TCA Tour: “Lie to Me”

“Lie to Me” is a series which I would’ve watched a heck of a lot more if it hadn’t always been up against a series that I already had an existing addiction to, but every episode that I did see was enjoyable, so I’ve already got my order in for a copy of the Season 1 set, so that I can be properly prepped for Season 2. There’s also another really good reason to be ready for the show’s sophomore outing: they’ve added Shawn Ryan – a.k.a. the man behind “The Shield” – to the series’ production team.

How did such a thing come to pass? In a nutshell, Samuel Baum asked him to join, and although the two hadn’t really known each other, Ryan was swayed both by a sudden opening in his schedule and the company Baum was keeping.

“I came out and helped out a little bit on the last couple episodes as a favor to the studio,” explained Ryan. “I didn’t really know Sam, but I had a couple of my old ‘Shield’ writers who were over there, and I thought, ‘Well, that will be cool.’ I enjoyed it: I got to meet Tim and the rest of the cast, I dug the show. ‘The Unit’ was unceremoniously dumped by CBS, so I suddenly found myself with a little time, and I thought I could bring something to the show. It was something that excited me. You see the actors here: it’s an incredible cast, and I just want to get to know these characters better. And believe me, there’s enough work on a TV show for both Sam and I. So it really is a very cooperative, very friendly relationship. There was no “All About Eve” sort of situation here. There’s plenty for both of us do. In terms of what I think I might bring to it, I think I’m trying to push it a little bit more in a character direction, add a little bit of adrenaline to the show, but really sort of dig deep.”

So by “adrenaline,” are we talking more explosions, or what?

“No, no, I don’t mean that exactly,” Ryan said. ” Listen, the show is ultimately based on a group of scientists. And Mekhi (Phifer) plays a character who is not a scientist. But the fact is they are people who are diving into the middle of charge cases and accusing people of being liars. That can lead to consequences. So I don’t mean adrenaline in a ‘Shield’ sense or a ’24’ sense, but they are going to put themselves in some emotionally and physically harrowing situations at times. And I think the pace of the show will increase slightly. And we have a lot of story to tell, and I just think there’s some juice that can be added to the show in a fun way.”

You may have noticed the reference to Mekhi Phifer in Ryan’s comments. Those who did watch the show last season and recall that he turned up in a few episodes as Agent Ben Reynolds will be pleased to hear that he’s been added to the series as a full-fledged regular. And if you didn’t watch last season…well, fortunately for you, Phifer clarified his character a bit for us.

“He’s an FBI agent who was contracted by the Lightman group to be sort of the guy with the gun and the badge to help bring some of these cases home,” explained Phifer. “He’s new, and he’s just learning about this whole scientist understanding of, you know, how to read people and faces and things of that nature. So it’s definitely an exploration for the character to get into the family of the Lightman group and be a better agent, as well as be a part of the family and be an asset to help solving a lot of these cases.”

You’d better believe that everyone on “Lie to Me” – actors and producers alike – were completely psyched to be able to get Phifer to join their cadre.

“He had an amazing and totally different kind of part, an amazing role in ‘8 Mile,’ so that was sort of in the back of our mind,” said executive producer David Nevins. “We have all these scientists, and we wanted to bring in somebody who was not a scientist, who was not steeped in the same sort of book knowledge that they have, but who was going to be able to go sort of toe to toe as an actor and toe to toe sort of intellectually with these kind of brainy scientists.”

“Liz Craft and Sarah Fain, who wrote on ‘The Shield’ for me, wrote the episode where Mekhi’s character was introduced,” said Ryan, “and one of the things they had talked about…I had come on just as an advisor for these last couple episodes, and the one thing that we had talked about with the creation of that character was that in previous episodes there seemed to be a law enforcement figure that would be introduced into an episode, and you guys kept introducing different ones. And it was brought up that, you know, ‘What if you have one person that can be your go-to person?’ And for a company that is doing so much work for the government, it would make sense that they’d want a liaison between them. And so it was just an opportunity to add him. Sam signed off on that casting last year. I wasn’t hugely involved with that, but when I heard the name Mekhi, I was, like, ‘Man, if you can get him, it’d be good.’”

“Yeah, he was my first choice last year, and we were very excited to get him,” confirmed Baum. “The first parameter, I would say, is that Tim Roth has a tendency to blow off the screen a large number of actors who he’s opposite in scenes. You just disappear. It can even happen to an inexperienced writer. Blown off the set. So, one, we needed someone who was really a man and had gravity and could own scenes with him. I would say the second thing is we wanted someone who really had some life force, who was magnetic and who, rather than taking a scientific approach, was incredibly street smart from years and years of investigative work, where he knows a particular guy just by looking at him and what his MO is based on past criminal work.”

