Sunday, November 7, 2010

TV Review: The Mentalist Season One [2009]

Probable murderer: "You have no legal proof."

The Mentalist: "Legal proof will be found, no doubt. But personally, I don't need it. I just like to know that I'm right."

It has been a while since I've been sucked in to a new show, especially a procedural like The Mentalist, which is similar to several shows out there (Psych and Lie to Me, for example). What makes the difference is the main character, Patrick Jane, who is played with quirky panache by Simon Baker. Jane is a consultant to the CBI (California Bureau of Investigation), which takes cases when local police are unable to make headway. But he is also a former celebrity psychic, a charlatan whose family was murdered by the serial killer, Red John, whom Jane had verbally emasculated on national television. Jane blames himself for the death of his wife and daughter, and keeps himself sane by helping to track down bad guys, all the while hoping for leads to further his private revenge on Red John. He uses keen observation, hypnosis, odd mannerisms, ruses, tricks . . . anything he can to further an investigation, sometimes methods that are beyond the bounds of believability or propriety.

As a consultant, Jane exists in a grey area that the rest of his team members, led by a ferociously professional yet deeply sympathetic Teresa Lisbon (known to me from her work in that excellent movie The Craft), are not allowed to tread. The rest of the team consists of the dour Cho, beefcake Rigsby, and Grace van Pelt, who is a new hire at the start of the series. Yes, they are all beautiful people. Cho is usually the sole person of color in any given episode. What I like most is the banter between the characters, particularly between the whimsical Jane and the eye-rolling (but secretly enjoying herself) Lisbon. I think I might have a thing for deeply flawed yet hilariously clever protagonists (see Lorelei Gilmore), and Patrick Jane definitely fits that description. Yet his veneer of urbane humanity disguises the pain and thirst for revenge that sometimes bubbles to the surface.

Season One (which I watched on DVD, although I had caught some of the episodes during their initial airing) does a good job of introducing the characters, the premise, and the way the unit operates, as well as gradually delving deeper into Jane's traumatic past and obsession with Red John. Some of the episodes are take-them-or-leave-them monsters of the week, but many manage to be both morally grey and touching, such as when Jane explains in a casual way to Lisbon that he will be tearing Red John apart with his own hands when they finally track him down. Such is the character's determination and the depth of his trauma that you believe he will accomplish his goal; in some ways, he can be so cavalier about the rules and regulations of his job because it is only a means to his final end. If allowed to develop, the series will inevitably lead to some confrontation between Jane and Red John in which it will be revealed whether Jane's basic humanity has been permanently compromised, and whether he will throw his life away in the process.

Within the arc of the Red John/Patrick Jane story, other plot lines are teased out, such as Rigsby and van Pelt's attraction (strictly against the rules), van Pelt's knowledge of cars and sports, Cho's criminal youth, and Rigsby's painful past.

Grade: A-

Even without interesting plots and back story, I would still like the show because of it's tendency toward silliness, especially Jane's childlike joy. And the outfits: I really like everyone's clothes.

Agent Lisbon, about Patrick Jane: "Is there a word for uncanny and irritating?"

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