I didn’t think I had room in my heart for another banter-y, clever mystery series with an appeal based half in its creepy crimes and half in the lead actors’ pure chemistry; Bones was filling that space just fine. But The Mentalist is going on my Season Pass. Starring Simon Baker (The Guardian) as a bogus TV psychic who got his family murdered by the serial killer he pretended to profile, The Mentalist is smart enough to know how silly its premise is. Baker’s Patrick Jane now uses his people-reading ability for good, as a consultant to the California Bureau of Investigation. And perhaps anticipating audience response, almost everyone around Patrick gives him a good preemptive eye-rolling. As his dubious cop boss, Robin Tunney (Prison Break), she of the wistful eyebrows, is bemused or annoyed accordingly, and the two have a crisp, charming camaraderie.
Patrick’s accomplishments vary from the seriously obvious (at one crime scene, he sees a photo that screams, ”My dad is a pervert,” and is able to deduce that Dad is a pervert) to the unlikely (beating a man at every turn of Rock Paper Scissors). But the tricks he performs are overshadowed by the glee with which Baker performs them. Like any good grifter, he gets a genuine thrill out of entertaining, manipulating, or confusing people. With his rapid, just-above-a-whisper cadence and cucumber-cool reactions, Baker reminds you of Val Kilmer in his spry Real Genius days, but with really great hair. It’s a mesmerizing little act. B