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"The Mentalist" Pilot (2008)

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25 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Meet Patrick Jane

9/10
Author: Max_cinefilo89 from Italy
5 June 2010

Who could have thought that after shocking viewers with the sex-and-blood-soaked Rome, TV writer Bruno Heller would "move on" to a seemingly more conventional program, i.e. a cop show? Of course, his knack for great characters means that the show isn't all normal. In fact, The Mentalist is one of the more interesting and fun additions to the genre.

The focus is on a man named Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), a "mentalist" - the term is explained at the beginning of every subsequent episode - who helps the CBI (California Bureau of Investigation) with tricky cases, thanks to extraordinary deduction skills that once allowed him to make a living posing as a psychic. The only downside is that, following a personal tragedy (his wife and daughter were killed), he masks his shattered life through a quirky sense of humor that occasionally irritates his superior, Theresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), and his colleagues (Tim Kang, Owain Yeoman and Amanda Righetti). That attitude is about to be tested as the team is assigned a case that looks like the latest Red John murder, whereas Jane, who has a personal stake in the investigation (Red John is the one who killed his family), believes it's the work of a copycat.

What strikes about the pilot of The Mentalist is its blend of classic and new: on the one hand, it uses the entrance of a new character (Grave van Pelt, played by Righetti) to act as the viewer's guide (and cause some awkward sexual tension with one of the male investigators); on the other hand, it's far less interested in the case (although it gets solved by the end of the episode) than in establishing the tormented psychology of the protagonist, not to mention his detective skills, which are demonstrated in the teaser. This approach enables us to understand and somehow relate to Jane's situation, even if revealing all the details at once isn't necessarily a good storytelling device (compare with the gradual revelations about Dr. House, for instance).

Naturally, what makes such developments matter is the man playing the role, and Baker, having spent a lifetime playing supporting parts in Hollywood (starting with L.A. Confidential in 1997) and getting rid of his Australian accent (much like Hugh Laurie masks his Englishness on House), is perfectly quirky and charming as the unconventional detective, backed by a solid supporting cast (with most of the limelight stolen by the excellent Tunney). Guest work is also remarkable, since this episode alone sees Baker square off against people like Steven Culp and the consistently mesmerizing Zeljko Ivanek.

In short, as pilots go, this one has some extra edge by adding a vital subplot to what is clearly meant to be a case-of-the-week series and putting said cases' outcome in the hands of a weird but charismatic investigator. Not bad at all.

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