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'House' and 'Lie To Me': A good night for two good characters

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Back-to-back character studies last night: First, the Wilson-centric episode of House was an excellent showcase for Robert Sean Leonard to expand upon the wry mannerliness of his oncologist with a heart (or, last night, liver) of gold.

After that, on the ever-improving Lie To Me, Tim Roth took his Cal Lightman to a place where Lightman and his behavioral savviness couldn’t help but shine: gleaming Las Vegas.

The result was a neat contrast. The Wilson plot played up the doctor’s kindness, his alert sensitivity to others’ behavior. When he diagnosed a patient’s new symptoms simply by noticing a cold sore on the mouth of this patient’s girlfriend, Wilson crowed, “I had a House moment!” But we were meant to understand that it was really a Wilson moment. Accused of being a “doormat” — a label the ever-modest Wilson even applied to himself — Wilson was the most welcoming doormat this House has had in quite a while.

Lightman could not be more different from Wilson. The way Roth inhabits him, Lightman is all about invading other people’s spaces — when he enters a room, he really sprawls, stretching out in a chair, letting his limbs flop with insoucient confidence. For someone who’s an expert at body language, Lightman uses his own body to own every inch of the TV screen.

“Vegas doesn’t bring out the best in Cal,” said Kelli Williams’ Foster, but of course she was wrong for fans of the show. Hired to suss out the perpetrator of a kidnapping plot, Lightman was in his element: surrounded by professional liars in this episode directed with the typical zip of Elodie Keene. These included wizardly magician and David Mamet fave Ricky Jay. But Roth, fast becoming a peerless prime-time ham, was never upstaged by the murmuring Jay. Whether bedding a female poker player or lying in wait for a possible criminal by… well, lying in the back of a car with Mikhi Phifer’s Ben Raynolds as though a stake-out was an occasion for a nap, Lightman was the coolest cat ever imported from Britain.

Did you watch House and Lie To Me last night?

(There’s now a complete House recap on EW.com, and follow me on Twitter.)

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