If you watch Fox's "Lie to Me," you may find yourself scrutinizing your friends and family when the show is over. According to the intriguing premise of this new crime procedural, we can't help but reveal the truth through body language. Our words may say one thing, but a darting eye, the absence of wrinkling in a smile, or an accidental nod may say quite another. The truth will out - if you have the skill to read it.
On "Lie to Me," which premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 25, British actor Tim Roth plays an expert in deception detection who has mad skills when it comes to reading faces. His Dr. Cal Lightman is like Simon Baker's Patrick Jane on CBS's "The Mentalist," in that his powers of observation border on the superhuman. But unlike Jane, Lightman is a scientist. His conclusions are based on factual studies, not only on intuition. Instead of blood spatter or microfibers, like the "CSI" folks, he's methodically zooming in on a shrug or the slow rise of an eyebrow.
Warning: If you're not a crime-TV lover, you have no business here. "Lie to Me" is a murder-of-the-week series to its core, and Roth is surrounded by the expected ensemble of co-workers who help him help the police nail bad guys. Kelli Williams (from "The Practice") is a deception psychologist and his partner at the Lightman Group. Brendan Hines is the company's hunky young researcher who practices "radical honesty," which leads to comic relief. And Monica Raymund plays the requisite newbie. "Lie to Me," based on the real-life lie-detection work of Dr. Paul Ekman, doesn't extend much beyond its genre's borders.
But if you're fascinated by the poker-game elements of crime-solving and a man obsessed with "tells," you may connect with this show. Briskly edited, Fox-style, "Lie to Me" gives us yet another quirky prime-time Sherlock Holmes in the manner of "House" and "Monk." Roth, who keeps his British accent, plays a punchy genius who has a habit of alienating colleagues. He leers at his subjects and makes them uncomfortable, and his well of cynicism seems bottomless. He's coldly professional, although he does have petty moments. Tonight, he's not above using his truth-reading techniques on a driver who steals his parking space and a cop who thinks he's a charlatan.
Of course, Lightman's ability to see behind people's eyes can be a curse in his personal life, and I hope that "Lie to Me" will explore that territory more as the show develops. He can tell, for instance, that Williams's character's husband is lying to her. There are hints that Lightman has had his own romantic issues in the past, too, which would take the focus off the more predictable murder cases. Roth really seems to enjoy the role, as if he's a ruthless acting coach dissecting performances and gauging their authenticity. Let's hope the writers are up to his potential.