Since my friend Debbie G. has had a stressful few days, I have decided to write a blog post about the simultaneously underrated and overrated, Lie To Me (FOX). I'll call this a short lived series, because shows like this generally tend to last quite a bit longer than this one did. I'm not really sure why this show failed, but I guess the blame rests on the casting.
Anyone who has seen Tim Roth act knows that he portrays psychopathic scary men very well. If you look for the term loose cannon, in the dictionary, the definition will describe most of the parts Tim Roth has played. When his characters snap, it's usually pretty ugly.
Now, as a change of pace, on Lie To Me, all of a sudden, Tim Roth is playing a good guy, Dr. Cal Lightman. This is a rather strange turn of events for someone so used to being on the wrong side of the law. Lightman is an expert at detecting deception. You could call him a human lie detector, and be correct. Of course, he could also just be an expert script reader, who looks for the cues in the show's script each week. Oh wait, maybe that is another reason why Lie To Me failed. When someone says, "You're lying", when it's on a scripted TV show, we'll just have to take their word for it. Wouldn't this show be kind of interesting as a reality show?
Lightman has many issues. One of his biggest is his healthy disdain for authority. It may be healthy for him, but it certainly isn't for the authority figures involved. Even after three seasons of the show (two really, as the first and third seasons only had 13 episodes), we still don't know exactly where he was practicing his skills, prior to opening The Lightman Group. Many episodes point to techniques that were probably picked up in the military, and he may also have done some work for the U.S. government. As a hint to TV Producers and Writers, if you're going to drop little pieces of plot, yet still do not reveal the vast majority of the character's make up, by the end of the second season, you have failed in character development. That's plenty of time to tell us exactly what is going on with this guy. We have tiny pieces of plot dropped that tell us that his mother committed suicide when he was still growing up. We are then left to speculate that maybe he was driven into this profession out of a desire to know why he didn't see it coming. He has lots of interactions with government agencies and police departments, who all seem to know him, well, and all seem to dislike him. Evidently, The Lightman Group helps these agencies out, when their investigations stall (at least I hope that's when they bring him in). It seems, in many cases, like there is a prior history (prior to The Lightman Group being formed, yet possibly on cases before the show began), between Lightman and many of the higher ranking people in the show. This history is usually bad. Lightman kind of has a hard time getting along with people, a problem nearly every one of the characters Tim Roth has portrayed shares.
The look of Lie To Me, in the beginning, was very problematic. I've said that it's hard to get me to watch a show, and the only reason I eventually started watching this show was because my wife was watching it. I remember, during the first season, finding the shooting style and editing unbearable. It was so painfully shot and edited, if I remember correctly, that it gave me headaches. So, I didn't really follow the show much, in the first season. I'm not even sure if I've seen all of those episodes, to this day. Generally, I would just listen to the show, while doing other things.
By the second season, the people behind the show (I hope), or the network decided the show needed to be done in a more traditional shooting and editorial style. Gone were the gimmicks, which were now replaced by story. This changed the show quite a bit, from an unwatchable visual style, to a relatively standard police procedural. If you read my blog post about Criminal Minds (and I know you didn't), you will know that I have watched a lot of police procedural TV. You will also know that there are two types of police procedurals, ones with characters who just do their job of investigating, and ones with characters whose job it is to get into the psychological motivations of the criminal. In the first type, it is completely unnecessary for us to know character back story, but in the second, it is often essential to know a lot about the back story of the characters. It's important, in shows like these, to know what drives the characters into the worst parts of criminology. From what I've written above, already, it's pretty easy to tell that Lie To Me falls in the second category.
As I said above, I think the main reason Lie To Me failed was the casting, and maybe somewhere down deep, the costuming played a part, as well. When making a TV show, especially any kind of police procedural, it is important to cast the show well. Generally, shows like these can get away with one bland or bad piece of casting, but if you have more than one character that has a chance to polarize the audience, your show is already in trouble. If you put a top notch cast on Lie To Me, there's almost no chance this show wouldn't still be on the air. Instead, we were given a bunch of actors who were B-Level stars, or relative unknowns, at best. I don't tend to watch violent movies, but I am very aware of how Tim Roth plays his parts. The biggest star on the show, outside of Roth, was Mekhi Phifer, who didn't last past the second season. In fact, Phifer's departure is actually ridiculously explained. Wait a minute, it wasn't explained. We know he got shot, in a sting, at the end of the second season, but lived. Well, that was the end of it. I guess he had complications and died, or something. He did a lot of illegal things for Lightman, while working for the FBI, but Lightman doesn't even feel a little twinge in his heart about his fallen "friend". He doesn't ever mention it, anyway.
The disappearing character phenomenon is common during re-tooling, after the first season of a TV show. There are many shows on TV today that should be undergoing extensive re-tooling, before the second season. Often, even established shows go through re-toolings. This usually begins happening toward the end of the third season, or the beginning of the fourth season. Sometimes this can be necessary due to a main character dying in real life (Cheers and Law & Order), but generally this happens because the network or Producers/Writers have gotten bored with the characters, and need to infuse new blood. In shows with a relatively small ensemble cast, generally, another person or persons will be added to the show. Not every show gets to tread the path of House, where the supporting cast was completely blown up, at some point late in the third season. Another example of this casting addition is the character of Jesse, on Burn Notice. The Producers/Writers must have felt they had mined all they could with the original three characters, and decided they needed to play off of a fourth character. This is not strange, or out of the ordinary, for shows with small casts, but pay attention when you see one of these types of shows, and you can see the evolution of a TV series.
