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For a long time, The Mentalist was the best procedural on television. Then suddenly, it wasn’t. The balance between whimsical and psychologically exciting mystery of the week episodes and serious, borderline disturbing Red John episodes swung sharply from the former to the latter, and with that transition, much of the what made the show so special sorta drifted away. That’s not to say the Red John finale wasn’t well done or even needed, but week after week of serial killer hunting just wasn’t the spirit of the show. It got draining, and even as a huge fan, I was ready to see the show drift away. Miraculously, however, over the last few months the show has somehow reinvented itself as a post-Red John procedural once again. To be frank, it’s better than it’s been in years, and that’s why it has to come back.
The Mentalist debuted to stunning, double take numbers back in 2008. It attracted more than fifteen million people during its premiere and somehow only grew from there. Thanks to a move to Sunday nights and perhaps some of the Red John-related problems mentioned before, that figure has slowly dwindled down to between eight and ten million an episode. On most networks, that would be good enough for an instant renewal. In fact, the show handily beats its competition in total viewers each week, but over at CBS a whole lot more is expected. The show was recently left off of the mass pick-up list, and many insiders are speculating it could get the big ugly axe. Sadly, those dire forecasts may prove correct, but even if they do, that won’t change the fact that quitting on The Mentalist would be a mistake.
In almost all cases, a show is what it is by Season 6 and any attempts to spice things up by bringing aboard new characters or different settings are best case scenario, pointless and worse case scenario, offensive and contradictory to the basic nature of the show. Yet, somehow, The Mentalist was able to turn back the clock and push in an exciting new direction while still keeping its basic spirit just a few months ago. In Red John’s wake, the show let lead character Patrick Jane and key supports Teresa Lisbon and Kimble Cho join the FBI (oddly believable). It then mostly rid itself of its least likeable characters (Wayne Rigsby and Grace Van Pelt), all while adding two characters (Dennis Abbott and Kim Fischer) that spice up the dynamic and add very real elements to the overall team. Fans are still getting the whismy and the playfulness of the original seasons, but thanks to all of these changes, it suddenly feels brand new.
It’s like the writers are churning out brand new episodes of Season 1 and Season 2 quality, but it doesn’t feel like same-old-same-old because we suddenly have new characters to get a small amount of personal life intrigue about each week. It’s a reinvention. It’s a return to the show’s roots, and it really deserves to be explored with a full season, especially since the show is still very competitive in the key 18-49 demographics. Television is a business. I get that, but there’s no guarantee whatever would be positioned in The Mentalist’s place will work out. Since the show is effectively treading water right now, it’s the smart play to give it one more season to coax back the dearly departed viewers who may have left because it got way too serious.
The Mentalist is getting better and better by the week, and it is in everyone’s best interests to see how high it can soar again.