My wife and I have been catching up online over the past few days with “Lie to Me,” the Fox crime drama starring Tim Roth as an investigator who uses observational skills to read people’s face and tell whether they’re telling the truth.
It’s easily the best new show to debut this winter to date, and I’d put it up with “The Mentalist” as the best new shows of the 2008-09 television season. They share strong, smart lead characters, engaging plots and a hint of authenticity.
But they share something else that may lead to their demise.
“The Mentalist,” for the unfamiliar, is about a former celebrity mentalist (played by Simon Baker) who aids a crime bureau in California, using his observational skills to see the tiny details about crimes and their suspects and find the culprit.
Just as on “Lie to Me,” the lead character uses a single talent to solve the crime week after week. These ideas are new now, but they might grow old quickly.
How many weeks in a row can Baker’s character go against agency protocol and use his off-best methods to nail the trune criminal when the police are pursuing the other person and tick off his colleagues in the process?
And it’s cool now (especially when historic photographs are shown depicting real people using the same facial expressions being discussed on the show), but for how long can Roth’s character interpret a raising of the eyebrows as that person being guilty?
These ideas seem as though they’ll age faster than the gimmicks on other shows. This stale method of story-telling has doomed crime procedurals such as “Cold Case,” which week after week … after week … has the cold case bureau giving five different suspects the hars interrogation treatment, only to discover it was Suspect No. 2 who actually did it.
That is not to say that either “The Mentalist” or “Lie to me” appears near an expiration date. But if the writers of these shows want to enjoy prolonged periods of enjoyment, they’ll start thinking ahead a season or two to find ways to help their characters grow beyond their status of being one-trick ponies.