You may have noticed that my postings have slowed down. You might not have cared, but you’ve probably at least noticed, if only because you haven’t gotten four or five Diggs from me every day. Well, there are two reasons for that: the first is that we’re dealing with days with one broadcast network as opposed to five or six different cable networks, and the second is that my wife joined me on Friday, and given that I hadn’t seen her since July 7th, I wanted to focus more on her than my work for a change.
C’mon, I earned a break! And it’s not like I wasn’t still attending all of these panels for you…well, except for the majority of The CW’s panels. I must admit that, after the “90210” presentation, we hit the road and went to Universal Studios…and, yet, even then I was working, so be sure to stay tuned for my coverage of the new ‘Simpsons’ ride, which was awesome.
But, okay, enough of my apologies. Let’s continue with CBS’s presentations, shall we?
The Mentalist: I’d like to take this moment to give a shout-out to my mother-in-law, who was interested in this series before it was even on my radar. When I told her I had started to get my usual flurry of advance screeners in preparation for the TCA tour, the first question she asked was, “Hey, have you gotten one for that show ‘The Mentalist’ yet?” In fact, I had just gotten one that day…and when I told her, she all but flipped out. “We need to watch that when I come over for dinner on Friday!” she informed me. She kept trying to tell us about the shows that the series’ star had been in, except that she was blanking on both his name and his other shows, but a quick trip to IMDb.com solved both problems, at which point she gave a look of disdain when I admitted that I’d never actually seen an episode of Simon Baker’s previous series, “The Guardian.”
Finally, as we began to screen the pilot, the truth came out: she thinks he’s hot.
I can’t speak to the man’s inherent hotness because I don’t want “The Mentalist” to fall victim to what is henceforth to be referred to as “The ‘Moonlight’ Effect.” I really, really dug what I saw, possibly because it reminds me of what “Psych” could be if James Roday didn’t grate on my nerves. It’s a drama about a guy named Patrick Jane (Baker) who has honed his observational skills to a degree where he was able to make a living as a TV psychic, but he’s since given that up and become a detective. He’s got a major ego, but it’s warranted, given how good he is at what he does. Still, it’s been known to backfire on occasion; he has a dark history which is hinted at during the course of the pilot and will be explored during the course of the series.
Baker admitted that he got particular enjoyment out of playing the flashback scenes to his character’s early days. “That was a lot of fun,” he said, “because you’re playing an actor and you get to actually comment on the shallowness of acting. You’re commenting on yourself, so it’s sort of self-deprecating in a sense. I love that the character is a fraud and is aware of his fraudulent nature.”
Baker did not, however, have an opportunity to do much research for on playing a TV psychic, given the speed at which things happened with his casting and the pilot’s subsequent filming. “I was flown in from Australia, met with Bruno (Heller, producer) the day I arrived,” said Baker, “and a day and a half later, we were shooting, basically. So Bruno said, ‘Have a look at a few different people on YouTube,’ and I had a look at stuff. Next thing, I had my whole family around me, we’re all going, ‘Oh, my God, how did he do that? How did he do that?’ And then on YouTube, there’s also people posting other clips where they debunk, explaining how these tricks are working through NLP, neurolinguistic programming.It’s just tip-of-the-surface of the knowledge that these people have, so I didn’t ask anything. We had a consultant from the Magic Castle, who was more of a sleight-of-hand guy, but he had a few different hypnotizing tricks and stuff like that. And Bruno furnished me with a bunch of literature, holiday reading. It’s very heady stuff. What these guys get into and the skills that they have and then the capacity to remember things and move forward is…it’s too much for me. I’m pretending totally 100 percent to be a mentalist.”
To bring things full circle, let us note that Heller is aware of the similarities to “Psych,” but he’s not worried about critics making snarky comments. “Patrick Jane isn’t pretending to be a psychic,” explained Heller. “He was someone who worked as a psychic but now is very honest and direct about not having those powers, so there’s no pretense. They’re two quite different shows. You can always draw parallels with other shows, but this is much more like Sherlock Holmes than (‘Psych’).”
I second that emotion.
The Ex List: It is perhaps less surprising to find that both my mother-in-law and my wife enjoyed watching the new series from Diane Ruggiero, who worked in close proximity with Rob Thomas during the run of “Veronica Mars.” Not that my mother-in-law was such a huge fan of Ms. Mars’ exploits (although both my wife and I certainly were), but far more so than that series, “The Ex List” is definitely a chick show. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, you understand…after all, you’re reading the work of a man who has openly praised Lifetime’s “Army Wives,” remember…but with this show, it’s very, very, very woman-centric. Like, instead of dick jokes, there’s vagina humor.
“I actually let my vagina write half of the script,” explained Ruggiero, “so it’s not my fault.”
Yeah, well, women have the advantage there. It’s not like I can hold a pen with…well, anyway, we should probably move on from this particular theme.
The show focuses on a woman who explores all of her past relationships after a psychic tells her she’s already dated her future husband, so it’s equal parts “High Fidelity” (if Rob Gordon was a woman) and “My Name Is Earl” (since, as the title suggests, she does indeed have a list of her exes), but there’s a twist: the psychic says she only has a year to find this man. This begs a rather obvious question, namely, “What happens if the show gets a second season?” Granted, it’s not something that’s been an issue for a lot of CBS’s freshman series in recent years, but, still, it’s a valid query.
