Saturday, May 14, 2011

Moment of Silence

A brief moment of silence, please, for Lie to Me.  Yes, FOX was in cancellation mode earlier this week (when blogger was in you-can't-post mode), and, in the flurry of shows that died (and got more press coverage) FOX also dropped Lie to Me.

The fact that other shows got more press coverage may suggest that the cancellation wasn't an altogether bad idea from a fiscal point of view, but I'm still pretty bummed about it.

I think Lie to Me, like many other TV casualties gone before their time, was the victim of a crappy timeslot.  Or, putting it another way, I don't think I ever watched Lie to Me when it actually aired -- it was always DVR'd, and sometimes I wouldn't even get to it the same day.  (And late DVR viewings don't help ratings.)  Honestly, when they put the show on hiatus, I thought it made my Mondays easier -- although I still missed the show.  

Figuring that Lie to Me would appeal to the same audience as House -- you know, what with a really good British actor playing a know-it-all character who reads people really well and generally pisses off everyone around him -- Fox put it in the timeslot right after House.  Which seemed like a good idea on paper, but if you like both shows, you probably don't really want to watch one right after the other (what with the similarities being more apparent that way).  Not to mention that they're both running opposite Dancing with the Stars, and if you get your DVR working overtime, you can generally manage to fit House in before you flip back over to ABC for Castle (which I'm sure is also aiming at the same demographic), and Lie to Me just sits there waiting to be picked up later in the week when there's nothing else on.

But here's the thing, and it finally hit me last season -- Lie to Me is actually better than House.  It's not better than House ever was -- but House has been on a fairly steady decline after it became self-aware.  (Right around when it ditched the very first team.)  House was great when there were problems to solve and House was a jerk but solved them anyway, and it was fun watching him manipulate people.  Then House became self-aware and all of a sudden it was about Cuddy and Wilson trying to manipulate House into being a better person, and Cameron playing House, and Foreman not allowing House to play him (and they never really knew what to do with Chase, but kept him around 'cause the actor was probably on a multi-year contract) -- and the medical mysteries took a back seat while the writers decided to make the show all about this character.  And they sort of forgot that what made the character appealing in the first place was watching him work.  Look, anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that House is based on Sherlock Holmes -- and while Holmes is perhaps the greatest literary detective ever invented (or is at least in the top three), nobody wants to read a Holmes story where the main plotline is Watson trying to make Holmes nicer.  He is who he is -- we want to see him doing his thing.  House writers have given that up ages ago.  They want their character (and their show) to evolve.  But every time I catch a rerun from a previous season (which is, like, always, if you have cable), I keep thinking "Yeah, that season was better" -- knowing, deep down, that when I'd first watched that episode, I'd had similar thoughts about the previous season's reruns I watching then.  So, yes, House has been on a steady decline because it has run its course.  It was awesome at the beginning, but they had nothing left to do with this character, and now it's (sorry) limping along as only a ghost of what it used to be.  But we keep watching it more out of obligation than entertainment, and because you never know when Hugh Laurie is going to turn around and do something impressive.

In contrast:  Lie to Me.  It was new and fresh and we haven't seen the myriad ways in which Tim Roth's character could piss people off.  It also had the good sense to give Lightman a daughter (ok, small problem that the actress couldn't really act, but she was improving), so that there was always a person in his life who he had to deal with, even when he'd rather not.  Even if it was a House clone, it was better simply because it was newer, and there was a whole universe of situations they had yet to put Lightman in.  And, at the same time, it wasn't a House clone.  More of a police procedural than a medical one, Lie to Me could do something House very rarely could:  put its lead character eye to eye in a box with the villain and let him push until the truth came out.  You can't very well go eye-to-eye with a disease or a tumor; House's brilliant deductions generally happen when he's alone and we just see the "Aha!" moment.  But Lightman can interact with the baddie (and the victim, too) and keep pressing buttons based on the reactions he's getting.  It was almost like some of the very best Pembleton-in-the-box bits from Homicide -- you just know the detective is going to, quite literally, out-smart the suspect.  And that made for great viewing.

So, goodbye Lie to Me.  Your absence makes my Monday nights easier to deal with, but every time I'll watch House, I'll be missing you.  

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