Tag Archives: In Review

The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Mentalist – “Red Handed”

timecapsulementalist

“Red Handed”

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!]

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“Truth” and Emmy: The 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards in Review

As Tommy Smothers received his Commemorative Emmy Award for his work on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he ended his (rousing) speech with a small note: in all languages, Truth means the same thing – what others make you believe. And while there are broad implications of this statement in regards to the world’s political climate, there’s a more direct application: the idea that that the decisions of the Academy are supposed to be seen as the “Truth” about last year’s best television.

Of course, what Smothers was getting at is that this is impossible, primarily because the definition of truth is so malleable and, in our case, adaptable. There might be one or two TV viewers out there who agree with every single decision made tonight, or those who believe in award shows as simple celebrations of excellence as opposed to any sort of competition. And even some people who consider themselves to be elite television viewers could open their favourite internet news site and find word that critical favourites 30 Rock and Mad Men took home the evening’s big prizes – surely, then, the Emmys are truly representative of the best in television.

But, if this is truth, I don’t want to know what fiction is – yes, there were quite a few deserving winners, but the criteria by which most categories were decided is severely divergent from anything even remotely approaching truth. For some awards, age defines truth: if they’re older than the other competitors, then they must truthfully be the superior performer. For others, truth is defined by past precedent: if we voted for you before, than there is no way that your greatness is any less truthful this time around. Conversely, on the same note, was the legacy win: if we nominated you for previous roles but you didn’t win, surely there was truth to our judgment and maybe you were truthfully great here as well.

For that reason, Stephen Colbert’s presence at these awards is all the more apt: his word, truthiness, defines the nature by which awards shows are decided. And there is no greater example of the dangers of truth that, while his writers were rewarded for coining the turn of phrase, he himself was not honoured for saying it out loud for that first time. And while there are greater injustices of truth around the world, let us for one night recognize the subjectivity of truth and the mixed up world of the Primetime Emmy Awards with some Headlines, of sorts.

[For more scattered, but also more fully-encompassing, reactions to tonight’s show, check out Cultural Learnings’ LiveBlog.]

“What’s Mad Men?”

While we critical types are applauding Mad Men’s victory in the Best Drama Series category (And Matthew Weiner’s win for writing the show’s pilot), I am sure there are millions of people saying something quite different: “What the hell is this?” You see, the amount of people who watch Mad Men is about, oh, 1/17 of the average audience for CSI. And while there has been some lowly-rated shows that have won in the past (Arrested Development, as an example), never before has there been a show on Basic Cable that has emerged from the pack to take the award for Best Drama Series.

And the impact it will have is yet unknown: the show, following Don Draper and the life of advertising executives and their lives outside of the office, debuted to little fanfare on AMC before downright exploding onto the critical scene. I’ve yet to see a critic who is ambivalent about Mad Men, even – it’s the kind of show that hooks people in. With a fancy-looking DVD set on the shelves, the second season airing right now on AMC (Plus with episodes available On Demand), this is a show that should be set up to receive a real boost.

But it’s also not a mainstream show, the kind of show that the people who make CSI a hit are going to gravitate towards. It’s a period drama that, while painting some fascinating characters, does so at a pace that, while I like to give them the benefit of the doubt, might scare away a fair chunk of potential viewers. Still, though, let’s ignore for a second the financial or ratings realities of television: here is a show which, in a single season, built stunning characters, an amazingly realized world, and a sense of self-identity that has led into a tremendous sophomore year so far. Simply put, this was the best show on TV last year – few would argue that point of those who’ve seen it, so let’s hope that number increases ever so slightly in the weeks to come.

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