By: Aleks Chan

It been established – both ratings-wise and in the press – that CBS’s THE MENTALIST is the season’s only true hit. Starring Simon Baker as a former TV psychic who helps nab murderers for the California Bureau of Investigation (CBS has a crafty knack for surrounding its procedurals around important-sounding government agencies no one has ever heard of), it plays up what BONES has been doing for awhile now, but in a tasty, poppable way, so that you have no reason to object to watching it while it’s on, but will completely forget after the fact.

Whatever recreational drug CBS has been spoon-feeding its viewers, it has become especially popular during a time when viewers want escapism they don’t have to think about. It’s TV at its trendiest: when real world problems get hairier, it gets easier. Which is fine – THE MENTALIST is the kind of breezy, set-it-and-forget-it programming that makes for a nice refresher after busying oneself over something as complicated and twisty as LOST. And that can be afforded by Simon Baker, who as Patrick Jane, reads people with such a palpable sense of glee, that you can forgive just how absurd the show’s initial premise is (his psychic facade ended after the murderer he was pretending to profile killed his family).

LIE TO ME, Fox’s HOUSE-ian approach to the forget-me-later pill, is far more cynical by comparison: also starring a cantankerous Brit (Tim Roth, whom I’d love to see in a scowl-off with Hugh Laurie), it follows a team of consultants who are trained in the science of faces — that is, they can read peoples’ faces to tell whether or not they’re lying, scared, thrilled, or whatever emotion (or lack of emotion) the script calls for.

And every episode is chockfull of facial-tic tidbits: pursed lips indicate lying; genuine smiles wrinkle the eyes. And that’s probably why so many people watch it – it invites viewers to play along, to catch the killer in a lie with the same virtuoso excitement. But really, its all a crutch: LIE TO ME is so painstakingly played out (father-daughter issues, I’m-a-professional-lie-detector-but-can’t-see-my-husband-lying-to-my-face issues) that if it weren’t for the aforementioned play at home game, it would’ve been canceled already.

CASTLE, meanwhile, while in the same vein as THE MENTALIST and LIE TO ME, is a different kind of drug: its so intoxicatingly bland that you could forget you’re watching it halfway through an episode. About bestselling mystery writer Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion), who, suffering from a serious case of writer’s block after killing off his book series’ hero, begins shadowing detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) as research for his next book, with her being the inspiration.

It’s part post-coital MOONLIGHTING, part MURDER, SHE WROTE, especially with the pilot: it opens on a recreated version of one of the murders depicted in Castle’s books, his books also being what brings the two together (she’s a closer super-fan, he’s a boffo charmer). The cases in all three of these shows are completely irrelevant, and are never, ever difficult. Like gun, gunshot wound, this man was shot! easy. So what’s supposed to draw us in are the characters, and in CASTLE’s case it doesn’t, because the chemistry between its stars is completely fabricated. They’re written to be attracted to each other, but there isn’t an undercurrent of tension.

And poor Nathan Fillion. The guy’s a great actor who just can’t get the roles he deserves. He’s better than the source material, able to convincingly play Castle as ladies’ man, doting dad, and playfully nudging partner. Katic does alright, but she has the unfortunate sense to seem exotically interesting, but is actually very boring.

It all feels too much like the franchise mystery novels Patterson and Grisham crank out each year (Patterson in fact has a cameo appearance in the pilot): after you’ve read one, you’ve read ‘em all. CASTLE isn’t the poppable TV that viewers of THE MENTALIST or even LIE TO ME would enjoy – it doesn’t have any flavor.

The Mentalist airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (est) on CBS
Lie to Me moves to Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (est) this week on Fox
Castle premieres today and airs Mondays at 10 p.m. (est) on ABC

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  • Ace

    I have yet to see The Mentalist, but Lie to Me is insufferable (just like its main character). While Hugh Laurie has a certain cranky charm, Tim Roth does not… I usually give a show 3 episodes before I decide to keep watching or not. I was done with that one after one and a half.

    I’m sad that you didn’t enjoy Castle. I really like Nathan Fillion and was hoping this would be good for him. I’ll still give it a shot though.

  • Hil

    I am completely over the crotchety lead male character on American TV. Lie to Me was particularly bad because all you have is that kind of character surrounded by people who are only there to be recipients of his crankiness and periodically info dump on command. Not to mention the legal shakiness of the setup to begin with.

