Thursday, November 20, 2008

A pleasant surprise. But he probably could have "predicted" that.

One of the unexpected pleasures of the fall season has been The Mentalist on CBS. When I was mapping out my fall TV schedule and examining which new shows I would sample, it made the first cut of scrutiny, but I was really thinking "who needs a dramatic, procedural version of Psych?"

So I let it languish on the TiVo for a while (much like I did Simon Baker's last show, the quickly canceled Smith), but it's turned out to be one of the few big hits of the new shows (though if you look at the "demo," Fringe, another show I really like, can also be considered an unqualified success). Being a bit hit won't necessarily sway me, since I loathe 99% of reality TV and gave up on Grey's Anatomy long ago, but it did encourage me to give The Mentalist a try, since it was apparently going to be around for a while.

And guess what? It's a charming, funny, entertaining hour. Not always "funny Ha-Ha," like its obvious antecedent Psych, but more slyly amusing. The premise of the central characters is the same, in that both shows revolve around a "fake psychic" who really just has unusually good powers of observation, intuition and persuasion. (In Psych, Shawn keeps up the illusion of being a psychic; on The Mentalist, Patrick Jane is a former charlatan who gave up the gig when his wife and child were killed by a serial killer). The mysteries are standard issue procedural stuff, but with a unique spin and aided by Simon Baker's winning performance. This week's show, where Jane encountered a purported real psychic, icily played by Jack Bauer's dead wife, was a particularly good one.

The thing that I admire the most about the show is that it steadfastly avoids the usual trope where the rest of the squad, and often the team leader, disbelieves and argues about Jane's contributions to the cases. Here, the officer in charge, played by Robin Tunney (on whom I've had a crush since Empire Records and The Craft) is respectful and only occasionally skeptical. I would have groaned and rolled my eyes at the expected tension and friction, which we all would have seen coming from a mile away, but to its credit, the show has carefully subverted those expectations to make her, and the rest of the team, actively utilize their oddball compatriot's gifts. The rest of the supporting cast does a fine job, and I really look forward to watching the show each week. Check it out if you have a chance. B+


  1. I agree...Simon Baker has come a long way since meeting an unsavory end in LA Confidential. I just started watching this show in the last couple of weeks and it's been a pleasant surprise.

  2. It's kind of uncanny how your TV tastes seem to be the same as mine (for the most part). The Mentalist is the best new show, hands down. I also like the way it explodes police procedural cliches. On an episode several weeks ago that brought a suspect in for a grilling. Instead of acting intimidated, he through CSI at them, asking the cops if they knew about juries and the CSI effect. He told then they had no physical evidence of his guilt and just laughed in their face.

  3. You're right, CoolSchool, I remember that one. And the interrogations are also well done, particularly those conducted by Cho. He's smart, authoritative and inquisitive, without the "This! Time! It's! Personal!" cliche that someone like SVU's Stabler always whips out. And as I mentioned, I LOVE the "not what you expect" between Lisbon and Jane.