Judge Cynthia Boris knew what was going to be in this review before she wrote it.
Our reviews of The Mentalist: The Complete Second Season (published October 20th, 2010), The Mentalist: The Complete Third Season (published October 13th, 2011), and The Mentalist: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 26th, 2012) are also available.
Let the Mind Games Begin
When it comes to crime investigation on TV, you have the light-hearted cozy mysteries such as Murder She Wrote and Diagnosis Murder. On the other end, you have the hard-hitting, realistic dramas such as the CSI and Law and Order franchises. In between, there's a strange hybrid of light and dark, usually with a quirky consultant twist. You have Bones, Castle, and now The Mentalist: The Complete First Season on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Patrick Jane (Simon Baker, The Devil Wears Prada) was a phony psychic. He made his living conning people into believing that he could communicate with the dead. But when he bragged on TV about helping the police profile serial killer Red John, John decided to teach Jane a lesson. He murdered Jane's wife and daughter, leaving his telltale blood-drawn smiley face on the wall above the body.
Determined to make amends (and track Red John in the process), Jane becomes a police consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation. Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney, Prison Break) is the brusque, all business head of the team. She's backed up by Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and newbie Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti, Friday the 13th).
With Jane's ability to see beyond the obvious, a fair amount of con games and hypnosis, the team works with law enforcement in a variety of California cities but always on the trail of a killer.
When The Mentalist premiered on TV, I tuned in because I liked the subject matter as much as I liked the lead actor, Simon Baker. Three episodes later, I stopped watching. I expected the light-hearted tone that makes shows like Bones and Castle work despite their gruesome plotlines. What I didn't expect was the characters' callous and comic disregard for human emotions and the utter disrespect for law enforcement.
Patrick Jane is played as a happy go-lucky rogue with no social graces and very little common sense. In the pilot, he circumvents the police in the case of a murdered teen and goes to the mother with his theory that her husband murdered the girl after years of sexual abuse. His actions cause the mother to shoot and kill the father, and his response is, oh well, he deserved it. Technically, he's suspended for two weeks after that, but the reaction from the team is more "oh silly, Jane," when will he learn. Ha ha huh?
To make matters worse, Van Pelt is played as if she flunked out of the police academy and Cho and Rigsby (supposedly trained detectives on the Governor's elite major crimes squad) seem like they couldn't find their car keys in their own pockets without Jane's help.
The saving grace is that the show doesn't stay this way. Gradually, the series finds its footing and the over-the-top antics are tamed in favor of some interesting detective work. Mind you, Jane never ceases to be a rogue, tossing out random questions (quick, if the dead girl was an animal, what animal would she be?) and generally making everyone uncomfortable with his watchful eye. Simon Baker is a pro, though, and he manages to overwhelm with his charm, so you're willing to forget that he just broke ten laws in order to solve a crime.
Like the series Lie to Me, The Mentalist relies a lot on psychology and body language to get to the truth. Most of it is believable but not all of it. When Jane sniffs a severed hand that has been baking in the sun, he detects hand lotion, musky cologne, and cigarette smoke. From this he determines that the man is a wealthy, top dog in the hotel or gaming industry and of course, he's right. Sure. I believe that.
Counterpoint to all of the humorous antics is the underlying mythology about the serial killer Red John. If you look at the titles of the episodes, you can see that red figures prominently in all of them, reminding you that Red John is never far away. The character plays into a mid-season episode as well as in the finale, making those the few truly serious episodes in this light-hearted run.
The Mentalist: The Complete First Season DVD itself gets the job done. Five discs are housed in a flipper inside a plastic case. There's an episode guide booklet in the case, which is my favorite way to find out what's on each disc. The menu is simple, no animations, so it's easy to follow and the audio and video are as you'd expect for a new show. The Mentalist has it's own unique color palette and style which leaves the cool digital effects and tricky camera work to those other procedural shows and that's a plus.
The special features are light. No commentaries, which is surprising. There are a few deleted scenes that they refer to as "Lost Evidence," yet another indication of how little respect the series has for law enforcement. The gag reel is unremarkable even with its fancy "Surveillance Video" title. There are two featurettes. The first is "Evidence of a Hit Series." This is made up of interviews with the cast and creator Bruno Heller talking about the origins of the series and how the characters came to be. It's interesting but it runs a little long. Same is true for "Cracking the Crystal Ball: Mentalist vs. Psychic," which has a variety of folks from the paranormal world discussing the truth behind psychic abilities and how it compares to what Jane does on the show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though the characters get off to a rough start, the show does find its footing later in the run.
If you like your detective shows on the light side, then The Mentalist is the show for you. Yes, there's a brutal murder every week, but according to its creator, the show is about hope and joy and not death. I don't know that I'd go that far, but Simon Baker is charming and impish and it's because of him that you'll want to tune in.
This court finds The Mentalist: The Complete First Season guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Deleted Scenes
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