10 Reasons You Should Watch Blindspot

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by Johanna Rigby

While I swore I never wanted to write about TV again, or at least for a very long time, the Fall Season has come around with its grab-bag full of new shows. While most will be crap, I’m actually seeing a few that I think will be worth watching, so I may relent and share those with you when I find them. Blindspot is one such show.

I also feel the need to do this because most other people who write about TV seem to do so with an eye toward ratings and the entertainment industry, which is just not my thing. I don’t watch TV just to watch TV. I need something more from it (otherwise I’d be spending my time reading), and that’s why Gatewood runs these pieces. I believe that despite its most prevalent use as entertaining pap for the mindless masses, TV – like film – is capable of being artistic and thought-provoking.

The fact that networks will only give us high-quality shows if ratings are at a level they consider high enough shouldn’t make us despair; those levels vary greatly from one network to another, and networks’ requirements for “success” are arbitrary and capriciously subject to change. However, one thing remains constant: if no one watches it, they’ll replace it with something else. This is why I feel the need to let you know when something of quality turns up on my TV-radar.

Now, back to why you should watch Blindspot. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the show, here’s the concept: a naked woman with amnesia is found in Times Square with her body covered in intricate tattoos. (If the phrase “naked amnesiac tattooed woman” isn’t sufficient to pique your attention, let me add “incredibly hot” to that.) The most prominent tattoo on her back is the name of an FBI agent, which, of course, gets the ball rolling, as they begin to analyze her tattoos and Jane Doe begins to rediscover her identity. So we’re talking about complex psychological issues plus enough standard crime-show procedural drama to allow the less discerning audience to feel comfortable.

“But I’ve got crosswords to do, dogs to walk, New Yorkers to read!” I hear you saying. “Why should I take an hour of my evening to watch a woman with amnesia tag along while dour FBI agents crash around chasing bad guys?”

I’m glad you asked. Here’s why:

1. Contrary to what many TV reviewers seemed to feel, Jane Doe does not come across as flat or without personality. That would certainly be a possibility with a lesser actress, but Jaimie Alexander does a fantastic job with bringing a fascinating character to life. Think Trinity from The Matrix trilogy meets Charly Baltimore from The Long Kiss Goodnight.

2. Amnesia is fascinating to those of us who don’t have it. We tend to romanticize it somewhat: a chance to start over, a new beginning, etc. But for anyone who looks at things from a neurological or psychological perspective, this is like catnip to kittens.

3. We need to let the networks know when they’ve done something worthy of our appreciation. NBC gave us The Blacklist, and that went well enough for them to take a chance on something like Blindspot rather than more of the same old mind-numbing lackluster crap. The best way to encourage them to give us more quality programming is by watching the good stuff so it gets the highest possible ratings. (Remember what happened with poor Kyle Killen’s excellent Awake when people thought it was too complicated for their little brains to enjoy?)

4. Some of you may enjoy Sullivan Stapleton as the aforementioned dour FBI agent. I found his character flat, but possibly that’s just an artistic pilot-episode choice in order to give room for us to get to know Jane Doe first. I’m willing to cut some slack on this because character development in pilot episodes is extremely difficult. It really is hard to do much more than scratch the surface in the first episode of a show. (For a classic example, look back at the first episode of Big Bang Theory and compare Season 1 Leonard to the Leonard of any recent episode.)

5. The procedural framework is balanced well against the amnesia/tattoo-map concept. These are two intertwining threads, each story moving the other forward. Neither takes over the show.

6. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is always a treat to watch, and her character here is no exception. She’s capable of showing highly complex situations with minimal screen time, and does so beautifully in the pilot. I certainly hope we see more of her during the series. I also hope the writers will allow her to continue to be more than a stock character of harried-supervisor-trying-to-rein-in-her-loose-cannon-agent.

7. The doctor actually sounds like a real human-being doctor. It would be easy to make up credible-sounding-but-inherently-flawed theories for him to expound upon, just to further the plot. And there may be some fast-and-loose “facts” created for him to utilize in his explanations, but it comes across as reasonable, plausible, and not unlike things your own doctor might say if insurance company constraints weren’t a factor.

