"Mental" is mental, and not in a good way.
Never mind the turned-around "e" in the title (coy typography that makes it literally impossible to write the name of the show correctly), or that we already have a show called "The Mentalist," or that the pilot opens with the lead character, a newly appointed head of psychiatric services, proving how unconventional he is by stripping in a crowded waiting room in order to communicate with a schizophrenic seeing snake people.
All of these inanities we could live with if the show turned out to have even a small understanding of the difference between edgy and derivative or unorthodox and ridiculous, which, alas, it does not.
Stripper shrink is Dr. Jack Gallagher (Chris Vance), who has been brought by beautiful and sassy hospital administrator Nora Skoff (Annabella Sciorra) from the hinterlands (Vermont) to Los Angeles, presumably to deal with the real crazies. Miffed by her decision, and Gallagher's clear lack of experience, are Drs. Carl Belle (Derek Webster) and Veronica Hayden-Jones (Jacqueline McKenzie), who both thought the job should have been theirs.
Belle is a puffed-up egomaniac, Hayden-Jones troubled but with a good heart; she quickly softens her position on Gallagher because, you know, he is handsome and British. Oh, and there are a couple of interns jockeying for favor and hinting at some possible sexual escapades (though certainly not with each other.)
Gallagher's shtick is that he cares, (for reasons that are quickly revealed as personal), so much that he tries to see things from the patients' point of view, which in turn means we get to see things from the patients' point of view too, including the CG-enhanced snake people. This may turn out to be the best -- or cheesiest -- part of the show, but it is not reason enough to actually watch the show.
If "Mental" sounds a lot like "House" or "The Mentalist" or whatever other foreign-born-actor-playing-a-haunted-man drama you can think of, well, it is. Only nowhere near as good. (Although the producers have allowed Vance to keep his accent, so we are spared those jarring moments when Simon Baker goes all Aussie in his "and on the next episode" bits.)
In the pilot, the main case -- a man who has gone off his meds in the hope of regaining some of his artistic ability -- is so by-the-numbers sentimental, it feels like a public service announcement -- I kept waiting for the 1-800 number at the end. But it is a masterpiece of rationality compared with the second episode, which features an A-plot so ludicrous (and I say this as a fan of both "House" and "Fringe") that I cannot bring myself to even offer a summary. (Hint: the name of the condition is in French.) Meanwhile, it turns out Hayden-Jones is having an affair and the female intern is a lesbian, although neither piece of information is interesting at all.
I spent most of the two hours thinking how much I like Sciorra, who was so great in "The Sopranos" and how I hope she has something else, something better, lined up already. With his Cheshire cat smile and chiseled jaw, Vance, late of "Prison Break," will no doubt land on his feet, but it's harder for women, even with the whole "Damages"/TNT thing going on.
But who knows? "Mental" may become a big fat hit, in which case I wish them all the best of luck.
When: 9 tonight
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)