Sunday, February 01, 2009

Go on ... lie to me

Some TV shows make me feel downright inadequate.

I don’t mean the ones with gorgeous young women whose professionally made-up faces and toned bodies set standards hardly anyone can match. Having written about TV and theater for The Associate Press in LA, I’ve seen how quickly the latest hottie can fade, and how life deals blows even to those who appear to live charmed lives.

They have my best wishes, not my envy. After all, I’ve been happily married for 30 years and have two great sons and an interesting career. That’s as much as anyone could ask.

No, it’s the whole Sherlock Holmes business that’s got me down. You know what I mean – the crime solvers with an almost magical gift for detection.

CSI isn't my problem. Those detectives have crime labs and gizmos aplenty. No one expects an ordinary person to match that.

But take the CBS series The Mentalist, whose protagonist draws brilliant conclusions from obscure evidence just like Sherlock used to do. As someone who’s written murder mysteries with twists on top of twists (as you’ll know if you’ve read my Harlequin Intrigues The Stolen Bride or And the Bride Vanishes), I feel as if I ought to be able to match Patrick Jane at least partway. But still the show fools me. (Well, sometimes.)

Things have gotten even worse with the new series Lie to Me on TNT. I don’t mean that it’s a bad series; quite the contrary. I’ve enjoyed the episodes so far. The thing is, the hero “reads” people. He knows whether they’re lying and dopes out complex and unexpected truths.

I’ve always had a knack for picking up emotions. At a social event, I can often tell from body language who’s been quarreling, who’s consumed by worry and who’s nursing a grudge. When someone tries to manipulate me, such as a salesman or a religious zealot, his tone of voice chafes my nerves. I can’t even hear what he’s saying, because his true intent rings so loud.

But this can’t-lie-to-me guy has it all down to a science. A character makes a statement, then folds his arms and steps back, and the hero points out that the fellow’s literally retreating from his position as if he doesn’t believe his own words. To reinforce the point, we’re shown newsreel footage of former President Nixon declaring “I am not a crook,” and then, yes, taking a step back and folding his arms. Right on target.

Yes, I knew (thanks to a seminar at a Romance Writers of America convention) that law-enforcement folks get trained to recognize certain telltale gestures and expressions, but I always figured I was a natural. Well, guess what? I may be a natural, but I’m not that good.

Still, it’s fun to enjoy TV’s fictional worlds in which heroes and heroines, with the help of scriptwriters, solve all the puzzles. I guess being a writer trumps being a detective, at least when it comes to sniffing out a happy ending.


Estella said...

I prefer a book to the tv show. A book lasts longer than an hour.

Jacqueline Diamond said...

I can't disagree with that! But sometimes even a novelist needs a no-brainer break.

Jennifer Madden said...

Did you know that Lie to me is based on a real person? He's a professor in California, I believe, and the actor does a very good job portraying him.
And of course being a writer trumps being a detective. I know that for a fact.