TV Review : LIAR

Sundance has a new drama premiering tonight called LIAR. It’s actually a co-British program that is being aired here on Sundance at the same time it’s still running across the pond, albeit viewers in the UK are a few weeks ahead of us in the story. In LIAR, schoolteacher Laura Nielson accuses surgeon Andrew Earlham of rape after a first date. The audience is left to wonder which one of them is telling the truth as Andrew insists the intercourse was consensual, and Laura apparently finds forged evidence. So it’s a psychological thriller mystery.

The lead performers, Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) as Laura and Ioan Gruffudd (Forever) as Andrew, are excellent. We’ve seen Froggatt play a rape victim before and Gruffudd do creepy and mysterious, so they do feel very familiar in the parts. But there’s also new ground here, with the slow pacing and the surprise reveals, each sticking very firmly to their own version of events. For much of the first hour, I wavered back and forth over who was telling the truth.

I do think society influences our impressions and how each person would approach this. My instinct is to trust the woman making the accusation, and others will, too, although some will fall on the other side, especially when Laura’s mental stability is called into question. Part of the value of LIAR is making us think about our preconceived notions and evaluate them, as well as call attention to some of the complex issues and difficulty building a case in situations like this. For that, it is invaluable.

In terms of storytelling, I’m not sure about this show yet. By the end of hour one, I felt like I had a plenty good idea of what happened, and was no longer on the fence. Reading a review of hour three, which aired this week in Britain, it seems viewers that far along are all falling on one side. Though, I expect there are still some twists to come that may shift things back the other way, or further explain what’s been revealed. This is the kind of thing you’d really have to watch all six parts of before deciding if the tale was well done or not, the conclusion mattering as much as the journey.

There are some very positive signs, besides the excellent acting. For one, the series is by Harry and Jack Williams, the brains behind The Missing, another excellent, twisty thriller. For another, the production is high quality, looking fantastic and grounded, paced pretty good, no obvious plot holes, fine scoring, terrific directing, all pluses. Some of the characters have major possibility, like Andrew’s son, who is Laura’s student, and Laura’s ex-boyfriend who is not what he initially seems. The supporting cast, including Zoe Tapper (Mr. Selfridge), Warren Brown (Luther), Shelley Conn (Terra Nova), Richie Campbell (Eve), Jamie Flatters (So Awkward), and Danny Webb (Humans), seem solid, too.

On the negative side is how every character seems to have their secrets, not just the leads. This can be all right, and may still be here. But other shows have fallen into the trap of making every single other person the leads cross paths with too shady or untrustworthy. I hope LIAR doesn’t fall into that trap. I don’t think it will, despite a couple things that seem a bit forced in the premiere, but that’s something to be careful with.

Having only seen a single installment, I am willing to tentatively recommend it. My feeling is that it will be worth your time, although, as I’ve cautioned, I can’t guarantee it at this stage. However, if you like a good British mystery-thriller, this will probably be right up your alley, and the pilot is already better than most others in the genre I’ve seen.

LIAR airs tonight at 10 ET on Sundance.