As for Lie To Me, it broke the formula of adding people to the cast. It actually shrank the cast. With the loss of Phifer, we were given the opportunity to dive more into the back stories of the characters. We did have an additional character added, Detective Sharon Wallowski (Monique Gabriela Curnen), and a few other brief additions through gimmicks (presumably for audience testing purposes). The Wallowski character was recurring, at best, and appeared to have the loose ethical standards that are required for working with Lightman (in the absence of the Phifer character), while outside of The Lightman Group. One of the awkward things about Lie To Me, was the relatively interesting chemistry between Lightman and his partner, in The Lightman Group, Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams). I remember asking my wife, when I hadn't yet gotten into the show, if the characters were divorced from each other. She said they weren't married. I told her they had to have had a relationship at some point. She said they didn't. So, I guess that's just good ol' sexual tension. Since we had lost a main character, the series had the opportunity to mine their relationship, a little, without a real payoff, and we got some of the back story behind Lightman's family. Then, just as the show started getting good, so to say, it was canceled.
One of the rather bizarre things about The Lightman Group is that the support people aren't really well dressed, and certainly not even professionally dressed. I find it hard to believe that a company who deals with higher end people, frequently, wouldn't need to at least hold up some kind of professional standard. Lightman's not particularly professionally dressed, either, which is probably why the loose standards exist. Foster, on the other hand, generally dresses very professionally (all of this dress type stuff is probably meant to show character counter point, if I am willing to be generous). This runs in counter to the absolutely beautiful office space The Lightman Group has. As a brief tangent, at some point in the series, it is hinted at that The Lightman Group is in major financial trouble, and about to lose the FBI as one of its main clients. One of their other previous clients decides to fund, or buy, or partial partner the company. Within a few episodes, this character was kicked out, and we are left to wonder whether the funding is still coming from her (in silent partner mode), or if the company just fixed its problems, without showing us. There is also a piece of plot dropped that Lightman is supposed to be writing his next book, and is missing the deadline. This happens around the time of the financial issues. Those things mysteriously went away, in the last season.
As I said above, I think the casting killed Lie To Me. I'm not saying that the cast wasn't, overall, good, or fine, or whatever. I'm just saying that I think there wasn't anything there, outside of story, that was going to draw anyone in. Criminal Minds is probably its closest sibling, of things I've seen, and there's no doubt Criminal Minds is a far better show, even after having watched only one episode. Since the show is based on a form of psychology that's really hard to show, on TV, it just has numerous challenges to overcome. If it was cast well (I mean at least 3 known main people), it probably would have had fewer challenges to overcome. The most annoying character, by far, was Eli Loker (Brendan Hines). I haven't so heavily rooted, openly, for a character to get fired, or killed, since the Cutter character on Law & Order. The Ria Torres character, played by Monica Raymund, was totally fine, as the character who was pulled from TSA, due to a skill set that made her stand out from other TSA employees. Kelli Williams, was fine, if well understated, as Foster, but once again, this just won't get people to watch your show. Most of the characters, and actors, were rather bland, which may have been necessary to counter the incessant mugging of Roth, as Lightman.
I thought the stories were good. I thought the acting performances were fine, outside of Roth's constant mugging facial expressions. I despised a relatively major character (Loker), which was a problem. I was hoping they'd get rid of him before next season. They did, it was just because everyone was gotten rid of. The Lightman Group folded (by FOX).
I don't think Lie To Me ever would have found an audience, outside of FOX. It was too cool for CBS, would have fit right in with the failures on NBC, and ABC wouldn't have found it interesting. If it were on NBC, its ratings probably would have been good enough to stay on the air. It was probably too expensive to air on FX, so that sealed its fate.
Something I haven't talked about in this blog post, and will, as I wrap this up, is about what happened with the scheduling of Lie To Me. This last season was intended to be, I think, a mid season replacement. However, the show Lone Star got canceled, after the second episode, and Lie To Me was quickly moved into the fall schedule behind House. I believe this season was originally intended to run on the same night as Human Target. If you watched Human Target, you probably also would have watched Lie To Me. However, due to the cancellation of Lone Star, all hell broke loose on FOX, and everything couldn't find a proper home. This led to the demise of both Lie To Me and Human Target.
In closing, I'll go through our three keys to success. This will give you a glimpse into the twisted minds of the FOX network executives, a network that sets its standards too high for its scripted programming. It cancels new, good, shows way too soon, and leaves shows on the air, too long, that are clearly past their primes. I'll eventually write a blog post about the fail that is FOX. For now, let's look at the three keys to success. My ratings numbers are pulled from Inside TV Ratings.
The ratings averages toward the end of the show:
-around 8.5 million viewers
-2.3 (18-49) rating
1. Did the show have ratings? Yes, this show was very solid in the 18-49 demo and overall viewership, in comparison to nearly every other network's scripted programming.
2. Was the show cost effective? I'm not really sure. There weren't any huge stars in it, and it did have a decent amount of location shooting. The IMDb claims it was shot in L.A., but I honestly can't remember anything that looked even remotely like Los Angeles, in the location shooting. I'm assuming that the sets were in L.A., but the location shooting was done elsewhere. If the location shooting was done in L.A., then, as have said several times before, shooting in L.A. is 'spensive.
3. Was the show good? I thought it was good, by the end, and looked forward to it each week. I only know one other person (Debbie G.), outside of my wife and I, who watches the show. That doesn't mean no one else I know wasn't watching it, as it is clear from the ratings, that people were watching the show, they just haven't admitted it.
So, of the canceled shows I've talked about, so far, Lie To Me is the first one that appears to hit at least two of the three keys to success (possibly all three), and was still canceled. I blame the cancellation on FOX, and their lack of sanity when it comes to getting behind their shows properly. Lie To Me should have been picked up for another season. Why it wasn't is something we may never know. Thanks for reading.