When I wrote about bubble shows in March there were only a handful that I actually really cared about – Fringe and Supernatural were successfully picked up while Stargate Universe, Brothers & Sisters and Lie to Me were not. After a few more episodes and a couple of months of further consideration I find that I’m only really still upset about Stargate, somewhat sad about Brothers & Sisters and that Lie to Me may actually have deserved its cancellation.
In many ways everything was stacked against Lie to Me, it had the familiar problems of extremely erratic behind the scenes shenanigans – constantly changing show runners, time slot safari and huge gaps between episodes. But what I realised as I watched what Sky described as ‘Season 4’ (but was really only the last few episodes of season 3, separated from its first half by several months) was that the show as a whole actually wasn’t very good.
What managed to carry the show for the 40 odd episodes and three seasons it lasted (two half seasons, one full length) was Tim Roth’s central performance of Cal Lightman, a walking, talking, shouting, fighting lie detector. He is basically an obnoxious know-it-all with a dubious moral code and minimal social graces. The writers soften Lightman’s edges by providing him a smart and sassy teenage daughter who loves him and a compassionate partner in Gillian – if those two stick with him, then he can’t be a complete dick.
Like the best characters out there he appears complicated and unpredictable, but it really doesn’t actually take a genius to work out what makes him tick – he enjoys puzzles, he protects those he loves and if people tell him the truth he will move heaven and earth to help them. He’s like a slightly more human House, it’s not about healing the sick or punishing the guilty, it’s about solving the puzzle, and he’s not going to waste his energy and intelligence pandering to people’s feelings.
The character is fascinating and Tim Roth’s performance is unpredictable and unique. Unfortunately what I eventually realised was that that was all the show actually had going for it. The stories and the other characters were all pretty flimsy. Despite being a very small cast, even for a procedural, the other four series regulars get hardly any character development at all – relationships appear and disappear at random, realisations are made one week and seemingly forgotten the next and hints are made and never developed on.
Likewise the way the plots are bound together is pretty weak. In previous seasons there were concepts that tied things together such as the FBI contracting the organisation and a liaison officer to bounce off of. This season however there was no real reason for Cal to get involved in half the cases he did, everything was extraordinarily tenuous. For a seemingly financially successful organisation they never seemed to do much actual paying work.
Many of these issues you don’t tend to notice as you’re watching, it’s only when you look back that you realise that it didn’t really hang together. Episode by episode you just enjoy Tim Roth’s performance and his (and the character’s) ability to surprise you. I had originally been quite cross that the show was cancelled, blaming Fox for not promoting it and messing it about, but actually when I sit and look at it the writers did very little to actually encourage people to watch regularly and ultimately I think that lack of consistency and growth led to a disappointingly flawed whole.