Television Review: The Mentalist - "Pilot"
· IMDb: The Mentalist
Robin Tunney and Simon Baker star in CBS's The Mentalist, Tuesdays at 9pm ET.
by R.J. Carter
Published: September 22, 2008
Simon Baker charms in this police drama with a unique hook. Baker plays Patrick Jane who, five years earlier, was using his uniquely sharp powers of perception to fool people into thinking he was a medium who could communicate with people on the "other side." A television star along the lines of Crossing Over's John Edward, Jane has since come to work with the California Bureau of Investigations. How he made that transition is something that is tragically revealed near the close of the pilot episode, which airs Tuesday, September 23, 9:00pm ET/PT.
Joining Baker is Prison Break's Robin Tunney as Teresa Lisbon, the leader of the investigative team on which Jane is acive. Rounding out that team is the imposing Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and the unflappable Kimball Cho (Tim Kang).
This episode also serves as the introduction of the newest member to the investigative team, Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti). Grace is an ardent believer in the afterlife and psychic communication, but having been in that business, Jane's outlook is more in line with James Randi's, avowing that there is no afterlife and that all mediums are frauds. "You have an immortal soul," she firmly avows to him. "Oh, I sincerely hope you're wrong," he says with complete affability.
The show's dynamic has a House, M.D. feel to it, with Jane's keenly honed talent for noticing the trivial, combined with his ability to read people's body language, serving as the key to solving some twisted cases. We get a first hand view of his abilities as the show opens on the murder of a teenaged girl. The police already have their suspect in custody, but after just a few Holmesian minutes on the scene, Jane finds the real killer, with some rather unprofessional results -- which is why the next time we see him he's on mandatory leave.
The pilot also brings viewers in on the long-running subplot thread we can expect to follow: the Red John murders. "Red John" is the name given to a serial killer who leaves behind a smiley face painted with his fingers in the blood of his victims. Hmm... a killer who leaves behind a smile and a hero who's the world's keenest observer? I think I have this comic book at home.
Baker's innate likeability overrides his sometimes arrogant persona, but also serves as a cover to a very private pain he carries, a pain that connects him irrevocably to the Red John case. So when the team is called in on a murder that seems to match the criteria of the Red John killings, Jane shows up despite being on leave. Lisbon's quick rebuff is overruled in short order when Jane makes a quick call over her head, thus establishing quickly the work dynamic that exists between Jane and Lisbon.
The biggest problem that The Mentalist has to overcome is its need to make the viewers feel as smart as its protagonist. We see things through Jane's eyes, focus in on the details he does, and the body language of the people he observes is so forced that one would think they'd be obvious to just about every onlooker at the scene. A bit more caginess and nuance would do this series well, but otherwise CBS has something special on its hands that, given a little care and nurturing, could become a serious standout in a field overpopulated with crime dramas.