In this happy heyday of story based television shows that have a giant arc, like “The Shield”
, “Battlestar Galactica”
, I had completely forsaken the format that was once one of my first loves, the crime show. While I’ve always enjoyed a well-done procedural like apparently immortal “Law and Order”
I’m talking more of the shows with odd characters solving crime or mismatched buddies like “Moonlighting”
or “The Rockford Files”
. In the 80’s it seemed like this was 90% of television but the format had gradually died away to be replaced with endless clones of the aforementioned “Law and Order”
. Enter the two contenders for today’s battle, “Castle”
starring Nathan Fillion
and “The Mentalist”
starring Simon Baker
. Only one will be deemed worthy...
of the title is Patrick Jane
), a former television ‘psychic’ who gave up his cold reading
ways when after appearing on a talk show to speak about an active serial killer nick named “Red John”
he came home to find his family murdered by him and a note letting him know that it was done in payback for his arrogance. Flash ahead to present day where he works with the California Bureau of Investigation
as a consultant, helping to solve murder cases using his highly tuned observational skills.
’s primary performance skill is his smile and being charming but in a bland surfer sort of way. He’s worked hard his entire career to exude a general aura of likability and attractiveness mainly through judicious use of hair gel and tooth whitener. I certainly won’t accuse the man of being a bad actor because that wouldn’t be quite true but rarely, if ever, have I been given the chance to see much behind the glare of that housewife-knee-weakening grin. When your grin has that much power, I can see not being that concerned about being shallow.
In “The Mentalist” Baker
uses his charm to excess but one appropriate to the role. Patrick Jane
is supposed to be using those skills that slimy so-called psychics use to bilk marks out of their money and I suppose he is...if he was a superhero. While as a skeptic I can appreciate the conceit of a main character who goes around proving how faulty basic human perception can be, Patrick Jane
would have to actually BE psychic to quickly glom (and be so 100% right 100% of the time) all the facts he does. So make no mistake, no matter what the show claims, this is still pretty much fantasy not science. He solves stuff, and messes with his supporting cast while walking around smiling like he was the Joker
. In fact, he’s so unbearably smug most of the time, that they had
to write in all sorts of side bits where he is charitable to an INHUMAN level just to balance out his attitude problems. He’s a guy that smiles and compliments you while explaining in detail how incredibly stupid you arebut in his spare time moonlights on "Touched by an Angel"
. It’s amusing to watch until they show Jane
getting angrily testy about pseudoscience. It doesn’t take a lot of episodes to figure out that eventually they want to bring this show to an embarrassing place that’ll probably have Jane
talking to God or his dead wife and child as angels or some such nonsense. By episode six I found I was already losing my patience with their rather obvious (and petulant) moral arc. The lack of real science in the writing starts to make a lot more sense.
Don’t get me wrong; as a procedural with the lab work replaced essentially with an illusionist’s bag of tricks, this is entertaining. For a bit. The biggest problem lies with the use of the rest of the cast who seem to serve no other purpose than to goggle at Patrick Jane
’s abilities and be wrong all the time. Even team leader Teresa Lisbon
), who one would hope for some sort of competency from, sits back and merely applauds most of the time. In the end, there’s really no one for Baker
to play off of; even the Moriarty
to his Sherlock Holmes
, Red John
, is barely present except in the occasional maudlin flashback moments when someone reminds Patrick Jane
of his family and his ever present grin fades for but a moment.
Season One of “The Mentalist”
aired on CBS and has 23 episodes. For those who enjoy these sorts of things, it is definitely more bang for the buck, with many programs now switching to the shorter 13 episode format. There’s not much in the way of character development and the back story is pretty weak to begin with but it’s Sherlock Holmes
in the California sun and those who like that sort of observational crime solving might like this if they don’t mind the drastic atmospheric difference. Simon Baker
might never win an Oscar but he certainly will hold a special place in the hearts (and groins) of certain ladies out there. You know who you are. Myself, I always got along better with the girls whose hearts beat faster for a different kind of heartthrob the kind in this review for "Castle" right ovah heeer
Click Here to Buy The Mentalist: The Complete First Season