8. The supporting cast is unobtrusive and mostly believable. Again, character development in a pilot episode is difficult – supporting characters especially so. There may not be much more to them than we already have, and that’s OK. I do think their resident tech geek is questionable, but that may because she just doesn’t seem quirky enough (yet) to be a tech geek. Again, these are supporting characters. It’s not a big deal if they never develop much more than this, provided the main characters can continue to pull off the story as brilliantly as they are so far.

9. We need to give the networks a reason to show us something besides “reality” programming. You’re probably not reading Gatewood if you watch a lot of “reality” TV, but if you’ve somehow stumbled here and truly believe that what you’re seeing on those shows is real, then I need to fix you up with my Nigerian half-brother who’s a professional wrestler.

10. Somewhat related to #3 and #9, when a network steps out of their comfort zone and goes against their typical programming to give us something amazing (I’m looking at you, USA Network, with that fantastic gem of a show Mr. Robot), we need to do whatever we can to support it if we want to keep it. Watch it, tell your friends, tweet it, announce to anyone who’ll listen that you’ve found something worth watching that has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss, singing lessons, or people making big fools of themselves just to be famous for being famous.

So there you have it. I’m definitely watching the next episode. If you missed the pilot, you can catch it on the NBC website here, where you can also read more about the show, characters, cast, etc. Blindspot airs on NBC, Mondays at 10:00 p.m.

 

 

 

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Sunday Night Fantasy Time with Galavant and The Librarians

by Johanna Rigby

Apparently the Powers That Be in Televisionland have been visited by the Fantasy Fairies, as we’ve been sent not one but two more fantasy-based shows for the back half of the current TV season: Galavant and The Librarians.

The Librarians spins off from the movies featuring Noah Wylie, and he’s appeared in several of the episodes as well. It’s a fun show, and if you’re looking to kill an hour, it beats washing your car in sub-freezing temperatures. Do I sound less than enthusiastic? Well…

Here’s the thing. When I watch The Librarians, I can’t help noticing how much it reminds me of Warehouse 13 with its principles of having guardians of magic or magical artifacts in order to keep it from running amok in the world in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s hard not to compare the two shows, and I really liked Warehouse 13.

It also reminds me of how good King & Maxwell was. This was the TNT show based on the David Baldacci novels; Rebecca Romijn co-starred in it and did much to insure that we didn’t think of her as just another pretty face. Jon Tenney co-starred, as did Ryan Hurst as a quirky office manager with Asperger’s syndrome, and it was good TV. Unfortunately, it got the axe after only one brief season.

Christian Kane is also in The Librarians, and his role isn’t terribly different from the one he played on Leverage (another bygone TNT show), though his character’s a bit more aesthetically-educated in The Librarians. John Larroquette and Matt Frewer are note-perfect in their roles, as always, but I keep recalling Night Court and Boston Legal and Eureka and on and on, thinking fondly of what good shows those were.

I realize that The Librarians seems to be a favorite of critics and audiences (and I certainly don’t dislike it; I’ve seen every episode so far) but I always get the sense of having a hash of leftovers from other, better shows.

Galavant also gives me that sense of having seen much of this before, and frankly, I’m getting pretty sick of that song. It’s a great lark, satirizing the epic quest movie, but it feels dumbed down. There are some hilarious moments, and if it were on another night, I’d probably make more of an effort to like it. But all the musicality and the broad laughs compressed into thirty minutes’ time just make it more or less forgettable, and later in the week when I have time to catch up with it, I’ve generally lost interest. It just hasn’t made that much of an impression on me.

The Librarians wraps up tonight with a double-episode finale at 8:00-10:00 p.m. EST on TNT. Galavant also has a double episode at 8:00-9:00 p.m. EST on ABC.

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Undercover Boss: Big Bust

by Johanna Rigby

I don’t watch “reality” shows. I see no point; if we want reality, we can just turn off the TV. But that accepts the premise of reality shows being, well, real – and too many people on too many of these shows have later ‘fessed up. They’re not all scripted; as with other abstract concepts such as “truth,” there are varying degrees. Selective editing, prompts, complete scripts – there’s a whole range of possibilities for how your favorite reality show gets from concept to what you see on your screen. And there’s the occasional show that still takes the idea of “reality” completely seriously. I don’t, however, believe that Undercover Boss falls into that latter category.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “didn’t you just tell us that you don’t watch reality shows?” You are correct, and generally speaking, I avoid them as I would a public restroom in a strip club. However, you may also remember my complaints a few weeks ago about CBS’s Sunday football delaying the schedule of prime time shows. Undercover Boss, for the past few weeks, has been the show scheduled before The Mentalist; therefore, I’ve seen much more than I’d care to while waiting for the quality programming to begin.

