Monday, June 14, 2010

Tim Roth is Amazing, Tim McCarver Sucks

The Principal cast of Lie To Me

Lie To Me is back on the air as of last week without much ballyhoo outside of the standard Fox over-promotion cross-pollination if you happen to be a viewer of any of their shows (like the recently deceased 24) or when you have to hear Joe Buck read terrible cue cards in the 5th inning of a Saturday afternoon baseball game when you wish him and Tim McCarver would just disappear and find an alternate planet that enjoys the most terrible broadcasting team in sports routinely butchering and overstating every action on the field.  Still, they can't ruin my excitement for this shows return and subsequent renewal for another season.

Papelbon & McCarver exchanging each other's books. One is reading a kid's book. Guess who?

Man, I hate McCarver (as an announcer, I don't know him personally) but back to something I truly enjoy, Tim Roth. The enjoyment of seeing him on a weekly basis in new material will likely improve my temperament fivefold. 


The premise of the show centers around Roth's Dr. Cal Lightman who runs The Lightman Group, a group of specialized human lie detectors who are hired in specialized cases, usually by baffled law enforcement entities, to interpret microexpressions, body language utilizing a vast assortment of psychological tactics in order to get the truth.  Lightman has a knack for taking the cases to the farthest reaches in his penultimate conquest to always achieve the truth.


In the beginning of the show, they recruit a beautiful Latino airport baggage screener named Ria Torres to showcase the battle in the show of the natural versus the learned.  Torres is often referred to as Lightman's mentor yet the show seems to showcase her intelligence well but gives her some gaffes that seem a bit obvious and rather boring.  Lightman often recruits her in her schemes to take the place of a vixen in setup to try to catch some type of predator.

Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer


Interestingly enough, the whole show brings back to mind an excellent mid 90's movie of Roth's called Deceiver, a film that centers itself around lie detection and a polygraph machine.  In fact, that was the first thing that came to mind, when the Fox started showing promos for the shows before it premiered.  The film opens with some hints of a crime and two detectives (the deceased Chris Penn & criminally underused Michael Rooker) hooking up Roth to a lie detector in a police interrogation room.  The film centers on trying to figure out if Roth’s character is the criminal through interrogation and investigation.  If you find yourself enjoying Lie to Me, I urge seeking it out.


What makes Roth so great?  He's weasely.  He's smarmy.  He's devilish(ly clever).  He's British.  Alright then.  He is short in stature, but big on intensity.  The way his head is cocked to one side or another most of the Lie To Me as if he is always looking at things from a different angle, his own skewed perspective seems like a acting tick that only he could pull off.


Lie To Me reminded me why I fell in love with Tim Roth in the first place.   Ever since Quentin Tarantino broke him stateside with juicy roles almost two decades ago, first as Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs and again as Mr. Honey Bunny/Ringo in the classic diner scenes of Pulp Fiction, Mr. Roth's place in the realm of quirky, twitchy character actors has been undeniable.  Still, it seems that the roles he has chosen or offered have been subpar for the better part of 15 years.


Mekhi Phifer is a welcomed addition for the second season giving the show a previous missing dynamic that they filled with a roving law enforcement liaison form episode to episode.  He gives the Lightman Group a face that avoids the trappings of trying to uncover the truth without having the muscles to back up their assertions.   He's a glorified bodyguard but another excellent actor that seems to have been overlooked much of the time since his excellent big screen debut in Spike Lee's Clockers (sorry, but I missed his 6+ year era on ER).  


The show also has an superb array of guest stars that pop up throughout the show including Garret Dillahunt (The Road, No Country For Old Men, and the most excellent, creepy nemesis Roman Nevikov in one of my favorite shot lived shows Life), Jennifer Beals, Erika Christensen. In one episode entitled "Fold Equity" as well as three of my favorites in an episode about a guy missing from a final table of a big poker tournament Todd Stashwick (Dale in The Riches) who as well as Abby Brammell (The Unit) and the multi-talented Ricky Jay (also in The Unit, along with Boogie Nights, and possibly the best voice-over guy in the world; see the beginning of the best opening sequence possibly in the history of film, Magnolia as well as The Brothers Bloom to hear for yourself). The villains that the writers create on the show are excellent acting showcases, so well written and multifaceted, often the most interesting entity on any individual episode outside of Lightman and his perseverance in cracking his assignment.

Ricky Jay also happens to be an excellent comedy magician:



The opening section of this first return episode ends with Roth delivering a line to one of a seemingly endless number of previous romantic interludes from his past, "Here's the problem.  Martin walker is a psychopath.  I think you should know."   This flows into the fantastic opening sequence of Lie to Me that is also kind of reminiscent of the face section in Michael Jackson's "Black or White" video, ending with the signature Roth looking right into us and then moving closer as if he is trying his detection techniques on you.  It is very effective.  Even the Coldplay-ish theme by Ryan Star doesn’t detract from its excellence.


If you are interested in the origins of the show and if there is a real “Cal Lightman”, you might want to take a look at the interesting life of Paul Ekman and his website.  Although making him a Brit, makes him infinitely more interesting and confounding to the average American viewer.


Lie to Me may be just the beginning of a Tim Roth renaissance, a performance that proves he can carry a challenging, leading role simultaneously proving to casting agents that people truly enjoy his performances. The show itself never seems to suffer from fatigue in this aspect despite weaknesses some of the side plots/characters, and the seeming insistence of every episode being concluded on someone in the office telling another person that they are lying.  Even the insistence on giving little hints into Lightman’s dirty past, that may or may not be revealed, is a bit chincy.  Even with all that drama, Lie To Me knows what the people want.  End it with a laugh or end with a gasp.



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