Greetings to the New Show: “The Mentalist”

I believe I put this out there in another post, but I think it bears repeating: “The Mentalist” is the new series that my mother-in-law is the most excited about. I can appreciate where she’s coming from. I’m pretty excited about it, too. Mind you, my reasons are different than hers – I love the concept, she thinks the show’s star, Simon Baker, is hot (and has apparently felt this way since he starred in “The Guardian”) – but, still, it means that I can count on her getting excited when I get an advance screener of any future episodes of the series.

In “The Mentalist,” Baker plays the title character. His name is Patrick Jane, and he’s an independent consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) who has a remarkable track record for solving serious crimes by using his razor sharp skills of observation…not that that’s a direct quote from the CBS press release or anything. Jane is a guy who knows how profound his abilities are, and it shows in his every word and deed when he’s on a case.

We get an example of his trademark confidence (or possibly hubris) in the first minutes of the first episode as we watch him walk into the home of a murder victim, brew a pot of tea, and make himself a sandwich. It isn’t until the kettle whistles that the victim’s mother even knows he’s there, but he quickly offers her a cuppa and, after demonstrating his powers of observation, says with a sly smile, “I used to make a good living pretending to be a psychic. I tell you this because I want you to understand that there’s no point in hiding things from me.” After a brief conversation with the missus, he then greets the child’s father by identifying himself as being with the police, adding with no further preface, “Did you murder your daughter?”

I won’t tell you how the rest of the scene plays out, but it’s a testament to Baker’s charisma that his last line – “Honestly, it’s not as bad as it looks” – earns a laugh.

When “Psych” premiered on the USA Network, I was – pun intended – psyched about its premise. I love the idea of a guy who’s so trained his skills of observation that he can actually pose as a psychic and get away with it, but for the most part, I find James Roday’s smarmy performance in that show to be downright obnoxious. (Sorry, JT.) So when I heard that CBS had a new show in their line-up that was playing more or less on the same concept, I kept my fingers crossed that it would pan out better. Now, normally, I’d loudly proclaim, “Behold the power of crossed fingers,” but given that “The Mentalist” was spearheaded by Bruno Heller, best known as one of the co-creators of HBO’s “Rome,” there was always a better-than-average chance that this show was going to turn out really, really well.

Though Jane acknowledges his charlatan-psychic past right up front, we also get a few full-fledged flashbacks to this time in his life, where the resemblance to John Edward (“Crossing Over with…”) is possibly not coincidental. Even during that era, however, Jane was already easing his way into a position with the police department due to his work in pursuing a serial killer known only as Red John. Shortly after the events at the beginning of the episode, however, a possible new Red John case shows up, and Jane quickly weasels his way into the investigation, despite the protestations of Senior Agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), in order to confirm that it is indeed the work of his old nemesis.

(I’d guess the CBS publicist handling “The Mentalist” was up late on Sunday night, adjusting all applicable press releases in order to promote the premiere of “The Mentalist” as guest-starring Emmy-winning actor Ċ½eljko Ivanek, who turns up as part of the case surrounding this particular murder.)

The relationship between Jane and Lisbon is one which I suspect will earn Heller plenty of battles with the network. I can’t imagine he has any interest in going down the obvious road of having them give into the obvious sexual tension between them, and yet I can imagine the folks at CBS pitching that particular plot point every other week until he gives in.

Be strong, Bruno. Be strong.

Beyond Lisbon, we don’t really learn a great deal about the other agents who it appears will be working regularly with Jane – Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman), Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), and Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) – except that Grace is rather religious, a trait which Jane absolutely does not share, and that Kimball is close enough to Jane that, when the new Red John case turns up, Kimball pointedly calls Jane to let him know about it, even though he knows that it’s really gonna piss Lisbon off.

It’s hard to watch “The Mentalist” and not immediately be reminded of NBC’s “Life,” another series about a detective with a unique methodology who’s teamed with a female partner who doesn’t really get what he’s all about. The big difference – at least between the debut episodes for the two shows, anyway – is that Charlie Crews initially came off as desperately quirky and not particularly endearing, while Patrick Jane is suave, debonair, and…holy crap, do I have a man-crush on Simon Baker?

You know, it’s very possible that I might.

I never watched “The Guardian,” and even though I’ve seen some of the movies he’s been in (“Land of the Dead,” “The Ring Two,” “The Devil Wears Prada”), I guess he didn’t make much of an impression on me in any of them, since I didn’t recognize him, but based on his role here, the guy’s definitely got that “men want to be him and women want to sleep with him” thing that Sean Connery had back in his James Bond days. The character of Patrick Jane is intelligent and egotistical, a guy who likes to take information that he’s discovered and use it to play games with the people who he’s deduced to be guilty. He’s a guy who does things his way mostly just to amuse himself, other people’s feelings be damned (making comparisons to a certain Vicodin-addicted doctor not inappropriate), and you can only imagine how poorly things could’ve gone if someone less charismatic than Baker had been cast in the role, but he successfully manages to make Jane more likeable than asshole-ish.

If CBS goes out of their way to promote this series to both men and women rather than taking the easy way out by focusing solely on the latter, then “The Mentalist” could be the network’s biggest hit of the new season…and, frankly, it couldn’t go to a more deserving candidate.


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