By Ken Tucker
Updated July 12, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

Lie To Me could be such a good show. Tim Roth is really magnetic as Cal Lightman, the runty little brain-box who can read anyone’s facial expressions. Kelli Williams is awfully good as his second-in-command. And the last two episodes, including this week’s, have included Melissa George, who I gather more of you know from Grey’s Anatomy but for me she’s the former Alias irritant who seduced Gabriel Byrne in In Treatment. (And I intend that last sentence as a high compliment.)

The problem this week, as usual for the series, is that the plots don’t equal the quality of the acting. Who really cared about the whole who-shot-the-cop-and-why mystery Cal had to solve? It was everything around the edges that made the hour enjoyable. Cal having to appeal to investors for a loan to keep The Lightman Group afloat. Cal getting low-boil furious when some cops pulled his daughter in on a drug charge. And Cal and Melissa George’s Clara sharing what looked like cold grilled cheese sandwiches from a street vendor. (Where do you get such rancid-looking things?)

I have no idea what Lie To Me is going to be like next season. The Shield‘s Shawn Ryan came and went as the season-two show-runner; the quality of the interaction between the regulars improved, but he didn’t stick around to fix the mediocre plots dilemma. It looks as though Melissa George may be hanging around for a while, which is fine by me. I’d watch her and Roth engage in even so-so badinage, because they both look like they’re having fun.

If I was running Lie To Me, I’d clear the joint of everyone except Roth and Williams, sign up George as a regular, and reboot The Lightman Group as a kind of procedural-in-reverse: Instead of ever leaving the office to visit a crime scene, Cal becomes a new sort of Nero Wolfe (read the books), making the clients and suspects come to him, solving every crime inside his office’s high-tech interrogation box.

But at bottom, my question is, is fun between the stars of a show enough? It is for many viewers with a series such as Castle. Is it for Lie To Me? Come on — tell me the truth.

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