Preview: The Mentalist

The real deal

The Mentalist

In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm ET/PT, CBS

Fake psychics solving crimes? Haven’t we been here before with Psych?

Not exactly. Psych is very much a comedy, a show that brings the 80s back to us with wacky private detectives that solve not very bad crimes.

The Mentalist, however, while it has comedic moments, is something more in the Criminal Minds vein. Well, Criminal Minds crossed with The Magician and Columbo.


THE MENTALIST stars Golden Globe Award nominee Simon Baker as Patrick Jane, an independent consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI), who has a remarkable track record for solving serious crimes by using his razor sharp skills of observation.

Within the Bureau, Jane is notorious for his blatant lack of protocol and his semi-celebrity past as a psychic medium, whose paranormal abilities he now admits he feigned. Jane’s role in cracking a series of tough high-profile cases is greatly valued by his fellow agents. However, no-nonsense Senior Agent Teresa Lisbon openly resists having Jane in her unit and alternates between reluctantly acknowledging Jane’s usefulness and blasting him for his theatrics, narcissism and dangerous lack of boundaries.

Lisbon’s team includes agents Kimball Cho, Wayne Rigsby and rookie member Grace Van Pelt, who all think Jane’s a loose cannon but admire his charm and knack for clearing cases.

Is it any good?

The opening episode is actually very good, but I’m not sure whether that’s simply because it’s directed by David Nutter and written by the magnificent Bruno Heller, who created and wrote Rome and the opening episode of the US version of Touching Evil. Everything that’s good about it is in the detail, while the format itself seems like it could lend itself to some very mundane scripts indeed, given half a chance.

Simon Baker, whom we last saw doing sterling work in Smith, gives an excellent performance as former psychic Patrick Jane. Jane, who earned tidy sums of money deceiving the needy and bereft, has turned his skills at cold reading, observation and other acts of deception into something more useful by joining up with the California Bureau of Investigation. His main interest: tracking down ‘Red John’, the serial killer, but he’s willing to help investigate other crimes along the way.

Where this all works nicely is in the detail and the script’s attitude. The feel of the show is far less comedic than Psych, and it’s far more of a drama, although Jane’s interplay with both the team and civilians is distinctly comedic most of the time.

Despite the presence of a believer on the CBI team, the show sits firmly on the side of the ‘all psychics are frauds’ fence and has no qualms about saying it. It also has no qualms about showing some of the tricks psychics use to confuse and astonish those willing to believe – including that believer.

Also well done is the attention to detail and subtlety of Jane’s sleights of hand. The viewer is credited with the ability to follow reasonably complicated trains of thought, to watch and to pay attention. Unlike Psych, where the highly trained observer spots very obvious things and says “He’s not wearing a wedding ring. That must mean…”, Nutter and Heller show close ups off body language and expect us all to be able to read it, without sledge-hammering it home for us with explanations.

A less caustic ‘House’, Jane is interesting as a character, but unfortunately, none of the supporting characters are. Robin Tunney delivers a confident performance but has little to do at the moment except be a foil, while the others on the team have next to nothing going for them at all yet. It appears, at the moment, to be a Criminal Minds ensemble without the po-faced seriousness and faux intellectualism. And this ensemble spends most of its time watching Jane Columbo away at a suspect until he gives himself away.

The over-arching serial killer thread is also a little disappointing: it’s so 1990s and was done to death by Profiler among other shows.

So while the pilot is funny, clever and entertaining, I certainly wouldn’t want to bet that it’ll stay that way forever. If the production team can stick to their guns over psychics being fake, keep up the levels of intelligence and avoid being the funny Criminal Minds, this will definitely be one of the better show of the season.

Here’s a YouTube clip or two.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.