Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

January 24, 2009


Left: actor Tim Roth stars in a new Fox drama, Lie to Me.

I don't know the origin of that children's chant, but maybe now more adults will be chanting it too. Lie to Me premiered last Wednesday. You can catch new episodes Wednesdays at 8 (central time), on Fox.

Tim Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, an expert at detecting when people are lying. The first episode is a bit like a primer for noticing micro facial expressions and the writing is fun and fast. We get close ups and even a few redos so we get the point.

Whether the writers can keep it interesting by creating new situations, or reusing already identified expressions in new ways remains to be seen with future episodes, but they have an appealing cast, led by Roth for which to write. We meet his daughter, we learn his assistant's husband is lying to her, are introduced to another assistant (male) who always tells the truth (including when rating his sexual performance abilities) and a new (female) employee who is a straight arrow, not good with gray areas, and a "natural" at processing the visual cues to know when someone is lying.

The first episode begins to address the issue of what ethical and moral responsibility is attached to these skills and it will be interesting to see how the writers work with these concepts as the characters interact.

In January 2004 the Smithsonian Magazine published an article on reading faces (Richard Conniff, author) and Paul Ekman, the expert whose research is behind this show. You can find more information on Ekman's website.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, writes about the ability of some people to read facial expressions. Portions of this book were originally printed in the New Yorker (August 5, 2002, The Naked Face) and I believe Ekman was mentioned in that as well (but I can't find my copy of the article or the book to verify this). You might also enjoy reading Gladwell's book.

    • Terry Garrett
    • January 24, 2009

    This sounds really interesting and what a surprise given what most of TV seems to be- on a related note- just in the last couple of weeks we saw either a Nova or NAtGeo program about the new high tech ways to see if people are not telling the truth- with facial temp changes and such- interesting and a bit creepy as well.

    • Roz
    • January 24, 2009

    Terry, in the first show they actually do something relating to temperature! I don’t know how the documentary piece you saw read the temps. Did they have special cameras? Did they put sensors on subjects faces, both not usable for daily life, but still?


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