Diverting crime drama puts mind over matter

The Mentalist
Mondays, 8.30pm, Nine

What's it all about?

Even the most casual television viewer would be aware of the work of Australian actor Simon Baker. As well as headlining numerous ANZ bank commercials, the former E-Street star is the lead actor in the top-rating American crime series The Mentalist.

He plays Patrick Jane, who five years ago became a consultant for the mysteriously titled CBI (Californian Bureau of Investigations) after his family were murdered by a serial killer dubbed Red John.

The murderer escaped, so Jane, a former (fake) TV psychic with a mercurial ability to solve crimes, joined the bureau, ostensibly to find the man who killed his family. And occasionally, as it has of late, the show lets him go there, as the writers shift the focus to finding Red John. It's here the show becomes (a little) dark and Baker gets to move out of first gear. In the past, the leads dry up and The Mentalist returns to being an above-average case-of-the-week crime procedural.

Most of the time Baker plays Jane as either distant, esoteric or flamboyantly eccentric. He will solve the crime without any care for offending his colleagues. His peculiar behaviour is overlooked because of his success rate.

This week the show entered its fifth season with an episode aired only last week in the US. In season three and four the writers were eager to ensure Jane did not become too aloof. They placed him in situations in which he was forced to put his life at risk to solve a case. Or, more interestingly, they required him to disclose a personal titbit to one of the criminal protagonists in order to break them down.

Our view

Of all of the American cop procedurals on air, The Mentalist is often one of the most genial. Although only five years old, it is the kind of show that feels like it has been around for ever and will linger in perpetuity through reruns. Which is no bad thing.

At the end of last season, former Entourage siren Emmanuelle Chriqui joined the cast as Lorelei, a friend and sympathiser of Red John. She is in custody, and Jane is determined to get the truth out of her.

Chriqui has given some edge to a series that always feels on the cusp of treading water. Jane clearly has feelings for her — she seduced him at a Las Vegas casino late last season — and during the episode she convinced him to kiss her while she remained in custody.

Of course, a pesky case-of-the-week story arc abutted Jane's Red John pursuit — something about a sister who was murdered — but that didn't really hold our attention. It was Baker and Chriqui who anchored the episode. And a clever (minor) twist at the end of the episode ensured their story is not even close to being tied up.

Bonus points to this episode's writers for bringing in a side-plot that alludes to the rivalry between the CBI and the, ahem, better known FBI. It seems to have been an in-joke on the show for some time.

In a sentence

You can't watch Treme or Mad Men every night; sometimes you just crave junk-food TV and The Mentalist is a reliable source of non-nutrition.

Best bit

When Jane shows due disdain in attempting to solve the episode's case-of-the-week murder. We know how you feel, Patrick.

Worst bit

Preaching to the converted. Seemingly every week Jane has to prove his credentials as a miraculously talented crime solver to a different bureaucrat. Of course, they eventually (begrudgingly) acknowledge his skills when he solves the murder. As he does every week.

Worth watching again?

Yes.

Grade: B. Solid, no-frills crime drama. Sometimes, after a long day at work, it's a great way to unwind.

The story Diverting crime drama puts mind over matter first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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