Thursday, September 25, 2008

"The Mentalist": Not Bad At All

As previously stated: I am not a procedural fan. And so, by extension, not really a fan of anything on CBS. I will take personality over verisimilitude any day. And considering half the science of the "CSI"-style shows is way off anyway, why not focus on the things that make crime interesting: People?

With this in mind, “The Mentalist” was very enjoyable. Which has me on guard, because it’s on a network that tends to cancel their more original fare, and it’s on opposite “Fringe,” which has gotten a crapload more attention.

Anyway. “The Mentalist” features Simon West as Patrick Jane, a former fake-psychic in the John Edwards (no, the other one, think back – yeah, remember that asshole?) mold. After the murder of his family at the hands of a serial killer who didn’t take kindly to the BS “psychic” assistance he was giving the cops, Jane dropped the shtick and started using his keen observational skills in conjunction with a made-up-sounding but actually real California Bureau of Investigation (so just be happy the show’s not called “CBI,” which I guarantee you was the subject of at least one production meeting).

The smartest thing the pilot does is to have a sort of mini-pilot within the first five minutes that succinctly shows what Jane does, how he uses those skills, and his general attitude towards his work (his calm response to police who burst in just a leeeetle too late to stop a suspect’s shooting: “This isn’t as bad as it looks.”).

There’s a level of confidence in the episode that’s rare and appreciated in a pilot. Confidence in the strength of the show, yes, but also confidence in the viewer.

We’re allowed to grasp the specifics of the upcoming series without a lot of spoonfeeding or exposition to beat into our brains What It's About. We get that Jane is talented by watching him use those talents. We get to know the supporting players through their behavior: Cho’s staggering insensitivity, Rigsby’s quiet consideration, Van Pelt’s rookie mistakes, and Lisbon’s…well, right now she appears to be Cuddy to Jane’s House, but the show is basically "What if House actually solved murder mysteries instead of medical mysteries...and also was more pleasant to be around" (or, to address the obvious, "What if 'Psych' wasn't so damn wacky?"), so the taskmaster/babysitter role has to be there.

I also liked that the characters actually seem to know and like each other – which feels rare on investigative shows. They eat dinner together, they tease each other, they disagree without it becoming a major dramatic point. When Jane shows his atheist leanings to the Christian Van Pelt, neither one comes off as stupid. It’s refreshing.

(And there’s also a nice little jab at crime-scene procedurals, when a CSI enthusiastically describes his take on the murder, and Jane responds with mild distain, “You enjoy your work too much, my friend...I find you irksome.” Which is a word that needs to get more play.)

Now: A good pilot does not mean a good series. So, assuming this one doesn't die quickly, I recommend "The Mentalist" with reservations. We’ll just have to follow the show’s magician's-secret tagline advice and “Watch closely.”


thechicgeek said...

There was a brief time when I actually watched John Edwards on the SciFi channel. Not entirely sure why. Maybe it was because the X-Files had surely shit all over itself, and I needed another place to 'believe' as it were.

Regardless. That dude is a shit-bag and is wickedly irksome.

Threat Quality Press said...

I wish that TV would stop taking all of my good ideas.

Also: whatever happened to that show with Famke Jansen who was House but a lawyer or a detective or something instead?

Tristan said...

It is my favorite show. I watch all the episodes of Mentalist. There are several unforgettable moments in this show which I can't fail to remember. Characters of this show are just extraordinary.