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Lie to Me

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.

Me, I’m willing to watch Tim Roth work to pay his bills. It’s less boring than other things.

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In Justified, Timothy Olyphant plays a cool, quiet Gary Cooper character. He is Raylan Givens, a US Marshall. Olyphant’s Raylan is tough. He doesn’t back down when bigger men talk tough at him, and he’s good at pulling out his gun and shooting people with it. He says things like, “If I pull, I’ll put you down.”

Raylan is forced to work in his Kentucky hometown because that causes the plot to have personal ramifications for him. Of course, he has to confront his father in one episode. Also, the plot dictates that there must be action, so in every episode Raylan pursues a fugitive, or something. That’s how shows like this work.

What’s interesting, though, is the level of character development that has occurred over the seven episodes that have aired so far. Almost all of Raylan’s cases have some ties to his past, whether they be related to his childhood in Kentucky or past cases he worked on as a Marshall. The writers of the show do well to avoid keeping the episodic characters’ connections to Raylan from becoming too cheesy.

Olyphant does a good job of playing Raylan as a soft-spoken tough guy with a few complications. He’s tough enough that men respect enough and kind enough that women like to smile at him. In early episodes, he falls for a woman (Joelle Carter) who is the only witness to a shooting he committed in her kitchen. This causes plot complications, but the two actors are talented and have enough chemistry that their romance is believable.

The same can’t be said for all of the guest actors who appear in each episode. The best episode of the series so far was the fourth, “Long in the Tooth.” It opened with a dentist ripping a man’s molars out in a parking lot and got more interesting from there. But the dentist’s girlfriend, played by Michele Nordin, was given a number of witty, dimensional lines by the writers, but failed to use them. She played her role flatly, and the episode suffered for it.

The show is worth watching if only for Timothy Olyphant, who is engaging and fun to watch. He’s a convincing tough guy, plays a complex character, and he’s good looking to boot. His Raylan also has a dry sense of wit because the show is based on Elmore Leonard stories, and Elmore Leonard produced. The other regular characters are all pretty good too, and have personality.

Justified is a show worth watching. Occasionally, the cinematography, acting, and writing are all excellent. When they’re not, at least Timothy Olyphant says wry things and shoots people.

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