Things are tough all over. It seems that even the television networks aren’t immune to the growing trend of cutting back. Fox decided that the answer was Bogota, Colombia. No, they didn’t turn to the cocaine market. They all tried that in the 70’s and we ended up with Joannie Loves Chachi. This time Bogota is an option for producing new television shows. The idea is that you can take an American cast, with a token Brit in this case, and ship them off to Columbia to do the show on the cheap. The good news is that you can hire crew for six bucks a day. The bad news is that the show ends up looking like it cost about six bucks to shoot. I suspect that the hombre who came up with this wonderful idea for Mental had a better understanding of mental illness than the average bear.
Dr. Jack Gallagher (Vance) has been hired by his ex-lover Nora Skoff (Sciorra) to run the mental health department at Wharton Memorial Hospital, where she is the hospital administrator. Gallagher might be bright, but he has some rather unorthodox methodology. He tends to put himself in the place of the patient. To see what they see. Attempt to feel what they feel. It’s the kind of practice that ends up having him introduce himself to his new staff by stripping buck naked when an intake patient is seeing alien reptiles and has stripped down himself to prove he is human. The tactic might have calmed the patient and defused a volatile situation, but it didn’t endear himself to his new colleagues.
Among the new colleagues is Dr. Carl Belle (Webster). Belle was in line to be promoted into the spot Gallagher has now filled. So Belle wasn’t going to like him anyway. Belle was also used to operating without any interference. He’s scored some pretty sweet relationships with the pharmaceutical companies that mean money and perks. Gallagher isn’t the hands off type of leader. So Belle begins to document Gallagher’s antics in the hopes of getting him removed. He blackmails resident doctor Arturo Suarez (Gonzales) into spying on their new boss or be fired for falsifying his transcripts. The ward’s most senior doctor is Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones, played by 4400 lead actress Jacqueline McKenzie. At first she is ready to resign over Gallagher’s hiring, but quickly learns that he cares about the patients and becomes his partner in crime in many cases. The immediate staff is rounded out by resident doctor Chloe Artis (Ramirez). Gallagher keeps demanding she do research assignments because he’s not quite sure her heart is in psychiatry.
The show has been compared to House quite a bit by fans and nonfans of the series. It’s a fair comparison. You have the brilliant and arrogant doctor who is always looking for some unconventional way to treat a patient. The comparison ends there, however. Jack Gallagher is as unbalanced as his patients and maybe not so brilliant. I certainly wouldn’t want him working on me. Certainly he goes the extra mile and really does care what might be best for his patients, but he takes a lot of chances with their health and even their lives. He’ll hand a sharp scalpel to a mentally ill doctor who has already demonstrated a propensity toward violence. We’ve all seen the guy who talks someone off the roof with indifference. Gallagher’s that guy literally. He talks a guy off a roof with a deli sandwich and a fresh crisp pickle. As if he needed even more awkward and eccentric traits, he carries around a trick deck of cards. Of course, knowing this, he has a staff that plays poker with him anyway. There is one episode of note. Book Of Judges provides one of David Carradine’s final appearances. He plays a famous author who was struck by a lightning bolt that killed his wife and left him in an apparent catatonic state. Gallagher ends up falling for his daughter, who happens to be a supermodel.
Everything about this show appears awkward. The image takes a while to get used to, and honestly this isn’t a look or style I want to get used to at all. I could also do without the zipper closing across the forehead segment that plays before each commercial break placement. I simply can’t find anything about this show to recommend it to you. Find something else to watch and show Fox there’s more to the economic equation than producing cheap television shows.
Each episode of Mental is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. While the discs have a very respectable 6-7 mbps average bit rate, these are horrible looking transfers. At times there is a lot of digital noise that just doesn’t seem necessary for such a recent series. Black levels are particularly bad. Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of dark scenes in the show. Even when there isn’t as much of the digital noise problem, the picture has a very awkward shutter effect at times. It looks more like a soap opera and has the look I get when I use a heavy 120hz process to my monitor. This might be the worst image I’ve encountered on a series that was made within the last 10 years.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is not really anything to write home about. This is a very dialog heavy presentation, so you can expect everything to be front loaded here. It’s all clean and clear.
Paging Dr. Gallagher: (3:22) Chris Vance pretty much psychoanalyzes Jack Gallagher.
Perhaps Mental is indeed an acquired taste. It won’t matter, because the network just isn’t going to give it that much time to catch on. As of this writing the jury is still out on the show’s second season. The smart money says it’s already gone. The final episode gives us closure in a way that makes me think that they knew it was coming as well. They might be saving money in Bogotá. But, it doesn’t matter how cheaply you can get a product made, if no one’s buying. “The facts of this case are brutally simple.”