The premise is deceptively simple; a fake TV psychic who taunts a serial killer on air becomes the next victim, when the killer, Red John, kills his family. The psychic, Patrick Jane, turns his uncanny ability to read people to independent consulting helping the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in solving some of its most complicated crimes. That, in a nutshell, is what makes “The Mentalist” one of the most fascinating TV shows on the air. The drama of each episode is palpable, but there’s also humor and human interest to appeal to a wide range of viewers.
Simon Baker, in the role of Jane, is a wisecracking, irreverent type, who has little respect for authority or decorum, and while he’s mostly popular with the CBI agents he works with, his boss, Teresa Lisbon, played by Robin Tunney, is at first skeptical, and resists having him assigned to her team. Over time, though, Lisbon develops a grudging respect for Jane, even a certain fondness, despite the fact that he’s always getting her into trouble. Jane has such an amazing ability to interpret people from their body language, dress, and other characteristics, many think of him as psychic. But, he protests, he’s only paying attention.
That paying attention enables him to assist the team crack some high-profile cases, though it’s not without cost. He’s forever tormented by his inability to track down Red John, the maniac who killed his family, and who from time to time taunts him.
This would be just another run of the mill crime show, with a little humor thrown in, if Baker and Tunney, and their little interpersonal dance, were the only attractions, but the rest of the cast are equally good and bring value to the production. Tim Kang as agent Kimball Cho, the humorless Asian, who also happens to be a crackerjack detective, is so funny in his stone-faced performance he can get a laugh with just a look. Owain Yoeman, as Wayne Rigsby, and Amanda Righetti, as Grace Van Pelt, the other two agents on Lisbon’s team, with their on-again, off-again romantic relationship, and the personal demons in their own backgrounds, add depth and a human dimension to the show.
“The Mentalist” has been airing on CBS since 2008, and is on a number of cable channels around the world. This is a crime drama that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats, make them laugh, but most important, will totally play with their minds. This is what TV should be about.