Verne Gay Verne Gay

Gay is the television critic.

THE SHOW "The Mentalist"

WHEN|WHERE Tonight at 9 on CBS/2


WHAT IT'S ABOUT Patrick Jane (Baker), our mentalist, is a searing, smart

cop who, from the tiniest details, gleans great cosmic truths about people's

lives and - because he's also a cop - their motives. Comparisons to Sherlock

Holmes are apt, except he's doesn't have his Dr. Watson; Jane's more of a

soloist, a slightly chilled, distant personality who has an uncanny ability to

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see into everyone else's heart except his own.

He's suffered a horrific loss - details of which will unfold - and as a

result doesn't want to look too closely inside. (And yes, by now you're

thinking of House, too.) The other cops he works with tolerate Mr. Know-it-all

because he is so bright. Tonight, there's a brutal double homicide that may be

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the work of serial killer "Red John," so named because he draws a smiley face

with his victim's blood at each of his crime scenes.

BOTTOM LINE You've got to admire CBS' tenacity with Simon Baker. At least I

do. He's an immensely attractive, telegenic actor who screams out "big star"

in every line on his face, and in every strand of his golden, tousled hair.

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First, "The Guardian" - a good show, perhaps even a very good one - then

"Smith" (not bad, either), and now, finally this. Is three Baker's (and CBS')

lucky number? Not sure. His strength can also be his weakness: Remote and

somewhat icy suggests "deep" and "exotic," but also "standoffish."

Tonight's pilot is briskly competent. The formula - must find murderer of

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beautiful woman before last commercial break - predates the dinosaurs, but also

incorporates some satisfying twists. Watch by all means - just wear a sweater

when you do.