CBS once said during its annual upfront presentation that the network doesn’t rebuild, it reloads. “The Mentalist” is a perfect example of that mentality. Tonight as the drama celebrates its 100th episode, the series has managed to keep itself as fresh as it was when it first premiered and all while keeping its mythology intact.
When “The Mentalist” debuted in 2008 it hit the right note with viewers. The charismatic Simon Baker shined as the equally charismatic Patrick Jane, a police consultant with the uncanny knack to read people’s true emotions. For those unfamiliar with the series, Jane was essentially a really good con man who joined the fictional California Bureau of Investigations (CBI) as a consultant after a psychopath killed his wife and daughter.
The killer went by the name “Red John,” and since the first episode has remained a part of the show’s underlying fabric (in fact every episode title has some sort of reference to the color red). Yet “The Mentalist” has always done things differently than most shows of its kind. A few years ago they even teased audiences by introducing them to who we thought at the time was “Red John” and then had Jane calmly kill his presumed arch rival fifteen minutes later. It was at that moment viewers knew this wasn’t your usual procedural.
Played in a surprise cameo by Emmy winner Bradley Whitford, the possibly fake “Red John” (audiences still don’t have the full story) had told Jane that it was over and he was freeing him from his burden. Although that burden is exactly what has kept the show going as Jane’s guilt is what drives him on every case. He’s a smart, he’s cocky and he doesn’t play well with others, but that’s why it works.
It also works because Baker’s on-screen ally isn’t his love interest. Now that’s not to take anything away from shows like “Castle,” where the whole “will they/won’t they” dynamic has driven the plot for years. “Castle” is a just a different type of series. The chemistry between Baker and Robin Tunney is more natural and doesn’t need a plot device to keep it running. Over the show’s 100 episodes the two have developed more of a brother/sister relationship than anything else. Tonight’s storyline will actually shine more light on that partnership as audiences will be taken back to the first time the pair met.
This year “The Mentalist” was moved from its safe Thursday’s at 10 p.m. perch to the more perilous Sunday’s at 10 p.m. timeslot. All things considered the move honestly hasn’t gone that well! Airing on CBS Sunday nights takes a special type of series as the network’s partnership deal with the NFL normally results in its primetime lineup starting at different times every week. Although the slip in ratings has begun to make some question just how long the series could run.
In an article posted the other day by TVByTheNumbers.com, the website argues the series could be on its last legs as following tonight’s milestone the show is now assured the episode count it needed for stripped syndication. However the report, which also lists its timeslot neighbor “The Good Wife” as being in danger as well, doesn’t take into account what the series brings to the table outside of ratings.
CBS didn’t move “Mentalist” to kill it; they moved it because they had its possible successor (“Elementary”) waiting in the wings and they knew they could maneuver their schedule to get them both into anchor positions in the lineup.
The network learned years ago how hard it is to successfully launch a show on Sunday nights when audiences will have a hard time finding it on a weekly basis due to sports pre-emptions (i.e. “Three Rivers”). However “The Good Wife” and “The Mentalist” bring stability to their lineup as well as a dedicated built-in group of viewers. CBS’ executives knew that putting them on after football would probably lead to a ratings drop, but the benefits of their presence far outweighs the cost.
This is a network known for making bold moves that time and time again work. As also is the case with “Good Wife,” sometimes the perception isn’t always the reality and as “Mentalist” celebrates its big milestone tonight, it is something we all should remember.
“The Mentalist’s” 100th episode airs tonight at 10 p.m. EST on CBS.
What’s your take New York? Are you a fan of the series? How much longer do you think it could go? Hit the comments and let us know. Don’t forget to subscribe to this column at the top of the page for all of the latest news coming out of the new TV season.