup.  How much of a 3rd season the show has will likely depend on how the show performs during the summer months.

In some ways, “Lie to Me” is constructed on the “House” paradigm.  Cal Lightman, played by Brit Tim Roth (much like Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House), is a man of governing theories and a defined point of view.  House knows everyone lies, but Lightman can actually tell you who is lying and when they’re doing it.

Lie To Me   Jason Dohring Photo

©2010 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Adam Rose/FOX

The series has spent a lot of time finding its distinctive voice, and, for better or worse, it seems to have found it.  In tonight’s new episode “Beat the Devil,” Lightman goes toe to toe with a young psychology student who may be a psychopath.  Fans of “Veronica Mars” and “Moonlight” will be happy to see Jason Dohring as the student Lightman is convinced may have kidnapped and murdered a college student.  Dohring’s performance is strong; he embodies the likes of seemingly normal guys who are really not so harmless, like Ted Bundy.  The character is actually a decent foil for Lightman, who reads everyone like a book.

That ability to read people by their micro expressions, vocal tone and other queues is the strength and the potential weakness of the show.  What has made the show fascinating to watch is how Lightman and his team break down a character’s words or nearly imperceptible movements to deconstruct the lie.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to write a tv show where your main character is virtually infallible in his skill.  Even Sherlock Holmes made some mistakes, and House does too, on a very frequent basis.

It seems most of Lightman’s mistakes are in his past, as that seems to be the direction of the show moving forward.  Tim Roth must now carry a great deal of the story along, since Lightman is the all-suspecting or all-knowing hero and the rest of his team are mostly seated on the sidelines.  One wonders why he has a team at all, when he is the one doing most of the work, relegating his staff to chasing down the truth about a teacher who claims to have seen a UFO.  Lightman’s story carries the water; the others are there just to distract for a few minutes at a time from the main story.

This isn’t uncommon for some shows,  to rely so heavily on the lead and to push the supporting players further into the background.  Roth is dynamic and there’s a reason he’s on this show.  Now Lightman carries a great deal of the dialog, often squaring off against suspects or providing long monologues about his theories on deception.  But Roth also makes Lightman seems more normal, less superhuman because of the of his frailties.  While Lightman may be performing virtual magic tricks of perception, Roth keeps his character grounded; clearly Lightman lacks expertise in his relationships and family life.

If the first episode back is fascinating, next week’s episode is equally confounding.  There is a sense that this show wants to be a very specific type, moving further away from “The Mentalist” and “House” in its story structure, but is this necessarily a good thing?

At first glance, it may seem that doing anything different on TV is an overall win for a show.  If “Lie to Me” can differentiate itself from the other crime procedurals out there, it may be able to secure a more devoted audience.  The problem is, I don’t think the model the show is establishing for itself is sustainable over an entire season of episodes.  While it may be fun to try to figure out if a character is lying (and, let’s face it, these are actors, so they are all, in a sense, lying), knowing that Lightman is going to be right 99% of the time takes a lot of mystery out of the show.  A character opens his mouth and immediately one of the leads will call the person on the falsehood, if it exists.  Procedurals rely on characters to deceive and mislead in order for the story to take twists and turns.  If each week the suspected liar is unmasked in mere seconds, it will become harder and harder for an audience to believe it when it does take some time to crack one.

There’s also the issue of ramifications.  When shows put their main characters into peril or give them potentially life changing decisions to make, it’s generally a good thing to have growth for that character.  What can cause concern is if a lead character goes through a somewhat traumatic event or experience, and it doesn’t seem to hold weight, impacting that character’s decisions not just immediately after the event but also long term.  Like it or not, the characters on “House” have changed based on their experiences.  From watching these two episodes of “Lie to Me,” I’m not certain that the characters are as impacted by their experiences as they should be.  If there is no mention in future episodes of some of the things these characters go through in these two, I call foul on the show.  Unchanging characters are for two dimensional characters, and this show has made it clear that it wants the characters here to have far more depth and growth than these plots actually provide to the characters.

The 2-D character situations may be coming from a place of uncertainty.  Shawn Ryan has been running the show this season, after the original creator/showrunner left.  Ryan is moving on to his own show “Ride-Along” in the fall, which means another change in leadership and vision for the show going forward.

While there is still a lot to like about the show, there are dangers ahead, should the show succeed with its new identity.  The audience is getting smarter, and before long, they’ll be able to tell when a story rings true and when it is trying to get away with twists that aren’t really logical.  The writers may find themselves trying to write themselves out of a corner as they face an increasingly less forgiving audience who expects more from the show than it has ever had to provide before.  The bold direction of this show may build an audience, but at what cost to the characters and the story they’ve built?

“Lie to Me” returns June 7th at 8/7 central.

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