    You can watch the first 13 or so minutes of Castle on the official site. It seemed like it was pretty harmless, but for many people it might be too harmless and light. Nathan did a good job as usual, but I didn’t care much for the supporting cast and the case seemed to be run of the mill. I’ll watch the whole thing tonight and it might surprise me. It could take off like Bones did, but we might be at the saturation point already.

  • Josh C.

    I’m not super looking forward to Castle. It had an interesting enough premise with murders being stolen from his books but it just keeps getting worse the more I read about it.

    I think the pilot I’m most looking forward to is Harpers Island on CBS. The commercials for it just seem really engrossing.

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  • allie

    I adore The Mentalist, mainly because I love seeing Patrick rub people the wrong way. I find it thoroughly amusing.

    I also enjoy Lie to Me. Yes some aspects are annoying such as its predictability (I’ve guessed the outcome within the first 10 minutes of EVERY episode) and the lady being unaware that her husband is cheating (although, in many ways it makes sense – I find I can always see what is going on in other people’s relationships but am often blind to what is happening in my own – perhaps it is unconscious selective blindness or I’m just too close to be objective?), but nevertheless I find myself looking forward to the show each week.

    I haven’t even heard of The Castle so I can’t comment.

  • Brian

    Calling The Mentalist the only true hit of the season is a bit harsh… both Lie to Me and Fringe perform better among adults 18-49 (the only demo that truly matters–the number of total viewers that the press often reports is simply for “bragging rights”). Plus, I think we could agree that critical reception to Fringe and Lie to Me is at least as good as for The Mentalist.

  • Mel

    I really like The Mentalist. My daughter loves the whole ‘play along’ aspect of Lie to Me. And tonmight Hubby and I quite enjoyed Castle.
    Huh — I’m not usually this easy to please. Must be the recession!

  • Martha Flynn

    I am totally on The Mentalist bandwagon – my hubby and I actually consider it bonding time to watch this show!

  • Carl

    “Calling The Mentalist the only true hit of the season is a bit harsh… both Lie to Me and Fringe perform better among adults 18-49″

    They also run right after American Idol. Mentalist runs after NCIS, not exactly a haven for youth. In spite of endless hype about how hip and cool these shows were supposed to be, and derision from some of those who work on Lie to Me about how the Mentalist was a “lie”, LtM is losing more and more viewers in spite of the cushy treatment.

    If LtM was a hit in the only way that mattered, it wouldn’t have to cling to Idol.

  • DB

    Love “The Mentalist”, the charming lead and lovable characters are the reason (it’s the only CBS drama I watch.) Hate “Lie to Me”, cannot stand the condescending lead. jury’s still out on “Castle”

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  • Kate

    Lie To Me is probably one of the best shows I’ve seen in awhile. The cast is great, the characters are all interesting, and the storyline is cool. I don’t think that Lie To Me gets good ratings only because it is on after American Idol (or, it used to be. now it’s before Idol). I enjoy the show a lot and it is definitely one of my new favorites.

    Castle is also interesting. I don’t like murder/mystery shows at all, I think they are annoying and repetitive. But Castle is a new twist on the same old thing. There’s only been one episode so far, but I think it has some serious potential.

    As for The Mentalist, it’s also a very good show. I don’t know what’s been going on lately but there’s been tons of awesome new shows and I love it.

    Lie To Me, Castle, and The Mentalist are all awesome. :D

  • Oli

    To me in these crime-entertainment times LIE TO ME is the only one. After CSI, NCIS, MONK and others I was hoping that something would evolve. I understand that MENTALIST and CASTLE will get better ratings, they are well made and easier to handle, not bad but, mainly because of the storylines, not satisfying enough (comparing to the best crime shows like HILL STREET and THE WIRE). All three have their place, but only LTM has the potential to be more.

  • JustSaying

    I must agree with the 1st poster…I can’t stand the lead character. Unlike the cranky, cantankerous and condescending character House, this Lightman person has no redeeming characteristics. And his supporting cast is also not so appealing. But I love the premise, which is the only the only thing that keeps me watching…but may not work for much longer.

  • Pronetas

    Mentalist is the best of those two tv shows i watched three first series of it and i just could not stop .The act team is very good chosen you dont get tired if it. Lie to me is second for me i loved it to , didnt get chance to see Castle but its on its way