MENTAL “Pilot”: I Refuse to Turn That “E” Around

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They say that drowning is just suffocating from breathing the wrong thing. People drown surrounded by oxygen because their lungs can’t convert that oxygen out of the water. It feels like we’re drowning in the television landscape right now, waiting for the summer season to start–everyone is still broadcasting, but we can’t convert the oxygen out of reruns of of Law and Order: Teriyaki Glaze or new and icky reality offerings (really, CW? Hitched or Ditched? Really?).

Fox hopes to come to the rescue with Mental, the tale of an unorthodox psychiatrist and the ways in which he enlightens both patients and his more orthodox colleagues. The network hopes they have the next House, but Mental just comes off as cheap in every way (it is kind of interesting to think about how the network is filming it on the cheap in Colombia, but it’s too bad the cheap shows through). It’s a cheap knockoff of the House formula, with a quirky lead hired by a hot female administrator and surrounded by underlings who are both appalled and intrigued by the way the lead’s nuttiness solves the case in 44 minutes or less. Unfortunately, Chris Vance, British though he may be, is no Hugh Laurie. His colleague is a cheap knockoff of Marcia Cross and Jaclyn Smith (Jacqueline McKenzie, much better elsewhere, like The 4400). His underlings are cheap knockoffs of Orlando Bloom, goatee version (Nicholas Gonzales), and Rashida Jones (Marisa Ramirez). The effects meant to give us a peep into the head of someone suffering from hallucinations looked like they came straight out of a Hulu ad. The lighting makes everything look so flat and cheap I wnated to kick at the flimsy walls while wearing pointy-toed shoes, just to see if I could kick right through. Even the title sequence is a cheap ripoff of Numb3rs, with the “e” in Mental flipping around, presumably to represent the lead’s quirky outlook. Perhaps worst of all is the show’s cheap take on mental illness–the pilot had a schizophrenic healed in 72 hours by the magic power of art.  Marvelous. While I’m hoping subsequent episodes are better, I can’t be sure the cheap life jacket Fox has thrown me will hold out long enough to see if that happens.

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