Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Murder! Whiskey! Sexy!

In catching up on some teevee viewing of late, it seems that my oft-stated mission to adopt no new teevee shows to watch regularly has already failed, as The Wife has taken a liking to the CBS mystery show The Mentalist, which I've also been watching and finding enjoyable, although not quite as much as she does. (I'd love for the main character to be wrong once in a while, for instance. And not just "wrong" as in "out on a limb but all ends well", but really really really wrong, as in, "fingers the wrong guy for a murder" wrong.)

The show is about a small group of detectives in the California Bureau of Investigation (which means that I suppose all episodes will take place in California, as opposed to shows using FBI characters, which are able to set their episodes anywhere in the US -- while still filming in California, I guess) who investigate murders and stuff. The murders tend to be oddball kinds of things: one episode opens with the detectives wandering through a deserted field, having been told by anonymous letter that they'll find a body there; while commenting on the lack of a body, a skydiver plummets to his doom about ten feet from where they're standing with a comically-timed thud. There tends to be a lot of gallows humor on this show.

The title Mentalist refers to the most unusual member of this crime solving team, a guy named Patrick Jane who is extremely smart, extremely knowledgeable about human social behaviors, and freakishly observant. He sometimes seems almost psychic, but his flashes of insight always turn out to hinge on his ability to put together a couple of things he's observed previously -- such as his noting that a guy in a wheelchair has scuffed shoes, or that a psychologist claims ignorance of something he should know about given that he has a whole shelf of books devoted to the topic. Stuff like that.

We didn't find this show until more than halfway through the season, so we didn't watch the episodes in any sort of order, and now that we're in re-runs, CBS has moved the thing around a bit, but now we're able to go back to the beginning thanks to the magic of watching stuff online. This is nice because now we see a bit of the show's backstory. It turns out that Patrick Jane is a former teevee psychic who used to go on shows like Oprah and allow audience members to contact their deceased family members; what's especially refreshing is the show's rigidly skeptical outlook toward stuff like that. Jane is a fraud, he knew he was a fraud, and he knew all along that he was simply exceptionally gifted at cold reading. However, he goes on teevee five years prior to the events of the series and talks about a serial killer disparagingly, and the serial killer murders Jane's wife and daughter as a result. So it turns out that even though The Mentalist is generally a "one episode, one mystery" show, there is some kind of serial backstory flowing through it, as Jane is understandably obsessed with tracking down "Red John" (the serial killer), who is depicted as Moriarty to Jane's Holmes.

As soon as we saw the first of the "Red John" episodes, giving the show some backstory and giving a bit of dark background to our hero Mentalist, I was reminded of one of the shows we liked to watch back in the 1990s, Profiler, which ran on NBC on Saturdays (paired with The Pretender and canceled despite decent ratings so NBC could run that awful Extreme Football crapfest that only lasted a single year). Profiler featured FBI agents who jetted all over the country investigating terrible crimes, led by a female agent (Samantha Waters) who had an ability to "see" the crimes from the eyes of the victims and the criminals, thus allowing her to have special insight. Her ability was never really explained as being psychic or not, where Patrick Jane's is pure observation; but like The Mentalist, Profiler had a long-running backstory in which the heroine was pursuing, and being pursued by, a brilliant serial killer who had murdered her husband.

The Mentalist has more of a sense of humor about it than Profiler did; the latter could get downright grim on occasion. (But not so grim as the similarly-themed Millennium, which, while brilliant in its first two seasons, was also deeply depressing at times.) The cast has good chemistry, which is nice to note, although as I note above, it would be nice if the show would have Jane being completely wrong once in a while. (Of course, we haven't seen all episodes yet, so maybe that's happened and we missed it.)

So now I have a new show to watch. Joy.

No comments: