Concept-related spoilers. It would be difficult to discuss the show without these spoilers but I highly recommend watching it without preconceptions, as I did.
The Mentalist, according to imdb, is a show about a ' A mentalist turned private investigator [who] uses his skills to help the police.' However, this show isn't the science fiction show I thought it was going to be. Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), uses- gasp!- his mind and his astonishing eye for detail in order to help the FBI. It's incredible that the show comes across as refreshing given its obviousness.
The show is good. Simon Baker plays a sly, frank, deadpan, impersonal character that seems to manage to dominate every scene in a very understated way. The character invites comparisons to Sherlock Holmes but manages just to sidestep being an updated version of the character along the lines of Gregory House. This gives the show its surprisingly refreshing feel.
The writing is very sharp and slick, going straight to the point, or keeping back from its audience unimportant information until it sees fit to let us know. Like its main character, the whole tone of the show is understated, although not particularly always surprising. This is not a show where the audience is kept guessing for very long at all. The Mentalist is nevertheless interesting enough too keep us watching throughout, using instead wit and intelligence to capture and hold its audience enthralled. It's not a whodunnit or a howdunnit, but a how-will-he-get-them and perhaps that's another reason it doesn't feel like just another crime show (which it in very many ways entirely is.)
The supporting cast is somewhat standard but promises good things- looks like we might be delving into subjects that don't come up very often in a serious fashion in North American TV. Religion and the supernatural are skirted around, ignored and often complicated by the presence of fantastical elements, but here the characters met them head on- and rather uncomfortably. More particularly, Robin Tunney (you may recognize her as the deathly ill kindergarten teacher from the very first episode of House) was especially convincing and likeable in her role.
There were a quite a few moments of delight, especially at the beginning of the show. There is certainly enough sly humour on the part of the main character to bring us safely through the darkness, which there promises to be plenty of. Overall, this was a very solid pilot which is most notable for its powerful, fascinating main character.
I'm interested to see how well this premise holds up over time. Can The Mentalist's brand of magic tricks pull out a new show every week?
The pilot reaches television on September 27th.