Queasy Money

My guess is there's at least one moment for every male contestant in the hot seat on Fox's lie-detector game show, The Moment of Truth, when they think inside, “Why aren't I shouting 'No deal' to Howie Mandel right now in front of a hundred suitcase-holding babes instead?”

Although we all hardly needed reminding that people will do anything for money, it's still something of a head-scratcher how Fox was ever able to find anyone of either sex to submit to queries about the secret fears, desires and buried incidents they might have figured they'd always be able to keep to themselves. The gist is that contestants get asked questions while strapped to a lie detector prior to taping, and then, on the lights-camera-audience portion, get asked 21 of those same questions again. The more they answer “truthfully” — as in, what the machine picked up on — the more money they get, up to $500,000. The topics range from polite-company-friendly fishing expeditions into ego — how good you think you look — to unsettling probes into family dynamics, ethics and prejudices.

On last week's premiere episode, a trainer not only was caught lying about whether he got too handsy with his clients but also freely admitted he wasn't sure about the future of his marriage … but hey, for cash! (The irony of money earned from such a revelation is that inevitably he'd only get half of it, if you know what I mean. It's a moot point, though, since lying about the groping meant he lost his accumulated winnings.) I'm not saying this kind of thing isn't grimly watchable, but I couldn't help looking at The Moment of Truth as one of the more queasy getting-to-know-you shows on television: This Is Your Life as conceived by Satan.

The MOMENT OF TRUTH | Fox | Wednesdays, 9 p.m.

TheHeart Is a Lonely Hunter

Inspired by the final years of billionaire tobacco heiress Doris Duke and what may have transpired between her and Irish butler Bernard Lafferty, a gay alcoholic whose mere six years of service resulted in his being granted control of her fortune after her death in 1993, the HBO movie Bernard and Doris, starring Ralph Fiennes and Susan Sarandon, is a soft, behaviorally astute piece of speculative fiction that offers a compelling picture of how loneliness, role-playing and need bring two broken souls together in a queasy waltz of tenderness. Screenwriter Hugh Costello may have made up their complex mutual adoration — details about their lives are scarce — but what's assuredly documented here by director Bob Balaban is how rich a piece of storytelling can be when two fine actors are given space to touch us. It's a distinct treat watching Sarandon's wily portrait of rigorously freewheeling, moneyed independence and casually cruel authority mix delicately with Fiennes' commandingly humane evocation of the pains and pleasures of being recklessly enraptured with your imperfect job. As these two nudge their individual holds on each other into something like friendship — but also something like a mutually destructive marriage — you realize that, like any optimal pairing of intelligent characterizations, it feels as if some fascinating third thing is being created before your eyes. A boundary-bending love story of sorts, Bernard and Doris — thanks to Fiennes and Sarandon — is both gently perverse and perversely moving.

BERNARD AND DORIS | HBO | Sat., Feb. 9, 8 p.m.

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