Complete First Season
- Buy the DVD
All photos © CBS
Reviewed by Will Harris
iven the epic scope of executive producer / writer Bruno Heller’s last series, “Rome,” it may have been surprising to some to see his name attached to the latest of CBS’s many procedurals. But let’s not forget that this is the man who brought us such early USA Network series as “The Huntress” and “Touching Evil,” the latter about a police officer who receives a gunshot wound to the head which strips him of his impulse control and sense of shame. Consider that, and then think about the title character of “The Mentalist,” who regularly bursts into tense discussions and says some of the most inappropriate things imaginable. Suddenly, it’s not so shocking, is it?
The pilot for “The Mentalist” was one of the most tantalizing offerings of the 2008 fall season. In its early minutes, it seemed that Thomas Jane (Simon Baker) was merely a more serious version of James Roday’s character on “Psych,” demonstrating the kind of observational skills that would impress Sherlock Holmes without all of the wacky comedy stylings; as things progressed, however, we learned that Jane had been a television psychic – think John Edward – whose actions had resulted in a serial killer known as Red John slaying his wife and daughter. That’s not to say that there aren’t some decidedly comedic moments in Jane’s methods, given his tendency toward abrupt accusations and a fascination with playing games with people’s psyches, but the series rarely goes more than a few episodes without reminding us of the pain beneath his smile.
Although it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say that “The Mentalist” is completely and totally Simon Baker’s baby, it’s inarguable that he’s the star of the show, so much so that it often feels like Robin Tunney is wasted in her role as his semi-nemesis on the police force, Teresa Lisbon. Actually, Lisbon and Jane are about as tight as two people who grate on each other’s nerves can be, and he trusts her with his personal history, which is a key to the recurring Red John storyline, but her tendency to question the expediency of his deductions quickly reaches a point of predictability within the series. Of the other characters, Kimball Cho (Tim King) isn’t terribly deep, but his dry humor provides laughs in every episode, and Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) exist predominantly to play star-crossed lovers, though Van Pelt’s religious beliefs often result in debates with Jane. Okay, so the characters aren’t terribly deep. The cast has a nice chemistry, and they all work well in their scenes with Baker, which is really all they’re absolutely required to do, anyway; one presumes that the characters will evolve over the course of the show’s run, provided they’re given the opportunity to do so.
Props must go to Heller for not milking the Red John saga for all it’s worth throughout the season, offering a limited number of direct references to the case while still managing to show its effects on Jane. There are several poignant moments where Jane finds himself on cases involving children and is clearly trying to save the potential victims because he’s thinking of his daughter, but the moment that really gets the tear ducts going comes at the end of “Seeing Red,” where a victim’s psychic advisor (played by Leslie Hope) – whose credibility has been bashed by Jane throughout the episode – tells him that his wife wants to assure him that their daughter was asleep when she was killed and felt no pain. The moment the advisor leaves the room, Jane breaks into tears. It’s a rough moment to watch, but it’s one where anyone can sympathize: whether he actually believes the woman or not, the points is that he wants to believe it.
“The Mentalist” requires more suspension of disbelief than your average procedural, but Baker’s charisma helps make most of the leaps of logic acceptable. Well, at least until the credits roll, anyway.
Special Features: Although there are no audio commentaries within the set, there are deleted scenes on three episodes, two featurettes (“Evidence of a Hit Series,” which features interviews from the cast and creators of the series, and the self-explanatory “Cracking the Crystal Ball: Mentalist vs. Psychic”), and a gag reel.