Sometimes, to enjoy a TV crime drama, you have to suspend disbelief a little bit.
Don’t get too hung up on the initial concept, or else you won’t be able to enjoy the story.
Big-budget Hollywood films have been asking us to do that for years, and most of the time, we oblige. It can be a little more difficult with TV, and particularly with TV shows built around the cops-and-robbers schtick, because to keep these stories fresh, show creators have had to come up with some pretty ridiculous concepts.
The “CSI:” franchise asks us to look the other way as laboratory results and crime scene analyses are completed within hours of a crime, rather than the days – sometimes weeks and months – these things take in real life.
Almost every primetime sitcom in recent memory wants us to believe that small groupings of friends meet at the exact same places – coffee shops, bars, diners – day in and day out, sometimes multiple times per day. It’s the curse and limitations of filming in front of a live studio audience, but we let it go, especially if the show is at all enjoyable.
Bruno Heller’s “The Mentalist” asks us for more suspension of disbelief, and if you’re able to do that, this is a show you will really, really enjoy.
It’s definitely on my short list for best network dramas.
Simon Baker is superb as Patrick Jane, a former psychic who has teamed up with the California Bureau of Investigations to help catch killers.
Jane’s wife and daughter were murdered by a serial killer named Red John, providing Jane with his ultimate motivation for helping out the CBI.
To recap: Patrick Jane is a psychic – a mentalist – working regularly with the CBI on murder cases. He is, technically, a consultant, but he’s not someone the bureau calls in to provide analysis here and there; no, he is an actual part of the team, and because he’s successful in solving crimes, he’s given nearly complete autonomy.
Never happen in real life, right? At least not this way.
But get past that part. Swallow it, let it go and just take in the show, and you won’t regret it.
Baker is part of the recent trend of non-American males pulling off lead roles as American characters, complete with convincing accents.
British actor Hugh Laurie accomplishes this with aplomb on FOX’s “House.” Aussie Anthony LaPaglia was awesome for seven seasons as Jack Malone on CBS’ “Without a Trace” (which should have never been cancelled, by the way).
And Alex O’Loughlin, like LaPaglia and Baker an Australian, is excellent as “Hawaii Five-O’s” Steve McGarrett.
Baker’s Patrick Jane is playful and perceptive, witty and wistful. He seems to almost be having fun catching killers, yet we’re always reminded that beneath the exterior, Jane is hurting and brooding and wanting nothing more than to catch the man who murdered his family.
Baker pulls off this juxtaposition nicely, all the while with a convincing American accent.
Unlike the aforementioned “CSI:” shows, “The Mentalist” avoids too much focus on the forensics of catching bad guys. While evidence and interrogation are key elements, the hook here is Jane’s unconventional means, which generally involve atypical detective work that initially appears as if it’s going to lead to disaster, but almost always works out in the end.
Jane’s boss is Teresa Lisbon, played with a gritty toughness by Robin Tunney. Tim Kang’s Kimball Cho is the quiet, serious member of the team, and Owain Yeoman’s Wayne Rigsby is Cho’s more goofy and playful partner. Amanda Righetti holds the role of obligatory attractive female, and she does a nice job pulling off the role of small-town girl in a bigger city and inexperienced cop always trying to prove herself.
The characters all play well off each other, and they all have an understated-but-obvious reverence for Jane and his tactics and apparent brilliance.
The characters, especially Jane, make this show for me. But I also really enjoy the storylines and overall feel of the show. I’ve nearly always enjoyed whodunnit mysteries, but network TV keeps pushing the envelope on shows built around catching killers, getting more gory and technically complex – and, sometimes, ridiculous – every year. “The Mentalist” captures the whodunnit aspect perfectly, without bogging us down in forensic tactics that are so complex, show writers are reduced to having the characters explain the intricacies to each other merely so that we, as viewers, don’t get lost.
It’s a lighter approach to catching killers, as odd as that may sound, while still maintaining the depth necessary for us, as viewers, to appreciate the process and respect the ultimate impact of the crime.
The Mentalist, IMDb.com
Hugh Laurie, IMDb.com
Alex O’Loughlin, IMDb.com
Anthony LaPaglia, IMDb.com
The Mentalist, Wikipedia.com
Simon Baker, TV.com