Lie to Me

I'm slightly nervous when I have something positive to say about a new television show, because I often feel that any show I like gets canceled. I know that sounds paranoid, and it probably is, but I distinctly recall an intriguing show about a man raised in a box that was canceled after two or three episodes. But I'm going to be brave and take a chance because I'm hoping Fox's new show Lie to Me* is strong enough to resist the curse.

Dr. Lightman has been studying the human face, body, voice patterns, and emotion for a long time. At one point he hied off into the wild and stayed with a tribe in order to study their eyebrows and stayed for four years. He uses what he knows to analyze truthiness for his clients. He started out working for the federal government but left to form his own institute, where he has government and private clients. But the art of lie detection is much more than a job to the doctor.

He's obsessed with truth and deception, which is part of what makes the show so intriguing and funny. Moral Waiver, the episode that aired last week, featured a showdown between Dr. Lightman and a sidewalk food vendor who was lying about his personal hygiene. The vendor insists he has washed his hands, which are bare and deep in the sandwich he's preparing for Dr. Lightman, but the doctor knows he's lying. In the end Dr. Lightman stands next to the vendor and hollers to passersby, asking if they would like a sandwich with a side of feces. Maybe it proves I'm secretly ten years old but I laughed hard enough to need a drink of water.

So far each episode has focused on discovering the truth about two situations. The first dealt with the murder of a high school teacher and a political figure accused of paying substantial sums for sex. The second was about the abuse of power in the army and the suspected bribery of a basketball recruit. With all of these cases Dr. Lightman and his team use his deception detection techniques, especially the observation of microexpressions, which are facial expressions that show up for a tiny moment in time and betray deep emotions such as disgust, happiness or grief. The suspect may think he or she is hiding these feelings but they show up and vanish very quickly, but not so quickly that the team can't pick up valuable information.

But there is much more to this show than just intriguing science. It's quite funny, the acting is fantastic, particularly Tim Roth as Dr. Lightman, who is brilliant, and the mysteries are fulfilling. Dr. Gillian Foster, played wonderfully by Kelli Williams, is also extremely entertaining. She's got a gorgeous smile, more compassion than Dr. Lightman and has a humungous sweet tooth, which she is always feeding with treats like chocolate pudding. It's nice to see a female character eating what she likes without obsessing over her weight. Brendan Hines plays Eli Loker, a lanky younger associate who practices a brutal form of truth telling. He doesn't just always tell the truth, he also says whatever is on his mind, which doesn't always go over well. The newest addition to the team is Ria Torres (Monica Raymund), who has been hired away from her previous job in airport security where she excelled at spotting passengers with something to hide.

I'm absolutely fascinated by this show and was extremely curious about the science, whether it was based on any facts or not, and was thrilled to read that it's based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman. (His website says you can learn to read microexpressions in less than an hour! Of course he could be lying, that must be easier online, don't you think? And we haven't had the lesson yet so what do we know?) If you're interested in Dr. Ekman's work you can sign up for a free newsletter and take a look at his various publications at his website. Here's the link to the newsletter: http://www.paulekman.com/newsletter.html.

You can watch full episodes at the Fox site, http://www.fox.com/fod/play.php?sh=lietome.

*The title of the show on the commercials has an asterisk and then a footnote, which reads "The truth is written all over our faces." I don't think I've seen anything on Fox before that required a footnote. It's kind of intriguing.

One-Paragraph Review
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