Which brings me to last week’s show, the now-infamous Bikinis episode.

Bikinis is a restaurant chain apparently similar to Hooters; I’d never heard of it before this show. They actually bill themselves as a “breastaurant.” Following their feature on the show, people got up in arms over the boss of Bikinis firing one employee who chose not to wear a bikini top on the day of filming, and rewarding another employee with the promise of breast augmentation. Furthermore, a male kitchen boss was awarded a 30% pay raise while a female manager only received 8%.

As so often happens, important points are being overlooked in all the fuss. (Yes, I said “points” in a story about bikinis.)

Point #1: The employee who was let go wasn’t fired JUST because she declined to wear the bikini top; she’d also made it very clear that this job wasn’t a priority for her and that she was seeking work more suited to her. While no one can blame her for having aspirations and good taste, it’s difficult to work with employees who aren’t enthusiastic about their job. This is true no matter where you’re working.

Point #2: The young lady who was given the offer of breast augmentation WAS enthusiastic about her job. She said early on in the show that she’d like to have larger breasts (I may be paraphrasing – she may have said bigger boobs – but either way, it was clear what she wanted). AND during the reveal/rewards part of the show, she asked, “Am I getting a free pair of boobies today?” before the boss could even get the words out of his mouth. She’d had an off-again-on-again employment record with the company, so the boss made her promised augmentation conditional upon her doing well with the company for six months. Also, I think it’s important to note that BEFORE the conversation went into free-boobyland, she was given a paid role in new promo & marketing efforts for the company; it’s not as though C-cups were her only compensation for being enthusiastic. While some people might insist she should recognize her other assets and not feel the need for larger breasts, that’s a personal matter that really goes beyond the scope of the show. She shouldn’t be castigated for enjoying showing off her body and wanting to make adjustments. Also: when we say that women have the right to choose what happens with their bodies, that shouldn’t be limited to abortion. We don’t make snide remarks if a woman has breast-reduction surgery to relieve chronic back pain; this shouldn’t be any different.

Point #3: We don’t know how much the manager or the kitchen supervisor made before their raises were awarded. Giving one a 30% raise and the other an 8% raise tells us nothing about actual income figures. Aside from that, we don’t know precisely what kind of work or hours are involved in either role. These numbers are essentially meaningless to the audience, and I suspect they were described in this way (rather than in dollar amounts) purely to create controversy among audience members.

And this brings me back to: this is a “reality” show. It seems highly likely to me that this one is, if not completely scripted, at the very least much-edited and manipulated. How else do we explain why, week after week, no one asks the dopey new “trainee” who hired him and why he’s wearing that pathetic “disguise” and why he’s more interested in everyone’s personal lives than in learning the job? Not to mention the cameras. While some of the show might conceivably be filmed via hidden camera, certainly the whole show isn’t. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked in service jobs and retail environments, and I can tell you that if a camera crew showed up, everyone in the place from customers to staff would want to know what was happening. Absolutely no one would buy some flimsy excuse about workplace documentaries or whatever they’re supposedly telling these people.

That being the case, the only reason for any sort of uproar over this latest tasteless episode is this: that’s exactly what the producers meant to happen. Controversy gets people to watch. More viewers mean more ad revenue. More revenue means more of these shows that are an insult to anyone’s intelligence. If you enjoy watching this sort of thing for entertainment, fine; but if you’re going to get your bikinis in a wad, do it over something that’s real.

