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"The Mentalist" and "Blue Bloods" have good characterization

February 18, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
Characterization has a lot to do with why I watch a show or can't be bothered to watch it.

Lately "The Mentalist," once one of my favorite shows, has turned into a "watch if there's nothing better to do" sort of show. I've thought the actors looked a bit bored with their roles this season and the show hasn't moved forward in its key storyline about the hunt for Red John, the serial killer who murdered Patrick Jane's wife and child.

Thursday's episode was pretty much filler as far as plot goes, as phony psychic and con artist turned police consultant Jane and friends investigated a murder related to gold prospecting. It seems that the bad economy and the rising price of gold means more people are hoping to strike it rich. The murder victim was a man who made his family live in a trailer out on his prospecting site while they all panned for gold. The killer was pretty predictable, even if I've already forgotten who he was and why he did it.

What was more entertaining – and a step in the right direction – was the interaction between the characters. This particular episode put Jane in the field with Madeleine Hightower, the department head whose job up until now has been to frown, tell everyone "no" and break up office romances. When Jane's usual partner Lisbon sprains her ankle, Hightower has no choice but to investigate the case herself. She deals with obnoxious Jane's usual antics, which includes misdirection and subterfuge and insulting grieving family members, which he says is as necessary as frisking someone at the airport before a flight. Jane's probing into Hightower's personal life is equally unwelcome, as Jane correctly guesses that Hightower is about to get a divorce and says that office gossip is split on whether she's been cheating on her husband or he's been cheating on her.

Back at the office, Lisbon is stuck with babysitting duty when Hightower's husband dumps the kids at the station and disappears. Fortunately for Hightower, Lisbon practically raised her "three feral brothers" and thinks Hightower's sassy daughter and rambunctious son are sweethearts by comparison. Lisbon soon has the kids doing their homework in her office and listening to stories from junior officers. They even obey her when she forbids them to watch TV.

In the end, Hightower saves Jane's life with a well aimed gunshot at the guy holding Jane captive, which earns her Jane's respect. Hightower hugs a flabbergasted Lisbon and thanks her for taking care of her children. Then Hightower, as tender a mother as she is stern as a boss, hugs her son and daughter and coos at them to "give her some sugar."

It was an episode that provided some welcome character development for Hightower and bonded her to the team. Hopefully the show will not take too long before revisiting the Red John storyline, which really sets "The Mentalist" apart from similar shows on CBS.

"The Mentalist" airs at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Blue Bloods

"Blue Bloods" is a show that started out as one I watched once when there was nothing better to do, but it's evolved into a show that I watch fairly often because of its attention to character development and family interaction.

Tom Selleck plays Frank Reagan, the head of the New York City Police Department. His character is the patriarch of a family of law and order types, including two police officers and a prosecuting attorney. One of Reagan's sons, also a police officer, was killed in the line of duty and that man's death seems to be an ongoing plot point. The Reagan family surname probably isn't a coincidence here, since the show is aiming for Reagan-era patriotism and traditional family values with a modern spin. Reagan was never my favorite president, so I appreciate the mix of views at the big, messy family dinner that seems to be the centerpiece of every episode. This dinner is attended by four generations of these cops, lawyers and their children and grandchildren arguing over cases or politics or job decisions. It's like big family dinners that take place at tables all over the country.

I'm still learning the names of the characters and trying to decipher the various plots surrounding them, but my favorite character thus far is lawyer daughter Erin Reagan (Bridget Moynihan), who seems to be more liberal than her brother or grandfather, though she still wrestles with her ideals and the ugliness of the people she deals with every day. On the personal front, Erin's teenage daughter Nikki has been trying to set her mother up with a fellow lawyer. Nikki arranged a Valentine's Day date for her mom and the lawyer, but later felt funny about it and went to her grandfather Frank to ask his advice. It was nice to see the interaction between grandfather and granddaughter and a realistic depiction of older and younger generations together. In youth-obsessed Hollywood, it's rare to see that on a TV show.

Selleck's Frank Reagan saves his daughter from a man out for revenge in another episode, which is a cliche, but one that works. It was nice to see the episode end with the press asking Frank how his daughter was and Frank replying that his daughter "Assistant District Attorney Erin Reagan" was back at her office because she had work to do. There, in that line, is the mix of family and work that the show does so well.

"Blue Bloods" airs at 9 p.m. Fridays on CBS.


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