The Mentalist: it’s getting better…

Our TV editor finds much improved in the US drama hit...

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It took me a little while to be won over by The Mentalist. Like, say, Monk or Numb3rs, it didn’t seem all that special.

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But The Mentalist has a way of winning you over, not because of its plots, which are simple to the point of asininity, but by a winning cast of characters.

There’s a good esprit de corps between the cops of the California Bureau of Investigation and their highly unlikely helper, mentalist Patrick Jane, a man who solves crimes by the close observation of human nature.

It’s a ridiculous premise but the fun in The Mentalist always comes from the little asides thrown around between the colleagues, who are standard-issue TV drama archetypes – the tough female boss with a teeny-weeny bit of a soft side, and her trio of dogged, but faintly hopeless, underlings.

Jane (Simon Baker) should be annoying because he always gets everything right and he has a smile that’s so dazzling it’s almost shocking. But Baker’s acting is nicely understated so that Jane, who could so easily be dismissed as a tedious smart aleck, is a genuinely engaging character.

Of course, that bright grin must belie darkness within and Jane has his burden – the knowledge that his wife and daughter were murdered by a serial killer, Red John, who has taunted and haunted him ever since.

The first episode in the new series doesn’t vary the formula – and why would it, The Mentalist is a huge hit in America and has done well for Five here. Jane and the team investigate the murder of a woman accused of embezzling from her employers.

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I guarantee – particularly if, like me, you were brought up on Columbo and McMillan & Wife – that you will guess the culprit within minutes. But, somehow, it doesn’t matter.