“The Mentalist”
Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m.
3.5 out of 5 Stars

“The Mentalist” combines two things that rarely go hand in hand these days: a crime drama and entertainment.

Some might be skeptical of a show in which the opening sequence includes a wife shooting her malicious husband to death in front of a smirking police agent. But it’s these kinds of ridiculous scenes that make “The Mentalist” uniquely entertaining among current crime dramas, all of which take themselves far too seriously. What makes the show enjoyable is not the crime-related material; rather, the comedic and dramatic scenes that take place within the crime team present engaging dynamics and conflicted relationships that keep the viewer interested and entertained.

“The Mentalist” follows agent Patrick Jane, played by Simon Baker, the resourceful heartthrob in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Agent Jane is a former television star and is thus experienced in exploiting human gullibility. He is also a master of inference, able to notice the smallest details and extrapolate a life story. Most importantly for Agent Jane as a character, he’s extremely arrogant about his abilities, while at the same time fully aware of his arrogance. The pragmatic jerk with good intentions is an underused and underappreciated character in the current TV line-up, and Baker pulls it off charmingly well. By using his observations as a mixture of the blatantly obvious and the incredibly subtle, the show makes his skills believable.

Agent Jane’s team is comprised of characters who aren’t necessarily original, but are far more developed than other similar roles. The two bumbling best friends, Wayne Rigsby and Kendall Cho, are played respectively by Owain Yeoman (“Generation Kill”) and Tim Kang (“Rambo”). But unlike other buddy-crime teams, there seems to be a strong underlying competition between them for the respect of their superiors. There’s the new woman Grace Van Pelt, played by Amanda Righetti (“The OC”), who’s wary of Jane’s unconventional methods, but has the added layer of believing that Jane’s abilities must lie in the supernatural. Then there’s chief Teresa Lisbon, played by Robin Tunney (“Prison Break”), who has earned the respect of her team by cracking the whip whenever someone steps out of line, but, despite all of Jane’s mishaps and violations, is still clearly sexually attracted to him. It’s these original relationships among unoriginal characters that set the show apart from its competitors.

The plot — to the extent that it even matters — follows the search for a serial killer nicknamed “Red John,” who has a personal history with agent Jane. In the pilot, when faced with a killing that appears to follow Red John’s pattern, agent Jane and the team must figure out whether he’s really responsible. With so much emphasis put on agent Jane’s abilities early on, it’s almost pointless to watch any investigation in which he doesn’t participate because you know whatever other people say will turn out to be wrong. Luckily, there aren’t many of these scenes.

Suspenseful plot moments are too predictable and thus fall tragically flat. The show devotes so much time to developing the crime team that the actual plot is either incomprehensible or nonexistent. It’s impossible to keep track of which suspect is which or remember how any of them are related. But in the end, most of the suspects don’t matter anyway, so the viewer doesn’t feel cheated when the real villain is unmasked.

“The Mentalist” has good writing and a great cast. Baker could carry the show on his own, but due to the charisma and energy of the supporting cast, he doesn’t have to. With so many complicated relationships, original observations and witty retorts, “The Mentalist” promises to be a stand-out among crime dramas this fall.

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