The Mentalist Reads My Mind

Posted on March 5, 2010

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It’s official. I want Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) to read my mind. I also want him to promise not to be scandalised by what he reads there, it is after all an occupational hazard of mind reading. Personally, I’d love to be able to do it; it’d help me sort out all of life’s little predicaments. But for now, I’ll have to be content with the new series of The Mentalist instead.

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Crime dramas are always going to be something that TV stations everywhere are overrun with. Just look at Law and Order – it must be on about series 74 by now. We at Telly Thursday don’t know what it is; after all, if you see one crime drama, you could certainly make a compelling argument that you have in fact seen them all. But yet, they keep popping up, like a malfunctioning Jack-In-Box.

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The format of crime dramas hasn’t changed much over the years. The genre itself is for the most part not a particularly inventive one, not to mention reinventing. In short, it’s almost impossible to sit down, watch two separate crime dramas and actually point out the fundamental differences, because there are none. It’s like the studios take a template and just fill in the blanks.

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The latest trend in crime drama is to give the main protagonist some kind of quirk or edge, usually something that helps them do their job better but at the expense of their credibility, which they really didn’t care about anyway. Think about it, Patrick Jane reads minds; last week’s Rick Castle is a crime novelist which, for some reason, in a crime show, translates as criminal profiler. Tim Roth reads lies in Lie to Me. Even Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes could be considered in this sub genre of crime dramas.

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These quirks do give crime dramas an extra dimension if used properly. Where the problems lie in these subgenres though, is when the shows start to take themselves too seriously. There is the danger of this creeping in with any of these shows, it’s effectively the moment when the quirk, or the science becomes more interesting than the actual show.

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Thankfully though, The Mentalist so far remains immune, sidelining the party tricks of Jane in favour of being a highly entertaining, fun hour of TV. So, yeah, we can guess who killed who, who slept with whom and where the family’s lost dog ran off to, pretty much in the first twenty minutes. So what do we do for the next half hour? Well, I actually just stare lovingly at Patrick Jane, but I’m sure other people have their preferences too…

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The new series opens with a couple of predictable enough cases: the murder of a woman accused of swindling her boss; and the murder of an intern (sounds like the Totally Dublin office) working for a State Senator. Both cases are solved handily enough using Jane’s box of magic tricks, much to the annoyance of his peers, yet when it appears he is quitting they remark that they think they need him.

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The fallout from the last series plays heavily on their minds, and even more so when the Red John case is transferred to a different department who aren’t too keen on letting Jane, or female agent Lisbon know what’s going on. We’ve been promised a darker edge to this series, Jane still hunting for the murderer of his wife and kids, even though the case has been taken from him. Meanwhile Lisbon is indebted to Jane for saving her life.

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It’s a funny series in a way. The plots aren’t complicated, meaning it’s not a particularly challenging drama. The supporting cast are likeable as is Lisbon but the usual sexual tension we see in these kinds of shows hasn’t reared its head yet in the second series. In a sense, those are the two things that ensure crime dramas survive – either they have a brilliant narrative drive; or they draw in a different kind of audience who champion the inter character romances, commonly known as ‘shipppers’. But The Mentalist doesn’t have either of these factors in abundance. It’s almost as if they’re trying to do everything a good crime drama doesn’t do. And yet it’s still entertaining. That in itself is a rare and impressive feat.

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Of course if anyone disagrees with this review, I will argue that the sheer beauty of Simon Baker completely clouded my judgement, not only managing to read my mind, but manipulate it aswell.

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The Mentalist airs on Network 2, Sundays at 9:30pm.

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