The Mentalist is a procedural crime show that's not like most procedural crime shows. It's procedure looked at slantwise, with an almost anarchic, ironic humor. It fits firmly into the genre of shows about the police being aided by a quirky genius, and stands apart mostly because of the undercurrent of goofy fun and the genuine likability of everyone involved.
The show follows the story of Patrick Jane, played with a subtle humor by Simon Baker, a former fake psychic whose wife and child were killed by the vicious serial killer Red John, to "teach him a lesson". Partly to make amends for his past crimes, which include charging outrageous fees to pass on pretend messages from the dead relatives of his clients, and partly to help him find Red John and thus exact his revenge, Jane joins the major crimes unit of the California Bureau of Investigation as a consultant. He was able to fool so many people in his previous career as a charlatan because of his incredibly keen observational skills and understanding of human psychology. These skills grant him a unique ability to detect liars and ferret out villains.
He is joined along the way by the CBI major crimes team, led by Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and including Agents Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) and Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman). The team investigates a wide variety of crimes in the first season, from kidnappings to murders to missing persons. Several plot and character threads weave through almost everything. Rigsby and Van Pelt are both secretly in love with one another, and feel constrained to act, either by a sense of professionalism or the inability to open up emotionally. Jane and Lisbon circle around each other warily, sometimes appreciating the other, sometimes exasperated, perhaps attracted at a subconscious level. And of course, the ongoing search for Red John, which consumes Jane's life and pains him deeply, though he hides it behind an almost ever present irreverent playfulness.
Without doubt, the show has some flaws. The constricting format of the police procedural, even though The Mentalist does its best to flout and subvert the genre's conventions, does tend to limit plot options. There are no terribly original situations or storylines, though the show does not rely on these kinds of things for its success. The show also occasionally devolves into outright silliness, most particularly in the episode Red Brick and Ivy in which Jane's friend and former psychiatrist is implicated in a murder. She is on a research team studying the portion of the brain that makes people good or bad, moral or immoral, selfless or selfish. The researchers purport to develop a machine that almost literally consists of a dial that can be turned one way or another to increase or decrease a subject's morality. Even though the research may not be as reliable as claimed, the concept is laughable. There is also the cheesy Perry Mason like spontaneous confession here and there or bit of overacting. These short side trips into ham are easily forgiven, however, because the show works so well in other areas.
It does work in large part because the viewer quickly becomes intensely fond of everyone on the show, all of whom work together very well. All the key performers are talented actors, and the show allows them to express the well defined individuality of the characters. Cho is the stoic straight man, who occasionally bursts out with a spontaneous eruption of humor. (When threatened by a wealthy and influential suspect that said suspect could end Cho's career with one phone call, Cho responds that the most he can get with one phone call is a pizza.) Rigsby is goofy but good hearted, and intelligent. Van Pelt, the youngest and most inexperienced of the agents, is unsure of herself, but driven to succeed. Lisbon is cynical and serious, but a great investigator and the natural as well as titular leader of the group.
And then there is the ever complex Jane. He is tormented with guilt over the death of his wife and child, which he feels he caused in part. But he manages to look at life with an ironic sense of humor and laugh at much of what is dark in it, as a way of dealing with the deep pain he can't quite drive away. Baker's performance as Jane is the lynch pin that holds the cast together. His quirky humor veils the murky depths beneath, but cannot help but be charming. One example, among many, of his appeal is when, having caught a con artist and murderer, who was pretending to be confined to a wheelchair, he reveals that he discovered the man was dissembling by checking whether his shoes were scuffed or not. Obviously, someone who never walks will have clean soles. Jane thanks the man, quite sincerely, saying that he's been checking the shoes of those in wheelchairs for years and this is the first time it has paid off. The joy in his eyes at this small victory makes the viewer smile in shared pleasure. These characters are decent people who, though they often bicker or argue, truly care about each other. Jane's unorthodox methods, and his different goals (namely, finding and killing Red John no matter the cost) puts him at odds with his cohorts on a regular basis, but they never lose respect for each other. The group relates in a way that many of us would wish for our office groups to relate, and they're all quite funny.
Despite its occasional failings and cheesiness, The Mentalist is a breath of fresh air. It is not sordid or seedy or cynical, yet it presents life as a real place and not a magical fairy land. It presents a positive outlook on awful events, and lets the viewer laugh at the tragedies of life, as the only way to get through them. It provides the satisfaction of watching the wicked brought to justice that most police dramas have, but offers much more as well. This is a show that will hopefully be on the air for a long time.
