Posted: 09/29/2011


Lie to Me - The Complete Final Season


by Joe Sanders

Available on DVD October 4th from 20th Century Fox

Film Monthly Home
Wayne Case
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) and his team work for a private organization. They can be hired by the police, government, private business, or citizen to determine if persons of interest are lying about key information. The description sounds pretty boring, but they do manage to concoct a very interesting array of stories in which the ability to detect deception becomes incredibly important. However, while the individual cases remain as interesting as ever, it’s easy to see why Lie to Me’s third season is also its final one.

The first two seasons of the series were groundbreaking and thoroughly enjoyable, assembling a great cast helmed by acting heavyweight Tim Roth. The show does a great job of playing with the all too familiar forensic science formula that has populated TV screens over the past decade with shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, and Numbers. The reason Lie to Me is able to set itself above the rest of this subcategory of drama is that the forensic science at work here requires a lot of human interaction. So, the typical introverted characters you might find on Bones and Without a Trace would be unable to thrive in a show like this.

But this doesn’t stop Tim Roth from playing Lightman in a very abrasive, off-putting way, where he continually and arrogantly demonstrates that he is smarter (and better) than everybody he meets. It creates an interesting irony in his character; since he spent his whole life studying people and their expressions and can’t seem to stand anyone beyond his daughter, Emily (Hayley McFarland), or his business partner, Gillian (Kelli Williams). This irony is established believably though. It’s not difficult for the audience to recognize that since Lightman has devoted his life to deception detection that somewhere along the way he became quite jaded and pessimistic about the whole human race.

While the individual episodes of the third season of Lie to Me are as interesting as ever, with stories ranging from Lightman getting himself committed to a mental hospital to stories about software developers murdering each other that keep the season engaging from start to finish. It’s the story arcs that span multiple episodes where things begin to fall apart. Lightman’s newfound relationship with Detective Wallowski (Monique Gabriela Curnen) proves to only be interesting in an episode where the Lightman group is hired to investigate her partner as a potential dirty cop. Eli (Brendan Hines) begins the third season with a distinct and sudden contempt for Lightman. In previous seasons, he’s always been a bit of a suck-up or lap dog to the Lightman character, and while his shift in this season is a welcome change, it feels forced and without reason and makes Eli’s character less likeable while not serving to make the character any more interesting.

Probably the worst story arc this season is Lightman’s trying to write a new book about the science behind his particular set of skills. Stories about writers are boring enough without having them spread out across 13 episodes of a television series. No one cares if Lightman manages to beat his writer’s block and make his deadline and sell his new book, so the series trying to sustain his character on these fairly low stakes is laughable. It is definitely arguable that this is the primary reason the show didn’t survive past this half a season.

Viewers are sure to miss Mekhi Phifer this season, whose role as FBI agent Ben Reynolds ended last season when the character was shot in the chest. The odd thing is that this event is never addressed in the third season. He’s just gone now and it has no effect on any of our characters, which feels disrespectful to a really great performance.

Special features include only some deleted scenes and a behind the scenes featurette looking at Tim Roth’s process with playing Dr. Cal Lightman.

Joe Sanders is a playwright and college instructor in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has a Master’s degree in playwriting and a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches Thought and Writing.

Got a problem? E-mail us at