“Mentalist: Someone who uses mental acuity, hypnosis, and/or suggestion. A master manipulator of thoughts and behavior.”
I remember fondly Simon Baker’s last television series, The Guardian. It wasn’t exactly a great or groundbreaking show, but it chugged on somewhat quietly for 5 seasons. It didn’t seem like anyone was really noticing this quality show. So, as much as I like this new series, I think what pleases me most is that in a few weeks The Guardian’s first season will make it to DVD. I’m not sure it would have happened if The Mentalist hadn’t broken out as the number 1 new series last year. And as much as I’d love to tell you more about that earlier series, I’m going to get that chance next month, so stay tuned.
This time around Baker stars as Patrick Jane, a psychic who was riding high bilking folks out of their hard earned money by playing on their desires to contact their deceased loved ones. He would justify his con as providing closure for his marks and never looked back. That is, until one day he makes a fatal mistake. He never fooled himself into believing any of it was real. He wasn’t psychic. He just paid close attention. While working with the police to solve a serial killer case he arrogantly demeans the murderer, known as Red John, on a television show. It was all chuckles until he gets home and finds that he made Red John so angry that he killed his wife and young daughter. Now he’s driven by guilt and a desire to avenge his family’s death. He abandoned his con game and decided to use the observational skills that allowed him to play a psychic to assist the California Bureau Of Investigation, a sort of state based FBI, to solve murders. He’s not a cop, but consults with a tough crimes division that answers directly to the state’s Attorney General. As he puts it, “No gun. No badge. They don’t even give me dental.” While he’s shed his psychic persona, Jane is still incredibly full of himself. Jane is also deeply disturbed, although he hides it well. He still sleeps in the bedroom where his wife and daughter were killed. He never covered the red smiley face Red John drew at his crime scenes to taunt him in the victim’s own blood. A little Helter Skelter meets Barney.
Simon Baker is one of those actors that never appears to be working very hard at all. Like his Guardian character, he plays Jane as somewhat soft spoken; incredibly arrogant, but soft spoken. His movements often appear slow motion and deliberate without much effort. He never seems to waste a movement. He fits the role extraordinarily well because his presence is so disarming and almost hypnotic by itself. I’m still not quite sure if the actor has much of a range, but when a part fits it does so snugly. And The Mentalist fits.
The supporting cast is also quite good here. I can’t say I’ve warmed up to fellow lead Robin Tunney as Agent Lisbon. She runs the team, but it’s an awkward character. It’s likely not Tunney’s fault at all. She has to be light, yet in charge of what’s going on around her. She does not share a very good chemistry with Baker. Fortunately, the rest of the cast more than makes up for her deficit. Tim Kang as Agent Cho and fellow Brit Owain Yeoman play the junior officers in the team. They work well together and carry most of the office banter stuff. Amanda Righetti is excellent as the newest member of the team, Agent Grace Van Pelt. She shares the best stuff with Baker and offers one of the more compelling characters on the series. I find her acting the direct opposite of Baker’s, and it works so well. While he is reserved she is passionate and puts herself out there in every situation. It’s a good collection of characters and actors overall.
The series took the ratings by storm and has earned a spot on that coveted Thursday lineup this year along with CSI as a lead-in. If the writing continues to be tight and they don’t lose their way, the show has a considerable future. The trick is to not let the character become too much of a caricature of itself. It happens every once in a while, but someone has smartly reined that tendency in. You don’t have to be a psychic to figure all of this out. Just pick up this one right away, and be sure to pay close attention.
Each episode of The Mentalist is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The image has a pretty much natural quality to it. Flesh tones are particularly tight. Colors might not jump out at you, but they are pretty much reference. Black levels are good but marred by the occasional compression artifact. It’s unavoidable when the industry standard says put 4 episodes minimum on each disc. There are times that the natural sunlight gets a bit too heavy and washes the image a tad more than I’m comfortable with. It surpasses even the HD broadcasts, so yeah, it’s an upgrade over those DVR versions you’ve been hoarding.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track works very about as well as you would expect. It’s all just standard operating procedure here. We have a very dialog driven show that does a fine job of mixing in the surrounds without ever stepping on the words. That’s saying something here, because Baker doesn’t exactly project. There are a few pop tunes in each episode and I’d say they’re fairly represented in the sound quality. Not really any sub here, but I wasn’t exactly looking for much there.
You get all 23 episodes on 6 discs. With the exception of the deleted scenes, you’ll find the bonus features on the final disc.
Lost Evidence: These are the deleted scenes and are found with each episode they were cut from.
Evidence Of A Hit Series: (24:03) I have to say I liked this feature to a point. It could have been 10 minutes and worked just as well or better. There are entirely too many show clips here and they even get repeated. The cast and crew talk about the show but mostly the character of Patrick Jane. Baker is considerably more forthright than most show stars on these things. There are a lot of British voices here. Creator Bruno Heller, Simon Baker and Yeoman are all English. The two actors hide their accents on the show. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen Baker in a part where he wasn’t playing American.
Cracking The Crystal Ball: (18:11) Parapsychologists and other members of the supernatural study world talk about real world abilities. It’s too much. As a receiver for the NFL Bengals is fond of saying, “Child, please”.
Surveillance Video: (7:06) It’s a blooper reel.
What kind of Kool-Aid are they serving over at CBS? When it comes to police dramas or procedurals, they’ve been cleaning up for nearly a decade. CSI continues to be the top rated show year in and year out. When you add phenomenal shows like Criminal Minds, Ghost Whisperer, and now The Mentalist, someone is doing something right. Remember when NBC ruled the roost with the Law & Order franchise? Yeah, I know it’s going back, but I can sort of remember those days. Since then Universal/NBC appears to fall further and further every year. Most reviewers never even get advance review copies of their product anymore. With that kind of an attitude expect them to sink further and for CBS to climb even higher. I’m sure there’s some suit in an NBC office somewhere trying to spin this somewhat differently. “Honestly, it’s not as bad as it looks.”