The Mentalist was on my list of television shows to watch this fall. I like Robin Tunney (she was on the first episode of House), but I wasn’t expecting much. Did the world really need another fake psychic detective show? On CBS? Are there really that many mysterious murders committed each week?

I was surprised to find it was rather good. The Mentalist is an episodic whodunit centering on an eccentric-but-brilliant problem-solver who is backed up by a equally qualified but more conventional team. The genre is a welcome evolution of the sordid forensic procedural, enhanced by a healthy dose of humor, and has produced a large number of excellent and successful series.

Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) is the gleefully not-psychic “character” while Senior Agent Teresa Lisbon (Tunney) plays his foil. Instead of depending solely on the friction between these two characters, The Mentalist succeeds because there is so little friction. Lisbon (and the rest of the team) would be incredibly frustrated by his hi-jinx, but he’s so damn charming. They’re as amused and entertained by him as we are, especially when he “reads” a character’s  internal dialogue and turns it into a public conversation. In a recent episode when the team needed to decide if supporting his personal investigation was worth loosing their jobs, there was very little threat. We believe they support him without a second thought, because his easy confidence is so infectious.

Because of this effortlessness, it doesn’t come as a surprise that The Mentalist is the most watched new series of the past two years. There are far worse shows with large numbers of viewers (Dancing with the Stars).  The Mentalist is quite good, but (please network executives) don’t be fooled into believing the public wants more Mentalist duplicates. There are at least half a dozen equally twins. It’s popular because CSI and Order has exhausted its audience without really offering any other options.

Now, can I interest you in a witty science-fiction serial?

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