The Mentalist vs. Fringe, or What Makes a Good Story Great

So I’ve been following the new shows that are premiering, putting my DVR to good use. And for the most part, things have been pretty easy. As usual, the majority of the debuts are of things that I Have No Use For, and feel comfortable ignoring. For example, I don’t do sitcoms. For me to actually watch a comedy show on television, there’d better be something spectacular about it, and I better be hearing great things from across the board (for two examples of what fits this description, see Arrested Development and Seinfeld, although from what I’ve been hearing, 30 Rock is beginning to tickle my interest). In any case, the television shows I’ll Make Time For are ones that sound interesting–different. I’ve enjoyed Pushing Daisies a lot and am looking forward to the new season starting tonight. Chuck is growing on me, and I love Reaper (and am sad it’s up in the air as to when it will return).

Anyway.

Last night posed an interesting problem. There were three shows on at the same time, and I can only DVR two. So Biggest Loser had to go (I watch it for inspiration–nothing makes you feel thin like watching morbidly obese people weigh themselves). The two shows I taped were The Mentalist and Fringe. This was the second episode of the Mentalist and the fourth of Fringe. Fringe got the big buzz going into the season–JJ Abrams and all that. The Mentalist snuck in under my radar, but I heard good things at the last minute. And after watching three episodes of Fringe and two of The Mentalist, I’d have to say I’m leaning heavily toward The Mentalist.

But why?

Both shows are crime solvers at heart. Fringe is just about gory grotesque crimes that are caused by far out science. The Mentalist is about a man who used to pretend to be psychic, but who now uses his powers of acute observation to help the police. What I mean to say is that either show could be good. And both shows ARE good. But The Mentalist is drawing me in more, and I tried to figure out why. It all comes down to character. The leading characters in Fringe are strange and bizarre and don’t feel like real people. There’s this thing called “The Pattern” that they’re all trying to understand, but some of them know more than others, and the ones who know less refuse to just stop dead in their tracks and say “What the heck is this Pattern thing anyway?” That bugs me. The show’s trying to be all spooky, but it’s doing it by withholding information. Lame. In the Mentalist, however, the main character is smarter than I am. He sees things I miss, but when he points them out to other people in the show, the things he observes and the conclusions he draws from them make sense. But he’s not arrogant about it all–he seems like a nice guy. I like him. I like watching him work. I don’t like the characters in Fringe. I’ll give that show a bit more of a shot, and then I’m gonna go back to watching the morbidly obese people. And when a highly-budgeted sci-fi crime drama can lose my interest in favor of fat sweaty exercise, you know something’s up.

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