The CSI franchise does not have it’s hooks in me. You’re more likely to find me watching LOST or my guilty pleasure, Kitchen Nightmares. But, I may just have to dip my toes into the murder investigation pop culture trend now that there are two new CBS crime dramas that seem to be friendly to the skeptic crowd.
Both Eleventh Hour and The Mentalist are based around the crack investigative skills of a gifted specialty detective, both detectives have a nearly useless female sidekick, and both are dripping with over dramatic plotlines and over-eager guest actors. Each of the respective detectives use their natural skills and scientific reasoning to solve the crimes. So all things considered, the two dramas are on an equal playing field.
The Mentalist is, so far, the better of the two programs. Simon Baker plays Patrick Jane, a reformed psychic fraud who uses his natural skills at mesmerizing, human observation, and intuition to solve crimes. As any avid skeptic knows, the skeptical movement is founded on the vision of “The Amazing” Randi, a former magician turned rational skeptic; and if you go further back, the roots of skepticism as a sub-culture can be attributed to Harry Houdini, who repeatedly challenged psychic frauds. Nobody knows better the folly of false belief than those who manipulate the gullible with magic tricks and stunts.
Simon Baker makes mentalism seem a little too easy. His bag of tricks may get old. The writers may run out of fresh ideas and start putting him in supernatural situations. So far, however, his character has stayed real with perhaps a dash of silliness (such as solving a crime by asking the suspects which animal symbolizes them). Robin Tunney plays his sidekick, and she is my favorite of the two useless female sidekicks, mainly because she actually helps with the investigation. I have to admit bias here because I worked with Robin Tunney’s sister at Anne Sather in Chicago, which means absolutely nothing to anybody except to me, but you know how it is.
Eleventh Hour seemed promising at first. The series is based around a science expert investigator named Jacob Hood played by Rufus Sewell. Jacob Hood is more serious than The Mentalist’s Patrick Jane; he spends much of the episode glowering at everyone. He solves the crimes with such confidence and knowledge that he comes across as a cross between Mulder and Macgyver. The only problem with the program, from a skeptic’s view, is that they had the opportunity to scientifically deconstruct homeopathic remedies, and yet they didn’t. Last night’s episode featured an herbalist homeopath using psychotropic frog secretions and foxglove poison in her pills. They could have used science to explain why homeopathy is ineffective and magic, but instead they legitimized a sham alternative medicine.
I can’t complain too much. I would much rather have two crime dramas that feature a reformed mentalist and an expert in science than I would another psychic detective. If you can get past the cheesy premise of each episode, the self-important acting, and the fact that you’re watching another damned crime drama, you might find value in The Mentalist and Eleventh Hour. For now, I’ll be looking forward to future episodes of both with my finger on the remote if they don’t improve.