Judge Cynthia Boris was declared competent to write this review.
There is no greater mystery than the human mind.
Mental is a rip off of House in the same way Grey's Anatomy is a rip-off of ER. Is there a DVD doctor in the house?
Facts of the Case
Wharton Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles is about to get a new Director of Mental Health Services. But after a half hour in the room with Dr. Jack Gallagher (Chris Vance), you might wonder if he shouldn't be a patient in the hospital instead of the man in charge.
Trying to steer the rocking ship is administrator Nora Skoff (Annabella Sciorra) with whom Gallagher had a romantic relationship. Working against the doc are uptight Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones (Jacqueline McKenzie) and the antagonistic Dr. Carl Belle (Derek Webster). Working alongside the doc are medical residents, Dr. Arturo Suarez (Nicholas Gonzalez) and Dr. Chloe Artis (Marisa Ramirez).
Each week, the doctors come together to try radical new therapies in hopes of helping their patients conquer their psychiatric issues, so they can return to the lives they left behind.
There are 13 episodes in the season and as of this writing, it doesn't appear that there will be a second season for Mental. So call this, The Complete Series.
When Mental first appeared on Fox, it was highly criticized for being a rip-off of Fox's hit show House. It's true that both shows are set in medical facilities and they both revolve around a quirky doctor and his uptight staff, but that's where the resemblance ends. Unlike Doctor Gregory House, Dr. Jack Gallagher is a nice man. He's funny and warm and compassionate. He's the kind of guy you'd like to shoot hoops with or trade stories over coffee. He's a great storyteller. And while it's true that both doctors are a little unorthodox, there is a method to Gallagher's madness, while House is just…mad.
We're introduced to Jack when he strips off all of his clothes in the hospital's busy admitting area in order to calm a violent patient who thinks everyone is an alien. Jack bares his behind to prove to the man that he's human, too, and then he runs with the man's delusion until he can get close enough to subdue him. It's over the top, made more so by the administrators speech later who defends his actions by saying, "Jack will do anything for the patient."
In the real world, the hospital would have been sued by everyone who witnessed the event and the doctor would have been fined for public indecency. Still, there's a grain of truth in the show that is hard to overlook: medicine has a long way to go when it comes to treating mental illness.
In a number of the episodes, you can forgive Jack's bizarre methods because everything else has been tried and has failed. By arranging sack races and playing video games with a troubled boy, he's simply trying to get inside the patients' heads, to see what they see, to gain their trust.
There are moments in Mental that are extremely poignant and you have to give it up to the actors who were asked to play these difficult roles. I'm not sure the average viewer appreciates how difficult it is to play a person with a mental disorder without turning it into a cliché.
Mental also has the distinction of being the final role for the late David Carradine. The episode aired shortly after his death, which made his performance as a man who became catatonic after a lightening strike crippled him and killed his wife, all the more eerie. Not a word of dialogue and still he delivers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With a fresh, unusual setting and a charismatic leading man, Mental should have been a hit. It wasn't and it's hard to say why. Even as I watched the episodes on the DVD, I kept feeling like something was missing, or off. Many of the relationships are clichés from the genre—the hospital administrator who's caught between the board and the doctors, the rising romance between two hot, young residents, and the ice queen who can't help but complain everytime Jack breaks the rules. â Still, we've seen those clichés on other shows and we've liked them. So why don't they work here? The only thing I can think of is that the subject matter makes us uncomfortable. We've learned to deal with flailed corpses on the morgue tables and gruesome crime scenes littered with body parts. Cancer, heart failure, traumatic injuries—we've seen them on TV thousands of times. But how often do we see a woman who wants her brother locked up in a psych ward because she's afraid he'll hurt her kids. Or the woman who is so afraid of losing the baby that's actually all in her mind? And I couldn't even watch the episode about the teenager who tries to kill herself by lighting herself on fire.
This may be the year 2009, but mental illness is still the ugly family secret no one wants to talk about and that could be why no one wanted to watch a weekly series about it on TV.
Mental: The Complete First Season has only two special features, a featurette about Dr. Gallagher and the unrated alternate pilot, which isn't all that different from the aired pilot.
If you enjoy a quirky medical show with a twist, give Mental a try. It does feature some very poignant performances and if you're emotional, like me, you'll want to keep the tissues handy.
Not guilty by reason of insanity.
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