What is "The Mentalist" doing right?
What should have been pleasant filler has become a ratings no-brainer. Reruns on Thursday nights are consistently the most watched programs, with something around 10 million viewers.
So what's the secret?
Yes, we love crime procedurals. But this one isn't breaking new ground; its most immediate predecessors include "Medium," "Psych" and "The Listener."
If anything, "The Mentalist" seems to go against the grain. America is a country of believers, whether it comes to religion or big-budget blockbuster movies. And here comes along a show to debunk all that we hold paranormally precious. Patrick Jane, a celebrity mentalist a la John Edward, once used his powers of observation for celebrity. Now, after a family tragedy, he admits he was faking it, and limits his showmanship to police work.
It sounds awfully gimmicky - and yet "The Mentalist" has gotten into our heads.
After much research and rewinding, I think I have discovered the top four reasons for the show's success.
4. Strong group dynamics
Jane's foil, Robin Tunney, grew up on the South Side and is a no-nonsense complement for the no-holds-barred mentalist. I've been a fan of hers since 1996's "The Craft," when she memorably used her witchy powers to . . . change hair colors. This fall, she'll be joined by the impeccable Terry Kinney as her boss.
The rest of the team gels perfectly, allowing for little moments like when Tim Kang mused, "I don't get zoos. You pay money to look at animals. Why?"
3. We can't get enough of serial killers.
The simple truth is that they sell, especially smart ones. In fact, Showtime's "Dexter" has proven that serial killers can even be likable. With Jane always on the hunt for the evil Red John, the man who killed his wife and daughter, there's a compelling reason to keep watching.
2. It's uplifting.
It seems like an odd thing to say after the whole serial killer thing, but it's true. When joining a crime scene that centers on a severed hand, he asks, "Why so glum?"
Despite the death, deception, carnage, and so on, "The Mentalist" is essentially about redemption. There is an irrepressible charm that brims up and out of Patrick Jane, despite the pain that he hides. Yes, he was fatally arrogant - but it never completely overtakes his sweetness and decency.
1. Simon Baker.
"I watch the show for him," says AnnaMaria Baraglia of Chicago. "I don't know what it is about him, but he keeps me watching."
Leah Racila of Bridgeview thinks she can pinpoint the appeal. "He is one sexy man," she says.
Let's get his looks out of the way. Fans are divided as to whether they watch because of his twinkling eyes, or his sly smile, or his little-boy curls. Baker is so attractive, in fact, he makes vests look perfectly reasonable.
He arrived on the Hollywood scene with fellow Aussies Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe with a memorable bit part in1997's "L.A. Confidential," and he's firmly in with the in crowd: Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts are godparents to two of his children.
When superstardom didn't come overnight, he began building up his resume with a lead role in TV's "The Guardian" and on the big screen as a romantic rogue in "The Devil Wears Prada."
Now he's finally found his place.
Female fans can't resist his character, who is, of course, the perfect man. He's brilliant. Good-natured. Observant, playful, confident, and given to performing anonymous good deeds. He asks about your feelings, and then listens intently to your answer. He knows all about animal husbandry. He takes his leave by saying, "Be good to yourself." He's single!
He's a joy to watch.
It's not just his looks, of course. Baker has earned his recent Emmy nomination. He believably balances his exuberance with the self-loathing and guilt he feels inside. He is an intense actor. When Patrick Jane is reminded of his tragedy, you can literally see the light go out of his eyes.
Without Simon Baker, "The Mentalist" would just be "Law & Order: Magical Mystery Squad." Baker is "The Mentalist's" secret ingredient - or, if you prefer, secret weapon.
And it doesn't hurt that he's really hot.
The second season of "The Mentalist" begins Sept. 24.