“There’s a plan,” Ruggiero assured us, “and it’s a good one, and it does not involve any sort of trickery or, you know, bull. It will be in real time and…there’s a plan. There’s a fix.”
Still, there was a follow-up to be asked: if this goes on for several years and she goes through all the exes over all those years, when does it go from her being popular to her being a slut?
“Well, I wanted her to start as a slut,” replied Ruggiero, “so I figure we’re just going to keep going. No,
“What’s a slut?” asked Elizabeth Reaser, star of the show (and former “Grey’s Anatomy” cast member). “I mean, who’s to say? How does one define that? Sorry, this is your question. I’m just curious. It’s sort of relative.”
“It’s relative,” admitted Ruggiero. “Yeah, my father has a very different definition than, I’m sure, other people might. But, no, it’s a good point. I think that one of the things with the show is it’s not just someone that she’s dated, so it is also people that she was romantically involved with. In the pilot, they talk about what constitutes romantic involvement. I have been romantically involved with some people that might not necessarily agree with that assessment, and I would tell them. Perhaps Adam (Rothenberg, cast member), who’s, like, ‘I’ve never met her,’ and I’m, like, ‘But we were in love! You meant something to me, man!’ But yeah, so it’s people that she was romantically involved with. So it could be the kid in sixth grade that she had a crush on and they passed notes and he gave her a rose on Valentine’s Day, but they never, like, did it. But even if she did, it wouldn’t make her a slut. A woman explores all of her past relationships after a psychic tells her she’s already dated her future husband.”
I’ll just say this: if Ruggerio can only manage to capture even a tenth of her own likability into this show, she’s going to have a hit on her hands. She was so captivating and entertaining during the panel that you found yourself sucked into her responses and hanging with her throughout their significant length. You’ve got an idea of the concept of the show, so I’ll just close by offering an idea of how long-winded Ruggiero could be…and how funny she was in the process. (Note: I’m only offering it transcript form because I think it reads better that way.)
Writer: Diane, you sort of famously came out here as a waitress from the Meadowlands with a TV show, and they mixed you up with some people who actually knew what they doing, and the show went on for a couple of years, and now here you are, all California and big producer and drunk in bars.
Diane Ruggerio: Yeah. I’m so fancy!
Writer: How did that happen? Was it a hard road to get here or was it just as much fun as it sounds like it was?
Diane Ruggerio: I mean, in the beginning, when I first got out here and I was, like, ‘Woo-hoo, look at this, keys to the kingdom,’ I was, like, ‘Oh, wait, I have to actually do something. Crap.’ It was scary and I had no idea what I was doing. It was terrifying. I literally was waitressing one day and then three months later was at my typewriter. But then the show was canceled and I didn’t work for like a year and I’m, like, ‘So does someone come and tell me to go home? What happens now? They don’t just give you another pilot?’ I was just waiting for that to happen. Apparently, no one else was waiting for that to happen, and so it was scary. And that’s one of the things…being a writer, it’s not just like they’re constantly giving you jobs and shows. There was some lean years, man, and…well, a lean year and a half. ‘Woe is me,’ right? Then I went on ‘Veronica Mars,’ and that was the best experience of my life, hands down, and that is why I’m here, I believe. And doing ‘Veronica Mars’…Rob Thomas is a genius. He’s one of my best friends. I had this feeling like I couldn’t write anything other than my stuff in Jersey and what we were talking about, that little world. Like, if I can throw my Aunt Janice into it, I’m cool, but otherwise I’m screwed. And working on ‘Veronica Mars’ meant that I can actually write other things. It was a great experience. As far as California goes, I used to be heavier by, like, 50 pounds, and they actually weren’t going to let me stay here because apparently…I would, like, go into a store and ask, ‘Do you have a size 14?’ And they’re, like, ‘Bitch, you’re in California. We don’t carry a size 14. What are you talking about? Put down the fries. Go to the beach.’ In Jersey, I was, like, cute, you know? Kinda-ish. I never had a problem getting a boyfriend. I dated. I had people. I literally was out here, and I’m, like, ‘Oh, my God, if they’re not coming at me with a head shot going, ‘You’re a producer, right,’ there’s nothing. But, yes, it’s different. I don’t know. I’m just talking. Did I answer anything that you wanted to know? How am I still here? Is this cool? This rocks. I have this weird, funny thing with CBS where I love them and they’re very, very sweet to me, and very supportive of me, and there were times we were trying to work together again and it was always me and Barbara Hall. It was always me and some rock-star producer. And I’m, like, ‘Why are you even pretending that I’m going to get this job?’ Like, I’m going to go in with my little like note cards and pitch you and then like some bad-ass producer is going to come in and…it was like pulling away the football a couple of times. And then they called me about this, and I was thinking, ‘Okay. Who is the bad-ass producer attached?’ And there wasn’t, so I just sunk my teeth in and was, like, ‘We have to do this quick because of the strike? Cool. You’re stuck with me. Try to shake me now. Just try it.'”