“Lie to Me” has debut

Posted Jan. 20, 2009, at 5:10 p.m.

Observational skills are in vogue on TV police procedurals.

First came Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson on TNT’s “The Closer,” then Shawn Spencer, the fake psychic, on USA’s “Psych.” This season’s breakout hit is “The Mentalist,” where Patrick Jane uses his ability to read people to help solve crimes.

Now from Fox comes “Lie to Me,” based on the real-life scientific discoveries of Dr. Paul Ekman, who can read clues embedded in the human face, body and voice to expose truth and lies in criminal investigations.

Tim Roth (“The Incredible Hulk”) plays Dr. Cal Lightman, a lightly fictionalized version of Ekman. Lightman heads up the Lightman Group, which assists federal law enforcement, government agencies and local police with their most difficult cases.

Lightman’s partner is Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams, “The Practice”), a gifted psychologist who provides guidance and insight into human behavior.

Also on the team is Eli Loker (Brendan Hines), Lightman’s lead researcher who is so fed up with the human tendency to lie that he practices “radical honesty,” saying whatever he’s thinking at all times.

Rounding out the lineup is Rai Torres (Monica Raymund), a natural in the field of deception detection, who gets recruited during the pilot. She and Williams have a good chemistry together, bantering back and forth.

Roth is enjoyable in the lead. Watching him explain his conclusion is a little like watching Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) on “Numb3rs” going through one of his dense mathematical models, with the viewer left thinking, “Well, OK.”

Fox has given “Lie to Me” the best of all possible lead-ins in “American Idol,” but it’s up against tough competition in ABC’s “Lost” and CBS’ “Criminal Minds.” Fox executives would be lying if they say they’ll accept much of a drop-off in ratings for “Lie to Me.”

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