Monday, May 25, 2009

TV critic: FOX's "Mental" just another run-of-the-mill medical show

From TV critic Vince Horiuchi's review in the Salt Lake Tribune. Entertainment Weekly called the show, "cliche-filled and clunkily written."

Like I mentioned in my column last Friday, medical shows will run rampant this fall. In fact, sooner than that.

You would think Fox's new series, "Mental," which debuts May 26 at 8 p.m. on KSTU Channel 13, would take a different, perhaps more careful and sensitive approach to the overused and overwrought television genre -- mainly because it's about mental illness.

Not so with this new wildly implausible, one-hour take on a Los Angeles psychiatric ward. "Mental" is just as unrealistic and haphazard as any other B-grade medical series on the television dial.

Which isn't to say that it's a complete bore. It's not, because of the typically provocative plotlines that serpentine through the hour, which are about as zany as any of the hospital patients.

Dr. Jack Gallagher (played by a very likeable Chris Vance) is the new director of the mental health services wing of a Los Angeles hospital.

Young, hip and unorthodox, Gallagher uses highly unusual methods to reach his patients. Just consider a few examples in the first two episodes:

» To control a naked and dangerous man in the hospital, the good doctor also strips his clothes off to calm him down.

» He organizes a three-legged race with the doctors and their patients so the patients can gain the trust of their psychiatrists. (I think the next step is sharing a milkshake in the same glass).

» He stages a faux delivery to get a wannabe-father to snap out of the delusion that his wife is pregnant.

Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud.

Maybe it's Gallagher who needs to spend quality time at his hospital, if you know what I mean. At least that's what the producers of "Mental" want viewers to believe -- that his prescribed methods are so out-of-the-box, you couldn't possibly imagine they would work.

But work they do. And another problem with "Mental" is they work remarkably well, as in the span of about 45 minutes. Like all dramas, things get resolved happily and tidily in the span of one episode.

What this new spin on the medical series doesn't seem to do well is treat mental illness with any degree of seriousness or sensitivity.

The point-of-view of patients is always displayed as if in a drunken haze with kaleidoscopic swirls, and the complexities of psychiatry seem to boil down to people just acting crazy.

But any person with a loved one with mental illness knows it's not that simple, and finding the core of what's wrong isn't that easy nor can be discovered in just an hour.

A more perceptive look at how the brain ticks can be found in a series such as HBO's much-better "In Treatment." Fox's "Mental," however, is just another TV medical show, but without all the blood and gore.