Season One, Episode Six
Airdate: November 11th, 2008
In the doldrums of the Christmas exam period, as new TV wound down, had a choice: catch up on an older show that I have sitting around on DVD or trying to keep culturally relevant by sampling the one new show that is a definitive hit. CBS’ The Mentalist is a long time coming: the network has been searching for a place for Simon Baker ever since it canceled The Guardian after three seasons, and after Smith was a total dud it was time to give Baker another chance in the spotlight.
Mostly, I’m including The Mentalist because of its success: it’s only grown since its premiere, and has the potential to emerge as a Tuesday cornerstone for the network. In a year where very few shows truly broke out, The Mentalist is a true success story.
But it’s also a smart show, in ways that are not always clear and certainly not driving some of the show’s creative input. Bruno Heller, in his first major series work since the end of HBO’s Rome, brings a certain wit to the series: it doesn’t offer anything that other procedurals don’t already offer in spades, but it has proven particularly capable of switching modes from drama to comedy.
A lot of this has to do with Baker’s charm: say what you will about the procedural drama as a medium, or the fact that this show is basically a more serious version of USA’s Psych, but Patrick Jane is an entertaining character to watch. He’s intelligent, his social ticks are less about smugness than they are about impatience (it’s a distinction), and his humanizing back story has been smartly underplayed but maintained in order to eventually pay off.
Picking a single episode is somewhat challenging, because every episode tends to blend into the next. However, if I had to pick one, I think that Jane’s foray into the world of gambling felt like the most fun, and the way the episode worked around it felt quite satisfying. Jane’s ability to gain financially from his efforts are in many ways a root cause of his past indiscretions, so his charity with said winnings adds to the character’s charm.
I am not likely to ever love the show, or watch it live as opposed to in a lull where nothing which needs thinking feels right, but the show may go down as the season’s only true hit: and while I at first was quite cynical about it success in the wake of better shows falling by the wayside, I nonetheless feel like the show remains a well-made procedural drama. And there’s room for one of those in the Time Capsule.
[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]