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Lie To Me: First Impressions

I think what hampers Lie To Me (LTM) the most is that it tries to be too much like other popular detective/crime shows. The same formula that shapes shows like CSI, Bones, The Closer, and many others has clearly influenced LTM. To be a bit reductive, these shows are little more than a shuffling of the following types of scenes: interrogation, investigation (on site), and conversing with coworkers in the office or some other setting. Some shows take this formula and use it well. Others, like LTM, simply fall flat. 

Being a cop or an FBI agent is an active role. It's not only dangerous and often times tricky to apprehend suspects, but it makes for interesting scenes/conflict within a story. Mr. Lightman, the main character in LTM, doesn't have an active role in his own story. Mr. Lightman's character is brought into various cases and situations to do what he does best; look at people. Waltzing in after the suspects have been detained is a pretty passive role to focus and entire series on. But looking at people isn't exactly thrilling either. Fortunately, studying people's faces and their expressions works well in a visual based story telling medium.

Lie To Me is carried by Lightman, who has a strange and slightly abrasive way of interacting with people. He leans back in chairs and keep his head tilted dramatically to the side. His demeanor and gait are reminiscent of Dr. House from the TV show House. Unlike my favorite limping drug addict doctor, Lightman is hard to relate to. Like a machine that never tires, Lightman propels the plot of the first episode from the beginning to the end. He doesn't slow down and he is never too puzzled by any problem or situation. He's never shown eating anything, and he refused to take a break from his work. On top of all of this, he surrounds himself with co-workers that are only shown working. Ultimately, I found the central characters in LTM without flaws and banality, ie without that human touch.

Playing close attention to all forms of non verbal communication is a powerful a gimmick. From what I've seen so far, Lie To Me doesn't take its gimmick seriously enough. Instead of making lying/uncovering the truth the action that connects, defines, and changes the characters in the story, lie detecting seems to be the theme stretched thinly over the top of ordinary plots. Perhaps Samuel Baum, the writer, should study how the Japanese treat the gimmicks of some of their movies and tv shows. Or perhaps he should look into storytelling through action.

As engaging as being able to read a character's face for the truth is, Lie To Me isn't about figuring out the cases. In other words, the show doesn't give enough  clues and information so that the viewer can piece together the solution before the reveal at the end. In fact, Lightman does a lot of explaining after every eye twitch, brow furrow, and nose touch. All the explanation drags down the show by separating the few interesting actions and scenes with dialog, the stuff the premise of the show is trying to get us to look past.

It would be a far more original and flexible angle if Lightman wasn't a wannabe detective. Instead, he should explore how people perceive truth as being  multifaceted and ultimately relative from the perspective of a man who's job isn't to throw people behind bars. Instead of the show explaining everything step by step, it would be more impactful to view situations from many perspectives with Lightman as the anchor and entry point. Lying to cover up one's wrong doings can only go so far. Asking the tough questions and examining the many ways people lie to themselves on a regular basis is where the human touch is. For such a story, you wouldn't need bombs that are about to go off and people running from the law. Capitalizing on how we all lie to ourselves to get by is more real and more thrilling than any imaginary time bomb on TV.

In Lie To Me, characters move about each scene. People are interrogated. Eyes dart, and sweat drops. Sure the cases are wrapped up, but at least in the first episode, there weren't any clear messages or character changes. This isn't my idea of a story. With a worn formula for a foundation, an underdeveloped and passive gimmick, and tools for characters contrived to move a plot that's not very believable as a detective or crime show, I won't be tuning in for another episode.


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