Monday, October 27, 2008

The Mentalist

Here's a review of the new CBS show The Mentalist on Slate. Apparently it's doing very well in the ratings. I really enjoyed the first episode, which sets up the premise:

The hero, Patrick Jane, ditched a career as a TV psychic to pursue public service after a serial killer he'd dissed on air slaughtered his wife and child. A reformed phony nonetheless projecting a charlatan's charm, he's been issued wounds to hide—and, like his fellow fake supernaturalist on USA's Psych, he's got powers of deduction to shield.

In that first episode, the crime was as forgettable as any you'd see on Law and Order or CSI, but what I found interesting was the protagonist, a guy who uses the trappings of a flim-flam artist to catch criminals. James Randi is a real-life ex-magician who has spent his later years debunking those who claim to have supernatural powers. I once heard him say that an ex-magician is particularly suited to this job because they are accomplished in the psychological arts of deception, distraction, and misdirection. Scientists who test psychics are often fooled, because they usually do not deal with subjects that are willingly trying to deceive them.

So I thought the idea of an ex-psychic using his very real powers of observation and deduction that he'd honed over the years to dupe vulnerable, gullible people as a way to catch deceptive criminals was a very cool idea. I also liked the interplay in the first episode between Patrick Jane and Van Pelt, a member of his team who is a true believer in psychic powers. At one point she brings up her cousin, and says that she really has "the touch". "You're cousin is either delusional, deceptive, or both," he replies. I was hoping this tension between rationality and gullibility would be a running theme in the show, and that Jane and Van Pelt would have similar discussions while investigating cases.

Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. For me, the show has gotten progressively less interesting since the first episode. The cases are overwrought and unbelievable. Jane's involvement has often been silly. They've all but dropped the conflict between rationalism and supernaturalism. And there has been scant reference to Red John, the serial killer that featured prominently in the first episode and drove Jane to give up his lucrative psychic career to turn straight. In short, all the things that made the first episode good have been missing in the subsequent shows.

Ah well. I'll keep watching for now, and hoping some of these elements return.


Philip said...

I agree with everything you wrote here. Good premise, poor execution. I too will give it a few more episodes before giving up on it.

Leona Raisin said...

Nothing is more refreshing than athlete mints and a good Mentalist anagram.