It’s not unusual for a TV series to change tack.
But rarely has a TV series veered in so many directions and completely jumped the track as Fox’s Lie To Me.
I spent the past three days dipping into almost the entire series to try to get a handle on what went wrong and what opportunities they missed.
Here’s something interesting. Cal’s office changed greatly.
This is what it looked like originally:
That austere and antiseptic look fit in well with what we were led to believe the series was about. Cal was a scientist who observed human faces and extracted the truth from them. Such an office was free from distractions other than the photos of himself on the wall illustrating the science.
This is what Cal’s office became:
What a difference! With the revolving set of producers this series had, it’s not surprising to find different visions for art direction too.
But notice one other important thing in that set of screensnaps. The view of the Capitol building has disappeared.
Here’s another such change. This is the common dining/snack area. It was this:
Then became this:
Given they brought in a ridiculous — and very short — thread about The Lightman Group having financial problems, it’s a wonder they didn’t bother to use some lines about Cal wasting money on extravagant redecorating!
What attracted me to the series was its science. They focused on this a great deal in the first season’s early episodes, with such things as video imagery and voice stress analysis.
When it came to expressions, they had a trick of matching a facial expression from a character in the episode to those of people in real life:
This was invariably used to close an Act to emphasize the expression.
There was always a Millennium-like feel to Lie To Me. So it was not at all surprising that for a few episodes in the second season they resorted to a Frank Black-like “vision” trick, trying to scientifically delineate facial expressions, like so:
Someone must have woken up in production and understood just how ridiculous — and confusing to viewers — that actually looked. So it went away without a trace.
Despite all the changes in art direction, visualization of science, and underlying storylines, what ultimately sunk the series — I believe — was Tim Roth himself.
In the first season, he portrayed a scientist. His movements were retrained. He was for the most part solemn and sober.
Although, when called for, he could indulge in a bit of flair:
Yet once they got some more into Cal’s bad boy background, Roth’s portrayal of him went right off the tracks. It was irritating to watch him. He would never stand still and seemingly could never talk without gesticulating like a drug addict jonesing for a fix.
He also mugged a hell of a lot.
And something like this was simply inexcusable:
Wasn’t there any producer or director to tell him to knock it the hell off?
By the time the third season rolled around, it was no longer a must-see for me. I watched that final third season just this week. Roth — not the series, but Tim Roth himself — had worn out his welcome. It was just as well that they canceled it too. It looked like they intended to go ahead with the kind of thing that wrecked Moonlighting as a series: having Cal jump into bed with Gillian.
I don’t know what creator Samuel Baum’s original vision for this series was. He had an Executive Producer credit, but in Hollywood that can sometimes mean nothing more than a contractual paycheck with no direct involvement in the series.
The biggest shame of Lie To Me, however, was that they had the future of TV right there in the opening credits:
Those overlays would years later be a signature feature of the series Sherlock:
When you think about it, Lie To Me was a Sherlock Holmes distributed across the four main characters. Lightman, the lead scientist and pioneer. Gillian, the psychologist who never forgot a voice and who was expert at reading emotions. Loker, the lab rat who could tease out the truth with his technology. And Torres, the natural who was a proxy at times for us viewers.
Given the increasingly erratic and flamboyant performance of Roth, maybe he was personally dissatisfied with the series and that was his attempt to derail everything to get out of his contract. If that was his motivation, it certainly worked. But it also poisoned me to seeing him in anything in the future.
Lie To Me will be remembered not as something with promise, but as a warning to everyone about how a directionless series ultimately destroys itself.