TV pilots are like business pitches. Their purpose is to show you what the product has to offer and to get you to want to invest in it. The product for sale in the pilot of The Mentalist is not so much the show as its main character, Patrick Jane, who we get to know and, most importantly, see at work. The character exposition is slightly over-ambitious, but at least we get a sense of what we're in for in the next twenty-odd episodes.
The characters around him are a little flat, but their main purpose is, after all, to frame the incomparable Jane and make you love him even more. The pilot shows him to be a jumble of a lot of classic TV archetypes-in the first case we see him work, he is the almost-superhuman-genius plus the whimsical-oddball plus the cute-likeable-eye-candy, and when he won't put his hands down after the wife shoots her husband, even adds a touch of that innocent man-boy thing that makes us love characters like Disher (Monk) and Josh Lyman (The West Wing). The next case in the interesting, if unsurprising, plot shows him as the rebel fighting the machine he knows he's better than and the police outsider who is always one step ahead of the meatheads with the badges.
The mash-up of Adrian Monk, Gregory House, and Shawn Spencer that is Patrick Jane sounds positively unbearable to watch-on paper. Yet Simon Baker's highly nuanced performance makes Jane not only likeable, but original, too. That is all combined with the believable work of his costars, fantastic cinematography that effectively helps us see the world through Jane's eyes, and solid writing (even with a few high points: (He irks me. He's irksome.ÃÂ Brilliant line brilliantly delivered). The result is the formulaic, predictable crime drama that makes bank for CBS, yet one that, at least in this installment, seems to be set apart from its peers. Let's hope that Patrick Jane is able to read his audiences as well as he can read murders