TV Review: Misguided ‘Mental’ Misses the Mark
CHICAGO – Hugh Laurie deserves the heaps of praise he gets for his spectacular work on “House”. If you’re wondering what that show would be like without the same believable medical issues, interesting characters or whip-smart dialogue provided by the show’s underrated writers, though, check out the new “Mental”. It’s another series about a rebellious doctor and it pales in comparison.
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
Dr. Jack Gallagher (Chris Vance) is the new unorthodox psychiatrist named Director of Mental Health Services at a Los Angeles hospital. He battles his conservative administrator named Nora Skoff (Annabella Sciorra), a woman with whom he happens to share a romantic past.
MENTAL: Everything changes at Wharton Memorial Psychiatric Hospital when radically unorthodox psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gallagher (Chris Vance, C) arrives as the Director of Mental Health Services. As Gallagher takes on new cases, he is confronted with patients battling unknown, misunderstood and often misdiagnosed conditions in MENTAL premiering Tuesday, May 26 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Pictured L-R: Edwin Hodge, Marisa Ramirez, Nicholas Gonzalez, Chris Vance, Annabella Sciorra, Derek Webster and Jacqueline McKenzie.
Photo credit: ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Andrew Southam/FOX
Solving each week’s medical mystery with Dr. Gallagher will be Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones (Jacqueline McKenzie) and the combative Dr. Carl Belle (Derek Webster) on the administrative level and residents Dr. Arturo Suarez (Nicholas Gonzalez) and Dr. Chloe Artis (Marisa Ramirez) by the doctor’s side.
The new doctor first invites patients to sit in on staff meetings - “It’s really more their hospital than ours” - and then does card tricks. I’m sure it’s not the intention of the writers of “Mental,” but the show pushes the boundaries of the “maverick doctor” to the point that I kind of wanted him fired.
MENTAL: Dr. Jack Gallagher (Chris Vance, L) and Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones (Jacqueline McKenzie, R) discuss their plans for treating a patient in the series premiere of MENTAL airing Tuesday, May 26 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
Photo credit: FOX
Whoever thought it was a good idea to visualize the hallucinations of the patients definitely needs to spend some time in a padded cell. Moments seen through the eyes of the patient include a man who sees lizard eyes on people, another who visualizes stabbing a pen in his jugular, and even the graphic visions of the elderly sex addict. All of them are embarrassing from a dramatic viewpoint and demeaning from a medical one.
The mental health tragedy in this country - most homeless people are mentally handicapped and people are misdiagnosed on a regular basis - seems like an interesting foundation for drama. The problem is that “Mental” reduces everything to a device. All the mentally ill need is a rambunctious new doctor!
As for what works about “Mental,” Chris Vance is certainly not bad. He actually does what he can to rein in the melodrama around him and doesn’t overplay his character’s maverick side, even if the script keeps pressing him to do so. Annabella Sciorra isn’t bad either but she can’t find the cure for the eye-rolling dialogue. (A woman actually says to the doctor coming to her home, “visiting hours are over, doctor” to get him to leave. I couldn’t make that kind of writing up.)
“Mental” is merely more proof that TV has always been and will always be about the writing. The generic “House”-esque structure of “Mental” is problematic enough, but with more interesting characters and believable medical drama, the show might have worked. That was not meant to be.
FOX is burning off “Mental” in the summer months for a reason. It doesn’t have a sweet post-“American Idol” premiere and has barely been promoted. There’s a reason for both of those things. It would be crazy to expect “Mental” to be anything but a memory by the time the fall schedule premieres.