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10 Big TV Moments of 2014

by Johanna Rigby

2014 has brought us some great TV moments as well as some truly sad ones. We’ve seen some grand entrances, bade goodbye to some treasured favorites, and enjoyed some classic scenes from great characters. These may not make everyone’s list of the biggest or most important events, but it’s my list. In no particular order…

We welcomed Madam Secretary and managed to get into a war with the nicest people on earth…
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WGN took us back in time to the Manhattan Project…
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Sean Bean returned to TV, shot up the place, and didn’t die…
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Lady Mary Crawley rolled up her sleeves and got down & dirty to save her pigs…
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Ichabod Crane took time to give us fashion advice while trying to avert the apocalypse…
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Alicia Florrick handed out tips for success in politics…
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Annalise Keating asked a very important question that should make everyone think twice before sexting…
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Stephen Colbert agreed to take over after Letterman’s long-overdue departure…
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Craig Ferguson and friends said goodbye…
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and the endless wonder was snagged, bagged & tagged for the last time as we said goodbye to Warehouse 13.
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Keating & McCord Show Us How It’s Done

by Johanna Rigby

This season has brought us two fantastic new shows featuring charismatic female leading characters: Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder and Elizabeth McCord in Madam Secretary. Both shows are currently on holiday hiatus but will return in January and are good bets to be picked up for next season.

Madam SecretaryMadam Secretary is in the unfortunate position of being scheduled directly after Sunday football, and CBS makes little effort to keep non-football fans in the loop as to actual starting time. The network is doing its Sunday night shows a disservice by positioning them in this spot, in my opinion; if they’re going to have football all day, they may as well have it all evening too and stop kinking up the viewing schedule. Although Madam Secretary and The Good Wife have done well enough in ratings, I can’t help but think how much better they’d do following each other on a night that would give them a definite starting time – not hour-past-football o’clock.

With that said, let’s get into the show itself. Téa Leoni plays Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA analyst tapped to be Secretary of State after her predecessor dies in a plane crash. This sets up a long-running arc of intrigue and conspiracy as she becomes increasingly suspicious of his death and manages a stealthy investigation behind the scenes while conducting the usual affairs of the State Department. It would be easy for the show to lapse into political minutiae and be dull, but there’s enough balance between work and home life to shift the focus and keep this from happening – and Leoni gives a compelling performance in her role. Although it’s not Aaron Sorkin’s White House, the pace is suitable for allowing viewers to keep up with the intricacies involved in matters of State.

The casting is superb, with Tim Daly filling the role of husband Henry McCord, and Katherine Herzer, Evan Roe and Wallis Currie-Wood portraying believable children who aren’t too precious or too obnoxious. At work, Bebe Neuwirth as Nadine Tolliver heads up a staff of talented young actors including Erich Bergen, Geoffrey Arend and Patina Miller. The Secretary’s staff is where the writing sometimes doesn’t quite hit the mark; writer Matt sometimes doesn’t seem competent enough for the position he’s in, and although his character has grown on me, I feel we see a little more than we’d like regarding his relationship with fellow staffer Daisy. As Nadine remarks in one episode, “No one cares.”

Overall, however, Madam Secretary is a very welcome departure from a TV schedule full of procedurals and reality programming. Elizabeth McCord knows how to get things done and kick some serious bureaucratic ass.

How to Get Away with MurderHow to Get Away with Murder is also something of a departure, and, like Madam Secretary, it walks a fine line between work life and home life as well as having a young supporting cast. Billed and previewed as what appeared to be a classroom-centered show, the title drew viewers in, and within minutes the first episode had veered away from academic legal drama and into suspense thriller territory.

At the beginning of the series, Professor Keating chooses a handful of the best students from her class to come and work with her law firm (while still fulfilling their academic requirements). Theoretical and literal boundaries become blurred, since the firm is located at the Keating house that Annalise shares with husband Tom. Personal space gets progressively more fuzzy as questionable relationships develop between various characters, and this is echoed in the plot structure itself. The story jumps back and forth regularly in time as we follow the investigation of a young college woman’s murder while also watching as Keating’s chosen few try to keep their cool and dispose of a body. Interspersed within these plots are briefer defense cases, lecture-hall parables, and law students struggling to keep up with classes.

Viola Davis as defense attorney/professor Annalise Keating has an irresistible screen presence and is already collecting award nominations. During the first few episodes, this was less apparent; Professor Keating seemed stiff, withdrawn. By the episode of the now-famous wig removal scene, however, it has become clear that the initial contained chill we got from her character was intended to make her transformation all the more powerful. She smolders, explodes at all the right times, and generally owns the screen whenever she’s on it as artfully as any Shakespearean actor in a live stage performance.

