Shows to believe in

New series 'Lie to Me' premieres and HBO's 'Big Love' returns as entertaining as ever

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Fox executives are apparently bullish on prospects for "Lie to Me," a new drama series that premieres in a plum time slot after "American Idol" Wednesday. And why not? It's "House" minus the medical mystery, plus a criminal mystery.

Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) is the human lie detector at the center of the series. He studies facial expressions and body language to judge a person's truthfulness, but he's deemed a "total nut job" by some in the audience at a lecture he gives.

Lightman runs a consulting firm and often consults with police, including a murder case in the series premiere that involves a dead teacher and the Jehovah's Witness student whom police suspect of the crime.

He's aided in these cases by Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams, "The Practice"), who often operates as an exposition factory, explaining what Lightman is thinking but he's too peeved to explain himself.

"The question is not just if someone is lying, but why," she says.

Paul Ekman, a real-life psychology professor and author of the book "Telling Lies," serves as a consultant for the series, and the premiere episode does introduce some interesting concepts: Distancing language ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky"), the emblematic slip (an involuntary, partial motion that reveals what a subject is really thinking or feeling) and rigid repetition (usually indicates a lie).

But are there enough of these gee-whiz concepts to sustain a weekly series? Time will tell.

Roth's Lightman is not nearly the curmudgeon Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) is, nor is he as entertaining, but "Lie to Me" has the makings of a fine procedural for viewers who can't seem to get enough of this type of series.

'Big Love'

HBO's underrated polygamy soap returns after a prolonged absence due to last year's writers' strike, but the series is as surprising and hilarious as ever.

"Big Love" (9 tonight) succeeds in entertaining through the nuance of its characters, especially perpetually seething Nicki (Chloe Sevigny, queen of the slow burn), one of the three wives of Salt Lake City businessman Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton).

In the new season, first wife Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) has a medical scare, newest wife Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) develops business acumen and the family considers adding a fourth wife, Ana (Branka Katic). In an upcoming episode, Nicki objects to kid gloves treatment for Ana, complaining after a group date at a drive-in restaurant, "She got the front seat and they gave her endless refills."

A ton of back story also gets pulled forward, including the trial of Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), a polygamist sect leader and Nicki's dad.

"Big Love" benefits from a talented supporting cast of kooky characters, including pucker-faced Grace Zabriskie as Bill's mother and Melora Walters as his mentally unhinged sister-in-law. These secondary characters give "Big Love" even more zip, which it has in spades.

Funny, occasionally heartfelt and filled with unpredictable plot twists, "Big Love" may be the most welcome returning series of 2009.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at .


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