‘The Mentalist’ features solid writing, great cast
TV Review | 3.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Friday, April 13, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 13, 2012 01:04
Currently in its fourth season, the procedural show “The Mentalist” is showing why it was just renewed for a fifth. The show centers on protagonist Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), a consultant with a haunted past who works for the fictional California Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Having previously used his smarts and observational skills as a pretense on a faux-psychic show, Jane was punished cruelly for his baiting of a notorious serial killer known as Red John when he murdered his wife and daughter.
Now, in an effort to rectify his mistakes, Jane is on a destructive and wholly entertaining path to redemption and vengeance. Red John remains an unobtrusive part of the overarching plot arc, but as with all procedural shows there is a case-per-episode formula.
Unlike most of the forensics shows on television, such as “CSI” and “Bones,” “The Mentalist” is definitely a character-driven show. Jane joins up with a small team in the CBI, headed by the tiny yet exceedingly tough Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), who gradually begins to enjoy Jane’s company. What started as a partnership of convenience becomes a union based on mutual trust and respect, with Lisbon recently admitting that Jane is a necessary part of their team.
A notable aspect of their relationship is its lack of romance. The writers keep the characters as believable as possible, and this includes not forcing a love story down the viewers’ throats. As much as he may have moved on, Jane is still mourning the loss of his wife and realistically would not be able to form any romantic attachment so soon. Thankfully, this does not stop the writers from doing something rarely done in television these days: allowing the male and female leads to form a normal and believably strong friendship.
There are also other valuable members of the team -— the sensitive Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti), stolid Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and stoic Kimball Cho (Tim Kang) — each of whom develops over the seasons as a well-rounded character rife with flaws and admirable qualities. The writers have created a group of characters who change as people often do: slowly and often not for the best. Each character has a backstory that is gradually revealed. What appeared at first to be a predictable relationship between Van Pelt and Rigsby evolved into a complicated and satisfyingly tense break-up and friendship.
The show’s only downside is its relatively formulaic approach to each episode, which generally follows the same pattern as most crime shows do. Most shows find unpredictability within this limited framework, but the standout episodes are the rare ones that involve Red John. This madman brings out the dangerously manipulative side of Patrick Jane, who usually only uses his methods of persuasion and hypnosis to help with cases. Jane’s vendetta against Red John always concludes with some sort of cliffhanger ending to an episode or a new revelation about previously unimportant characters, as all good season finales should.
Recurring guest characters appear throughout the seasons, often coming back long after they first appeared, adding a sense of genuine continuity to the show. Fans of “The OC” (2003-2007) will recognize Samaire Armstrong (who played Anna Stern) playing Summer Edgecombe, Cho’s informant-turned-girlfriend in an odd turn of events during the current season. Malcolm McDowell of “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) fame also appears several times as Bret Stiles, the leader of a potentially dangerous cult.
“The Mentalist” is similar to all other procedural shows simply because of the basic formula they all follow, but it has an added twist of humor that makes it far more enjoyable. Each character brings something unique to the show; no one is unused or overlooked, and the writers seem to have a solid, clear plan. Those elements may seem simple but, when put together, they result in one of the best crime shows on TV today.