If you missed either of these remarkable shows, winter break would be a great time to catch up, and you’ll definitely want to catch up before embarking on the sequential How to Get Away with Murder. Madam Secretary returns to CBS Sunday, January 4, at 8:00pm EST (or an hour past football); How to Get Away with Murder returns to ABC Thursday, January 29, at 10:00pm EST.

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6 for Xmas

By Johanna Rigby

I’m taking this week to do something a little different: talking about completed TV series. By “completed,” I mean series that are 1) no longer on the air as part of a prime-time line-up and 2) complete in the sense of being aware that they were going off the air and, hence, got to finish their show and give viewers closure. In other words, I’m not including series that were canceled and didn’t get to do any sort of wrap-up final episodes.

Now is a great time to do this, I think, because with the holidays upon us, some people are trying to come up with gift ideas. Others are on the lookout for a good series to watch online in order to more comfortably ignore the chaos going on around us. With this in mind, I limited my choices to shows currently available in disc format as well as online streaming services. I didn’t check every service; I’ll leave it to you to check your favorite.

Here, then, are ten shows definitely worth stealing away to your quiet place to watch.

1. The West Wing. 156 episodes. Aaron Sorkin’s masterpiece is well-crafted, intelligent, and consistently brilliant. The cast is incredible, the writing impeccable. Even the politically apathetic person will have difficulty not appreciating this show. Frankly, it ought to be required viewing for high schoolers before they’re allowed to graduate, just for the nuances of government and constitutional law it illuminates. Aside from the educational and artistic merits, I want to live in Jed Bartlett’s United States where the people who govern are strong, idealistic movers and shakers who can get good things done even when compromises have to be made.

2. Six Feet Under. 63 episodes. A show about a family who runs a funeral home sounds a little morbid, no? There’s definitely enough here to satisfy those with a morbid curiosity, but it’s not overpowering enough to frighten the squeamish. The show opens each episode with a death, and follows the thread of meeting with family, making funeral arrangements, restoring the body, funeral, etc. But that’s generally just the counterpoint to the bigger story going on with various family members. It’s a forensics show, a family show, a dark comedy, a surreal piece of postmodern art – whichever aspect appeals to you. Characters regularly see and interact with their dead father or husband, and corpses often sit up in the morgue to chat. The teenage daughter driving the lime green hearse may be the sanest one of all – or maybe not. It’s a fascinating, well-done show, and just like driving by an accident on the highway, you won’t be able to look away even if you do think it’s a little morbid.

3. The X-Files. 202 episodes. UFOs, conspiracies, ghosts, vampires, monsters… oh my! This is the show that opened the door for so many of the paranormal-themed shows we’ve seen over the past few years, for better or worse, but no one since has done it quite like Mulder and Scully. Chris Carter’s classic brought us the fantastic and made it believable in a way that we haven’t really seen since then, achieving it not so much through special effects (though there are enough to make things spectacular) as through understatement and allowing room for imagination to fill in the unseen. Settle in for a long break if you plan to watch this one straight through – or you can skip Seasons 8 & 9 and take a shortcut to the final episode without missing anything of great importance. Things start to get a little silly in Season 7, and Mulder is basically out of the show by Season 8, making only sporadic appearances until his return at the end to wrap things up. It’s not that Scully can’t carry the show alone, it’s just that it sort of veers off in a different direction without the partnership, and we never really adapt to her new partners. With that caveat, Seasons 1-6 are excellent viewing, Season 4 being especially so. You do need to watch them in order; even though there’s usually a “monster of the week” storyline, there’s also a long-term story arc going on (another thing this show introduced to TV, much to the consternation of network execs who feared people wouldn’t be able to keep up).

4. Boston Legal. 101 episodes. James Spader and William Shatner together – what more can I say? The David E. Kelley legal drama is also roll-in-the-floor funny, full of satirical wit. Serious issues are addressed, not so subtly as on The West Wing, but very effectively. Is it coincidence that on one of Alan Shore’s cases, Rev. Al Sharpton makes an appearance to bellow, “Give us a black Orphan Annie!” and now we have one? To balance out the profound, there’s a generous portion of the ridiculous as well – for instance, Betty White using a frying pan to kill a man, Spader in a flamingo costume, and Shatner belting out tunes at the company Christmas party. Casting is great, guest stars are plentiful; you’ll recognize nearly everyone in every episode, though some were new to TV when the show aired (Christian Clemenson as an attorney with Asperger’s, T.J. Thyne as a plaintiff who was injured by his toaster when he poked a fork in it). Well worth watching.

