Future’s looking bright for “The Mentalist”

Posted Sept. 22, 2008, at 5:41 p.m.

Aussie actor Simon Baker has landed a flashy showcase as the title character in the new drama “The Mentalist,” debuting at 9 tonight on CBS.

Baker earned a Golden Globe nomination for playing sympathetic legal children’s advocate Nick Fallin in “The Guardian,” which aired on CBS from 2001 to 2004. His last TV role on CBS’ “Smith” vanished after two weeks.

Now Baker, who has spent more time working in film recently, has a plum opportunity for a TV revival. He plays Patrick Jane, a former fake psychic who now uses his sharp powers of observation as a consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation.

Jane regularly gets on the nerves of his boss, senior agent Teresa Lipton (Robin Tunney, “Prison Break”), but his skills, which help her unit solve high-profile cases, keep her from getting rid of him. The other members of the team, Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and newbie Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti), alternately resent and value Jane’s presence.

As is unveiled in the first episode, Jane has a tragic back story, which took him from his former position as a charlatan to the right side of the law.

Although it uses the same plot device (the quick-witted, sharp-tongued detective) as “Psych,” it’s darker and isn’t the buddy comedy that the USA show is.

“The Mentalist” is one of three new shows in its time slot, of which two should survive. (The other two programs in that slot, the “Dancing with the Stars” results show and “The Biggest Loser: Families,” are, unfortunately, proven reality TV veterans.) With its J.J. Abrams buzz, “Fringe” should come in first among the rookies, but perched between “NCIS” and “Without a Trace,” “The Mentalist” has been given every chance to beat CW’s whimsical “Privileged.”

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