As if we didn’t have enough of them: Doctor Gregory House, Detective Robert Goren, Michael Westin, and (I hesitate to include) crime consultant Shawn Spencer. Brilliant, observant, chronically-misunderstood male protagonists who somehow manage to save the day where others fail miserably. “Lie to Me”, Fox’s new crime drama starring Tim Roth as Dr. Carl Lightman, takes a new approach to the same old song and dance.
The first episode of “Lie to Me”, predictably titled “Pilot”, begins with Dr. Lightman and a tattooed, shackled, orange-clad prisoner in an interrogation room. FBI agents in their typical flak jackets wait outside, watching through the one-way glass, as Lightman asks the prisoner a serious of questions about churches where ATF is currently searching for contraband.
Soon, however, the viewer discovers that Lightman is playing a recording for a class he is teaching on micro-expressions, which are the split-second facial twitches humans emit in reaction to stimuli. The premise of “Lie to Me” is that Dr. Carl Lightman is an expert in catching and interpreting micro-expressions in order to catch people in the lies they tell.
As one of his students in the auditorium says: “…he spent like three years in the African jungle with some primitive tribe studying their eyebrows.”
The Premise of “Like to Me”
We learn later on in the show that Dr. Carl Lightman of “Lie to Me” does not work for the FBI, ATF, Homeland Security or any other government agency, but instead owns a consultancy firm named The Lightman Group. He contracts his lie-detection services to numerous third parties, from the military to corporations trying to catch wayward employees with their hands in the petty cash drawer.
The problem with “Lie to Me”, of course, is the problem with all crime show dramas on television today. Dr. Carl Lightman is so cocksure, so confident, so self-assured that he frequently speaks in absolutes with no possibility of contradiction. “If your suspect is surprised for more than one second, he’s faking it,” he tells his class among other things.
Although Dr. Carl Lightman of “Lie to Me” is based on the real-life scientist Paul Ekman, according to Fox.com, the show itself is highly dramatized. Lightman reigns supreme from his minimalist office, giving perfunctory commands to his employees and demanding honesty because, after all, he’ll know if they are lying.
Real Life Applications
In real life, micro-expressions are also considered important for various purposes. Regular people take courses in reading micro-expressions all the time from places like METT Online, where you can learn how to detect these expressions and interpret them accurately.
However, “Lie to Me” might bring this form of scientific research into the mainstream, encouraging law enforcement agencies to use it more frequently. The problem is that facial expressions do not count as admissible evidence in court, and therefore will likely bring up new legal issues that must be dealt with during the course of investigations.
Yay or Nay?
After watching the first episode of “Lie to Me”, I wasn’t sure exactly what I thought of either the television show or the fictional Dr. Carl Lightman. I was originally intrigued by the subject matter of the show, and I found that “Pilot” contained sufficient suspense and mystery to keep me watching. However, it remains to be seen whether “Lie to Me” will be just another crime drama outside the “Law & Order” franchise, or whether it will be able to stand on its own and last beyond this first season.
You can watch “Lie to Me” Wednesdays on Fox at 9 p.m. Eastern (8 p.m. Central).
“Pilot”. Lie to Me. Tim Roth (Dr. Carl Lightman), Kelli Williams (Dr. Gillian Foster). Fox. KRIV, Houston. 21 Jan 2009.
Fox, “Lie to Me”