Remember CBS’ whole “We’re gonna shake things up and not just be the ‘CSI’-ya Real Soon Network” experiment? Looks like it’s officially over. Augmenting USA’s “Psych” with a touch of “Profiler,” “The Mentalist” brings two-time Tuesday-night star Simon Baker (“The Guardian,” followed by the whoops-you-missed-it “Smith”) back to the Eye network as a quick-witted crime-solver. Even a dark(ish) streak can’t enliven the subject matter, but it’s back in CBS’ comfort zone after a swing and a miss with “Swingtown” and rolling snake-eyes with “Viva Laughlin.”
Baker does possess a certain roguish charm, and writer Bruno Heller (“Rome”) and pilot-directing guru David Nutter mine that — as well as the central character’s slightly menacing backstory — to try and invest the series with a bit of depth, mostly to little avail.
Having once enjoyed celebrity by masquerading as a psychic — a self-aggrandizing ploy that gave way to tragedy — Baker’s Patrick Jane now seeks redemption by using his honed observational skills to do good, functioning as a consultant to the California Bureau of Investigation. He is, of course, seen as an unnecessary irritant by senior agent Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), though his ability to walk into a room and identify a stunning array of clues can occasionally come in handy for the elite unit she supervises.
The one rather flimsy, ongoing plot thread, meanwhile, involves an unsolved mystery that touched Jane personally — which is where the “Profiler” parallel enters the picture.
For the most part, though, “The Mentalist” plays like just another clue-sifting procedural, so forgettable that I had difficulty recalling the particulars of the central case 15 minutes after watching it. The show’s lone distinguishing characteristic stems from the casting of Baker as a latter-day Sherlock Holmes — albeit one who winds up squabbling, in tiresome fashion, with his gender-switched Dr. Watson.
For CBS, there’s obvious logic in sandwiching such a concept between “NCIS” and “Without a Trace,” but the combination of this middle-of-the-road exercise and its other new drama, British format adaptation “The Eleventh Hour,” reflects a wholesale retreat back to Wonder Bread, USA. It’s an assembly-line, no-guts, no-glory approach to series development — one that doesn’t require any special powers of perception to intuit its upside or, with the clock ticking on “CSI’s” level of popularity, its inherent limitations.