Being charitable, Fox doubtless scored a favorable licensing deal on this internationally produced series, thus inviting the one-line reviews ” ‘House’ in a mental hospital,” or ” ‘House’ gone ‘Condo.'” Yes, there’s a brilliant but unorthodox new director of psych services at L.A.’s Wharton Memorial Hospital (actually shot in Colombia!), with a prickly female boss who doesn’t always approve of his methods. Unless audiences go ga-ga over British lead Chris Vance — and while he’s kinda cute, there’s no reason they should — this ought to be a short-lived ride aboard the crazy train.
Dr. Jack Gallagher (Vance, last unleashed in “Prison Break”) makes a splashy debut at the hospital, where his first case involves a hallucinatory patient (“Prison Break’s” beady-eyed Silas Weir Mitchell, who’s dangerously close to becoming typecast as a lunatic). Gallagher also seeks to break in administrator Nora Skoff (Annabella Sciorra) and a pretty nondescript staff, which engages in some intramural sexual shenanigans during the second episode. But other than the way-cool Emma Peel outfits sported by Dr. Chloe Artis (Marisa Ramirez), there’s little here to get anyone’s pulse racing.
Created by brother-sister writing team Dan Levine and Deborah Joy LeVine (who spell their surnames differently), the series generates the by now customary visual flourishes from the patients’ unstable p.o.v.’s, but they’re not much of a trip, as it were.
Stripped down, then, the entire conceit hinges on Vance’s appeal. And despite some nebulous personal baggage involving a mysterious woman from his past, the character’s simply not interesting enough to carry the show virtually alone. Nor does Sciorra receive the kind of material to adequately occupy her, and hiding her underneath glasses and pinned-up hairdos only brings to mind saucier Cinemax fare.
Even the title, “Mental,” feels vaguely uninspired, reinforcing the sense that this is strictly low-risk, minimal-reward summer filler, picked up for a song as part of a co-production arrangement with Fox’s international channels. This is the first of three programs produced under those terms, so better luck next time(s).
Indeed, after screening two episodes of “Mental,” a critic might easily feel his own tenuous hold on sanity is being tested by unwelcome visions of clones.