The Mentalist: a skeptical drama on TV!

The Mentalist: a skeptical drama on TV!

The Mentalist: a skeptical drama on TV!

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Sept. 23 2008 8:30 AM

The Mentalist: a skeptical drama on TV!

Simon Baker, starring in The Mentalist
Simon Baker, gone mental

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

I know, hard to believe (HAHAHAhahahaha!), isn't it? But a new show premiers tonight on CBS, and it looks to be pretty skeptical in its view. Actively so, in fact!

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Simon Baker will star as The Mentalist, a man who uses his keen abilities of observation to solve crimes. He can pick up small clues and then synthesize them, allowing him to see the big picture in a case. It's a bit like "House", but for a detective and not a doctor. The CBS website has clips and background info on the show, and there is also a clip on YouTube, but for some reason -- CBS, this is the 21st Century, hello! -- they have disallowed embedding.

This is a trick used by a great many stage performers. My friend Banachek is the best in the world at this -- seriously -- and his abilities are truly astonishing. He can tell you what word you're thinking of, give you the date on a coin in your pocket, and do all manners of incredible stunts that would make you swear he's psychic. And he'll be the first to tell you he isn't.

It looks like The Mentalist will be all about this. The main character, Patrick Jane, once made a ton of money pretending to be a psychic, but has since reformed. Given the preview clips, I have a lot of hope that this show will mainstream the idea that the so-called psychics you seen TV are either self-deluded or frauds. It's amazing to me to see these performers fish for information, doing a very sloppy job trying to fool the public -- yet succeeding so well that they make millions of dollars. It's very aggravating to see people allowing themselves be fooled so utterly.

Maybe when they see Jane's character bluntly destroying such folly, they'll absorb the idea that reality is a lot cooler and more fun than what the snake-oil sellers would have you believe. I know Mrs. BA and I will be watching (though in her case, I suspect the fact that Simon Baker is significantly dreamy has something to do with that). The show looks like it'll be pretty good, and I'm looking forward to it.