“It’s that he’s not going to believe me also until I’m proven,” explained Roth. “And that’s a nice atmosphere to bring into our office. It’s like, ‘Yeah, all right, prove it. And if you can’t prove it, I’ll move on the way I normally do.’ And that I liked about your character. You can kick a door down. ‘Don’t have to talk my way through it. I’ll just kick it down,’ until things change for him. And we’re in that mode, I think, with Mekhi where we’re building to those episodes where we’re going to open up his character and really examine what lies beneath the surface. And it’s going to being quite shocking.”

“Yeah, that’s coming,” confirmed Ryan.

“Yeah, there will be an episode that goes deep into his history as an FBI agent, into Reynolds’ history, and will really split Lightman’s loyalties,” said Baum. “I think over the season, you’ll start to see a friendship develop and be tested in terms of split loyalties throughout the season.”

“The first season…it was kind of experimental in a way,” said Roth. “And a lot of what’s happening now, I think, is that the characters are starting to surface. And a lot of what we’re doing is looking into why they are what they are and how they behave and what their backgrounds are and their secrets are and so forth. It should be quite interesting. It’s great stuff to act, I have to say.”

As far as what else we can expect this season, Brendan Hines’ character, Eli Loker, will be continuing to tell the truth, despite how uncomfortable it tends to make those who are on the receiving end of his truth-telling. “For me, it’s a choice that he made,” said Hines. “It’s an experiment of sorts that he’s running on himself, because it allows him to put people in awkward situations and see what their reaction is to it, and it also is an experiment that he can run on himself and see how long he’s able to do it, if he is able to be 100 percent committed to it. But I think this season we’re moving on into other territories for him to sort of explore as far as his research and experimentation. And he’s still putting people in awkward situations, I think.”

“There will be an episode coming up down the road, a Thanksgiving episode that’s set on Black Friday,” said Baum. “There’s a big-box-store stampede to get a cheap television, as happened at a retailer a couple years ago where someone is trampled by the thousands of people trying to get a TV, and one of the areas of interest for Loker, you’ll see, is group psychology and how good people can end up trampling someone to death in a situation like that. You’ll also see him continue to experiment with different levels of honesty; you might see an episode where he goes silent for the entire episode and takes a vow of silence.”

Ryan offered further information about Season 2, including the fact that Emmy Award-winning director/producer Dan Sackheim has joined the series. “He’s really kind of retooling the look of the show, and it really looks spectacular,” he said. “The sets have sort of been updated, so the show, I think, is going to look different and feel different as well.”

Other things to look forward to: Erika Christensen plays a multiple personality disorder victim in the season premiere, and Garret Dillahunt plays opposite Tim in the second episode. Ryan also revealed that there’ll be a case of art coincidentally imitating life in the season premiere. “In our first episode, the B-story deals with the firm being hired by the White House to vet a potential nominee,” he said. “The nominee has certain positions, and they want to know whether he’s being truthful or not. It’s a lifetime appointment. You’re not going to see that kind of story on any other show on TV.

“Another area that we really want to get into this year that Sam and his team touched on a little bit last year is the idea that not only is (Cal) a master of detecting lies, but really he’s one of the world’s greatest liars,” continued Ryan. “So it’s seeing the flip side of the coin. It’s seeing him insert himself in the situations and lie to people to be someone else. We have a great scene that Matt Olmstead, who ran ‘Prison Break’ last year and who is writing for the show this year, wrote where we meet Cal Lightman at a singles’ mixer. And we think, ‘Oh, is this his hard-up way for a date?’ But really he’s there to check out one of the women for a case. And we see him presenting himself as a suitor to this variety of women that’s just fascinating to see him, the way he lies, and sort of worms his way into the hearts of some of these women. We’re going to see him in other situations where we see him being the liar, not just the lie detector.”

“Also, one of the things this season I’m excited about, particularly as Kelli’s character, Dr. Foster, is newly single and starting to date, is this question of, ‘How much do we want to know?'” said Baum. “How much honesty and at what price? And what is it like when you do this for a living and suddenly you’re single? And the period of dating where normally there would be a fair number of half truths, the person is laid naked. And Lightman can see it as well. And what do they talk about, and what don’t they talk about?”

“Can’t wait,” smirked Williams.

“Or being the father,” added Ryan. “Hayley [McFarland’s] not here, but Hayley, who plays Lightman’s daughter on the show…what’s it like to be the father of a teenage girl and see through the lies? And from her perspective, not to have that privacy of being a teenager being allowed to make mistakes. That’s an area that we’re going to really delve into a lot this season: Lightman and his daughter and the unique position of him as a father with these skills.”

I have to say, no other panel gave us as much insight into what we can expect from a show’s upcoming season. So I ask you: are you now as psyched as I am to see “Lie to Me” return? Because, personally, I’m pretty damned psyched.

  

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