‘Mental’ note: Tune in to new medical drama tonight

Posted May 25, 2009, at 4:50 p.m.

And so the parade begins.

Every summer, while cable is showing off many of its best and brightest, the networks burn off shows that didn’t survive, trot out series that never made it on air to start with and of course inflict more reality and game shows on the viewing public. In other words, it’s time for the already-paid-for and the cheap. If the ratings numbers fall off, no biggie.

That’s not to say all network offerings this time of year are worthless. “Mental,” debuting at 9 tonight on Fox, is a diverting little gem.

As the title suggests, “Mental” takes place in the mental-health ward of a Los Angeles hospital. At the heart of the series is the hospital’s unorthodox new director of mental health services, Dr. Jack Gallagher (played by Chris Vance).

Hospital administrator Nora Skoff (Annabella Sciorra) hires Jack, her former lover, to shake things up. This he does well, forcing the staid staff to look at their patients in a new way.

Jack is a believer in digging into what caused the patient’s condition, rather than just treating the symptoms.

This often doesn’t sit well with his colleagues, including dedicated psychiatrist Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones (Jacqueline McKenzie), who feels she should have gotten Jack’s job; Dr. Carl Belle (Derek Webster), a political schemer and a friend to the pharmaceutical industry; cocky first-year resident Dr. Arturo Suarez (Nicholas Gonzalez), who actually likes the chaos Jack breeds: and resident Dr. Chloe Artis (Marisa Ramirez), who feels her position is beneath her. They all have lessons to learn from Jack, if he manages to keep from getting fired in the meantime.

“Mental” is also about the staff’s secrets, starting with Jack, who is trying to track down his mentally ill sister, who is living on the street.

“Mental” is another medical series about a team with a charismatic leader attempting to heal people. It’s nothing earth-shattering. But in the summertime it beats watching “Hitched or Ditched” on a slow Tuesday night.

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