Here is a list of episodes on the six disc set, as described in the informational pamphlet:
A brutal double murder. A happy face drawn in blood. Everyone thinks Red John has struck again. Everyone except Jane.
Red Hair and Silver Tape
A recipe with too much butter leads Patrick to the killer of a pretty redhead who worked at a Napa Valley restaurant.
The body of a drowned surfer washes up on a California beach. But the water in her lungs isn't from the sea.
Ladies in Red
"He's here." A wealthy investor vanishes from his San Francisco mansion - but Patrick insists he never left home.
After a woman is found stabbed to death, her best friends turns up bruised, disoriented and carrying a bloody knife.
A severed hand points Patrick to a big Vegas casino - and a big payday when Patrick hits the blackjack table.
Takes on to know one: Patrick sets out to expose a professional psychic whose client met a suspicious death.
Thin Red Line
Just before a major meth dealer is set to face a jury, the start witness against him is found dead at a cheap motel.
Former members of a National Guard unit have a lot in common: They're from the same town. And each dies in a fire.
Red Brick and Ivy
Did Patrick's ex-psychiatrist off her ex, a researcher who experimented on animals, or is an animal activists the culprit?
Red John's Friends
A convicted killer says he has info on Red John. Patrick wants to follow up; his bosses don't. So Patrick quits the CBI.
That old black magic. When an occult talisman is found near a dead teen's body, suspicion falls on the neighborhood witch.
Paint it Red
The oil tycoon? The forger? The curator? A painting worth $50 million provides many people a motive for murder.
A self-described "woman whisperer" wakes up next to his murdered lover, then flees the crime scene... into the arms of a new mark.
After a socialite is poisoned at a soiree, Patrick discovers her country club clique is hiding a lot more than murder.
Temporarily blinded in an explosion, Patrick searches for the bomber using his other senses - including his sense of humor.
It's raining dead guys. A sky-diving financial honcho lands splat right in front of Patrick.
Hypnosis and homicide: An innocent schlub under the influence thinks the corpse he's lugging around is a sack of potatoes.
A Dozen Red Roses
In Hollywood, Patrick and the team come face to face with a faux Charlie Chaplin, a faux Marilyn - and a real murderer.
Why is Patrick sure a dead CEO's psychiatrist girlfriend isn't really a doctor? For one thing, her handwriting is legible.
"I thought we'd start with a ghost story." At a wilderness school for troubled teens, Patrick spins a campfire tale to catch a killer.
Red John's Footsteps
A dead girl on the ground. A smiley face drawn in the sky. Is Red John starting a new killing spree - or setting a trap for Patrick?
The video is presented in widescreen 1.78:1, and looks good. The colors are clear, and the image is bright and sharp. No issues with the video are detectable.
The sound is available in both spoken English and Portuguese, in Dolby digital 5.1 channel. The dialogue is always clear and the sound separation is good, though not over-pronounced. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Thai.
This set is a little light on the extras. No commentary tracks are included, which is a mild disappointment. The extras present are:
These are deleted scenes for three episodes, and are quite short and fairly inconsequential. Nothing much of interest here.
Evidence of a Hit Series
This featurette, clocking in at 24:03, is more substantial and entertaining. It is mostly interviews with show creator Bruno Heller and most of the cast, about the origins of the show, character dynamics and themes. This is quite interesting.
Cracking the Crystal Ball: Mentalist vs. Psychic
This featurette is just over 18 minutes, less worthwhile than its comrade, and at times is a bit silly. It is a meditation on whether there is such a thing as "real" psychics, and how they compare to mentalists. There are interviews with Bruno Heller (who remains agnostic but skeptical of psychics), psychic researchers, a "real" psychic and retired law enforcement officials. Apparently, psychics are used by police departments in some circumstances. Most of the people associated with the show are profoundly skeptical, but the believers give a good showing. Barely worth the time to watch.
A gag real of just over 7 minutes, much of it quite funny.
While The Mentalist has some flaws, most particularly a penchant for cheesiness, it is far and away superior to much dramatic television on the air now. It is light hearted and optimistic, consistently enjoyable and engaging. The strong characters, most particularly Patrick Jane as brought to life by Simon Baker, and their natural chemistry together invite the viewer to sympathize with and become invested in them. This is an off kilter police procedural that is a joy to watch. Even with the paucity of quality extra material in this collection, The Mentalist is very much recommended.