5. Fringe. 100 episodes. This is that rarest of creatures known as good sci-fi on TV, although you don’t have to be a sci-fi aficionado to appreciate it. J.J. Abrams and several of the X-Files personnel brought us this one, and it has all the polish and high production standards you’d expect from that combination. It’s a hybrid of sorts, having a little of the flavor of both The X-Files and Alias but going beyond them into parallel universes and other quirks. The stories might be farfetched in other hands, but there are strong characters played by a great cast, and the writing is superb. Peter Bishop is enough of a skeptic to give voice to our concerns about things like isolation tanks and reading the brainwaves of corpses, but not in such a way that it interferes with the fun. The eccentric Dr. Walter Bishop may be one of my favorite TV characters ever, and it’s a travesty that John Noble never won an Emmy for his performance; he did garner a Critics’ Choice Award and a Saturn Award. The final season is very different in many respects – dystopian and disconcerting – but it does answer many of the recurrent questions and ties everything together reasonably well.

6. Alias. 105 episodes. Primarily a spy action show with an occasional dash of sci-fi and humor, interspersed with down-time moments as Sydney Bristow tries to have a life despite her all-encompassing work as a spy. Jennifer Garner leads an excellent cast including Victor Garber, Ron Rifkin and Bradley Cooper, and the Bristow family may be one of the most lethally dysfunctional you’re likely to meet. The music by Michael Giacchino is perfectly crafted for each episode. Seasons 1 & 2 are strong, fast-paced and adrenaline-filled, and it’s nearly impossible not to binge-watch due to the cliffhangers at the end of each episode. Season 3 showed a distinct departure as Sydney found herself experiencing amnesia and trying to recover memories of her previous two years. I find Season 3 fascinating, though I’m aware that a lot of fans were perplexed and perturbed by its shift; apparently you either love or hate Season 3, but that’s actually when I started watching the show while it was on the air (specifically, during the David Cronenberg episode). ABC tinkered with the format for Season 4, insisting upon standalone episodes, and as a result, the momentum was broken and the last couple of seasons are not as compelling. The show runners were aware that Season 5 would be the last, so there was a return to the serial format and an attempt to tie up loose ends, resulting in something closer to the original but of somewhat lesser quality. Still, definitely worth watching.

That’s it for now. If your favorite was overlooked, it wasn’t an intentional oversight; there are many other high-quality shows that weren’t on the list. I could have written until well past Christmas on the Star Trek canon alone. This was just intended to be some starter suggestions from shows I’m very familiar with and can recommend to get you through the holidays. Happy watching!

From:: Not Now, I’m Watching TV

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What We’ve Learned from The Mentalist

By Johanna Rigby

Since The Mentalist has its Season 7 premiere tonight, I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve learned from the show since Patrick Jane made his first appearance back in 2008. It’s always a treat when we get to see a character written well enough and intelligently enough to color outside the genre lines. Here’s a short list of things we’ve picked up from the inimitable Mr. Jane.

1. The first order of business should always be to make yourself a cup of tea.

2. There’s nothing like a good cup of tea to make people drop their guard and tell you things.

3. People tend to not mind your eccentricities when you’re useful.

4. It’s perfectly fine if people don’t understand you as long as you know what you’re doing.

5. Living at work will exacerbate your obsessive sociopathic tendencies.

6. Just because you’re smarter than everyone doesn’t mean you’re better than everyone; always appreciate your teammates.

7. The quiet one in the room is probably the one who will have your back if you need someone to kick ass on your behalf.

8. If you have a past you’re not proud of, being nonchalant about it is better than wasting energy trying to keep it a secret.

9. Just because you’re enemies with someone doesn’t mean you can’t do good work together.

10. You don’t have to tell everything you know. But sometimes it’s fun to do so.

The seventh and final season of The Mentalist premieres tonight and will continue to air on Sundays on CBS at 9:30 (allowing for possible delays due to football). Farewell, Mr. Jane. It’s been a pleasure.

From:: Not Now, I’m Watching TV

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