In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox
Sometimes, I begin to wonder if there are any new ideas left or whether everything is simply a variant of something else. Sitting watching the first episode of Mental, Fox's new psychiatry-based drama, I had the déjà vus an awful lot. And I'm not talking about the naked men.
MENTAL is a medical mystery drama featuring Dr. Chris Gallagher, a radically unorthodox psychiatrist who becomes Director of Mental Health Services at a Los Angeles hospital where he takes on patients battling unknown, misunderstood and often misdiagnosed psychiatric conditions. Gallagher delves inside their minds to gain a true understanding of who his patients are, allowing him to uncover what might be the key to their long-term recovery.
As seen through the eyes of doctors and patients who, as Chris points out, have more in common then they're willing to admit, MENTAL also tracks the romantic and personal relationships of the team of doctors and hospital staff who work closely together as they delve into the mysteries, oddities and wonders of the human brain.
Is it any good?
It's actually toenail-curlingly bad. It wouldn't surprise me if the whole concept got fed into a focus group sausage machine then got squeezed through it and regurgitated out the other side, such is the indistinguishable, processed feel to Mental.
The recipe seems to be simple. Take House, Fox's other medical drama starring a Brit playing a doctor (or even Lie To Me, with a Brit playing a scientist). Switch it so the central character is still brilliant, still has to solve all the same kinds of mysteries in an iconoclastic, rule-breaking way - like taking all his clothes off to gain the trust of a patient. Just make him really, really charming in a Patch Adams kind of way - or like that Mark Feurstein on previous House knock-off 3Lbs.
Then keep following the rest of the House recipe. Show us the patients' point of view with clever CGI and effects. Assemble round the hero a cast of fellow doctors who 'just don't get it', including an uptight black guy, a neurotic friendly fellow doctor, another neurotic woman and a bloke who quite fancies the second neurotic woman. Add in a disapproving hospital administrator with some kind of history with the doctor. Then watch them all admire him as he shakes up the world, breaks into the patients' houses to find out about them, then cures the patients.
Probably the biggest difference between Mental and House, apart from lead Chris Vance being able to keep his strangely mutating English accent, is that Vance doesn't seem to bother using actual science. When faced with a paranoid schizophrenic artist who's unable to paint any more so has stopped taking his meds, Vance's solution is simply to stop trying to treat the guy who used to chase his sister around with a screwdriver and let him work it out for himself.
Simple. Makes you wonder why they bother having psychiatrists at all.
Indeed, so far, if there's a message to be seen in Mental, it's that psychiatry and drugs, especially one's produced by the pharmaceutical industry rather than those nice aromatherapy/homeopathic medicine industries, don't work. We just need to care enough, talk things over for a bit and treat patients nicely.
Gosh. More psychiatrists should watch this show because treating patients like human beings, getting to know them - that kind of thing - that's really radical stuff that's going to really shake up everything we know about modern psychiatric practice. Goodbye psychoactive drugs - you're part of the problem, not the solution.
But this is from Deborah Joy Levine, creator of The New Adventures of Superman, so naturally there's a certain emphasis on skipping the deep in favour of the frothy and romantic. Not much of an emphasis though, I have to say, and there's not really the fun dialogue you might have expected from her or co-writer Dan Levine; indeed, the dialogue suffered from the typical problem of most pilots of trying to establish the set-up as fast as possible with unnaturalistic, plot-dump facts. You're not really rooting for anyone to get together at this point, and in fact at least one of them you're hoping gets slapped with a sexual harassment suit ASAP.
With the exception of the very good Vance, most of the performances here are a bit rubbish, I'm afraid. To be fair to the actors, they're playing dumb ciphers rather than actual characters so it's bit hard for them to avoid going over the top to establish some kind of personality before they're inevitably proved wrong by Doctor Lovely.
To be honest, Vance is the only thing worth watching in this so far, but who knows, maybe it'll perk up in a bit.
Here are lots and lots of YouTube trailers for you to enjoy
Chris Vance (Jack Gallagher)
Derek Webster (Carl Belle)
Annabella Sciorra (Nora Skoff)
Jacqueline McKenzie (Veronica Hayden-Jones)
Marisa Ramirez (Chloe Artis)
Nicholas Gonzalez (Arturo Suarez)
Edwin Hodge (Malcolm Darius Washington)
- June 10, 2009: Third-episode verdict: Mental
A review of the first three episodes of Fox's Mental
- February 16, 2013: Review: Transporter 1x1-1x2 (RTL/M6/HBO Canada/Cinemax)
A review of the first two episodes of The Transporter: The Series
- April 30, 2014: Review: Black Box 1x1 (ABC)
A review of the first episode of ABC’s Black Box