I like to escape the real world as often as possible. I do this either by gurning maniacally into the bathroom mirror or by watching DVD box sets of TV shows. In fact, box sets are one of my favourite ways of escaping into an exciting new world. The latest one to grace my PlayStation 3 was The Mentalist, starring Simon Baker. There’s a load of other actors too, but I can’t be bothered finding them on Wikipedia.
The premise of The Mentalist is that a “psychic” – Patrick Jane, played by Baker – steps away from his old life when his actions result in a serial killer – Red John – killing his wife and child. Jane then starts to work for the California Bureua of Investigations (CBI) as a consultant. He helps the CBI with murder cases, by utilising his exceptional skills honed over the years of being a psychic. He’s quite open about how fake psychics are, and there is one memorable episode where he encounters a psychic who gives him pause when saying something about his dead family. But has he been played? Well, watch it and see.
Jane’s skills are all about observation and misdirection, confidence and basic lying. A powerful cocktail that gives him an edge over traditional police work, especially when he’s busy hypnotising people to get information the police would take an age to elicit. It takes about two episodes before you realise that Jane should just be allowed to hypnotise everyone at the start, get the answer, and then we could all switch off and watch House.
I’m being harsh, The Mentalist is very watchable, but it’s just not up to the level of the best US TV shows. This is no The West Wing or Desperate Housewives: It’s a slicker version of Miss Marple with a better looking cast. The overarching story line – that Jane is working for the CBI so he can track down Red John – is given far too little air time. Indeed, the best episodes are those where the Red John storyline is front and centre.
Season Two will be out on DVD later this year, and despite not being blown away by the first I’ll be buying it. I love to escape, you see, and even an average cop show is a good enough place for me to go. Especially one set in sunny California.