Lie to Me is an enjoyably mediocre show about Tim Roth yelling at people in a cockney accent.
It’s a lot like that other enjoyably mediocre show House you probably watch in that it’s about a quirky genius with a team of minions who solves mysteries. This character, cleverly named Cal Lightman—because he sheds light on truths—is not a medical doctor. Rather, he’s a genius who can use science to tell when people are lying. Like Doctor House, Lightman is played by a British actor; unlike Hugh Laurie, Tim Roth doesn’t try to mask his accent in this show. If anything, he hams it up.
Every episode centers around Lightman puzzling his way through some mystery. Usually these mysteries are cliché TV plots. In one, he has to discover the identity of a corrupt cop in a police force. In another, he has to determine if a beautiful trophy wife murdered her husband, or if she really loved him (spoiler: she loved him, but jumped Lightman’s bones immediately after he croaked). Stuff like that.
Lightman is aided and abetted by a team of minions. He has Dr. Gillian Foster, a psychologist; Ria Torres, a hot Hispanic chick; Eli Loker, a guy who has a crush on said hot Hispanic chick; and Ben Reynolds, an FBI agent whom Lightman can use to legally beat people up. Their characters are so uninteresting I had to use Wikipedia to look up their names just now.
Cal Lightman also has a daughter, Emily. His relationship with her is genuinely sweet, endearing and protective. Emily is spunky and cute, and dates boys Cal doesn’t approve of. His scrutiny of the boys she dates provides moments of humor. His love for her gives the show a heart it desperately needs. Their relationship works onscreen mostly because Tim Roth seems to enjoy working with young actress Hayley McFarland.
The show is stupid. It is mired with cliché TV plots and cliché TV characters who act poorly. It tries to be interesting by making its detective character, Lightman, a scientist. But his science of detecting lies based on twitches in his subjects’ facial muscles is absurd, even if it is based on true science in the way that Titanic was based on a true story.
There has been relatively little progression in terms of plot or character development over the show’s two seasons. Lie to Me is purely episodic. Watching episodes back-to-back will give you a headache. The only noticeable change over the course of the sow is that Tim Roth has become more accustomed to becoming Cal Lightman, and the writers have increasingly written the role to accommodate Roth’s mannerisms.
And Tim Roth is engaging enough of an actor that I’d be entertained watching him recite the alphabet. This show plays to his strengths. His character is British, aggressive, and smart. Roth enjoys chewing up screentime as Cal Lightman. He slouches, he presses his face into his palms, and when he’s feeling aggressive he snarls.
He, unlike everyone else in the cast, knows he’s in a bad show. And he makes the most of it.