BluRay/DVD Reviews

LIE TO ME: SEASON TWO

By • Dec 23rd, 2010 •

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Tim Roth is his juicy, contrary, unpredictable and sympathetic self. Just as I saw Brando as the most creative and enjoyable actor to watch in the 50s, Finney as the most creative and enjoyable of the 60s, De Niro for the 70s, and possibly Robert Blake as the most fun to watch in the 80s, I think Roth is the great joy of the 00s, and has elevated almost everything he’s been in, from RETURN TO WATERLOO (long ago, when he first started showing up) to THE HULK.

I was on the set of Buddy G’s NO WAY HOME in 1996 on Staten Island, and got to observe Roth up close. He was quiet, standing on the sidelines studying the flow of the production. He may have been in character, but he seemed contemplative and private. (The film still hasn’t come out on DVD. Lion’s Gate should check their library titles.)

In LIE TO ME, Season Two, Roth is determined to give the audience their money’s worth. He unleashes his full bag of tricks on the small screen, twisting his body into every configuration imaginable within the confines of that 1.85:1 aspect ratio. He’s a pleasure to watch, even if the occasional conjured mannerism crosses the line.

This season the writers have striven to increase inter-office conflict, to make the Lightman Group something of a dysfunctional family, to give the cast dangerous back-stories, and to extend the scope of Dr. Cal Lightman’s influence to the most fanciful or outlandish scenarios.

It’s one thing to see him in Vegas – his gifts would certainly be useful there, or peering at a truck in a driveway and determining if the driver is sitting on a bomb as claimed. But he is also called upon to determine if an American captive in Afghanistan is a real traitor or not, as shown via skype, or to divine culpability in a department store sale-frenzy trampling death. So when, by the time we get to episode 10, he’s lecturing to a group of 3rd graders about their inability to lie to him, then says, accusatorily, “Someone here stole Clyde the turtle,” I couldn’t stop laughing. It wasn’t parody, but they were definitely having a laugh with us, taking a break from the grueling psycho-drama he and his associates are usually caught up in. Occurring about midway through the season, it was a most welcome diversion. And just as cleverly written as any of the other episodes.

They’ve also introduced to Roth’s character a little bit more of ‘House’ this season. Not the relentlessly mean-spirited nature of Dr. Gregory House, but Lightman is definitely an unrepentant curmudgeon whose bark is worse than his bite. In House’s case, his bark and his bite are pretty much all there is.

When we reach episode 13, we’re in for one of the treats of the year. Dane Collier, Mark Dennison and Ian Harbilas deserve praise for some of the finest editing of 2010 – and I compare it favorably with THE TOWN, SALT, WALL STREET 2 and THE SOCIAL NETWORK. The first act courtroom sequence pitting Roth against ex-wife Jennifer Beals delivers us editing rhythms of the highest order, including which cutaways and which takes are chosen for maximum impact and surprise. The tone is very much a romp, and there’s even a sense of Oscar Wilde’s wit in the script. Speaking of which, the subtext of this whole episode is sex – and different kinds of sex. (If you aren’t intrigued by now, I urge you to check it out – you’ll see what I mean.) The whole cast is having so much fun with this episode. It’s a pleasure to sit in on it with them.

And as to the regulars, Monica Raymund, playing Ria Torres, is beautiful, can flash deep anger at a moment’s notice, but here in the second season it seems to have been decided that she should generally play it for sweetness and vulnerability, especially in her eyes. She has the cutest subtle physical nuances, all of which are carefully calculated, but never so that we scoff at them.

Mekhi Phifer as FBI Agent Reynolds, who shows up episode by episode to keep tabs on Roth’s excesses and unorthodox ways of working, is always solid, except perhaps in episode six, where he comes a cropper. In their zeal for concocting unsavory histories for their cast, the writers have hatched something a bridge too far for Phifer. .Starting with a New Year’s Eve nightclub celebration that feels like a fake set, the backward narrative thread seems thinly manufactured, and even though the episode ends with genuinely intriguing gray areas on which to ruminate, the conflict between Roth and Phifer just doesn’t ring true. And it’s a bit too high decibel to boot.

Kelli Williams (who could be CNN newscaster Christina Romans’ sister), as Dr. Gillian Foster, is the nominal second in command at the institute, and has been a hard, off-putting character throughout the first season and into the second. Somewhere around episode 5 of the second season, somebody wised up and changed her makeup, and she got softer, warmer, and more sympathetic.

Brendan Hines, playing low-on-the-totem-pole team worker Eli Loker, is the potential Judas of the clan, something of a disenchanted, loose canon, periodically talking about taking a hike. Hayley McFarland, as Lightman’s daughter, is well cast with her frightened eyes, undoubtedly from being brow-beaten and guarded too zealously by her father, but also in her psychological makeup is the ability to fight back and occasionally beat him at his own game. She’s a great casting choice, and has some bold (and daringly sexual) moves this season. And Ms. Beals’ face and body have accrued such character over the decades, she can do about anything now. She’s a gifted actress who isn’t on screen (theatrical or home) nearly enough, though I’ve read she has an edgy new police series coming up soon.

The writers continually provide narratives with surprising twists that send us off in new directions, startling false leads and convincing alternative routes through the plots. There’s always a raucous intro sequence, almost the equivalent of the old James Bond preambles that set audiences up so energetically for the ride ahead.

Definitely a worthy series to own and re-visit.

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