'Mental': An Affable Guide, Leading Tours of Dark Interiors

Article excerpt

There is nothing wrong with turning a proven success inside out -- reversible raincoats, "Grendel" and the Eastern Orthodox Church have all shown lasting appeal. Opposites aren't always apposite, however: an Oreo cookie assembled backwards is a little too gooey to handle.

"Mental," a Fox series that begins on Tuesday, is "House" set in a psychiatric ward. Dr. Jack Gallagher (Chris Vance) is the ward's eccentric new director who is, like House, a brash, brilliant physician-detective, except that he solves the mysteries of the brain, not the body. The only difference is that unlike the sarcastic misanthrope played by Hugh Laurie, Gallagher is a handsome, cocky do-gooder with a deep, intuitive empathy for his patients. In short, he is insufferable. Almost everything else from "House" is transposed to the psychiatric wing of a Los Angeles hospital without a hitch -- or much imagination. There is a comely hospital administrator played by Annabella Sciorra, who, like the boss lady played by Lisa Edelstein in "House," has very high standards and very low necklines. There is a stuffy African-American colleague who resents Gallagher's breezy authority, and, inevitably, a posse of talented, ambitious residents who are instructed by their new boss to leave the doctors' lounge and take a gumshoe look into patients' homes and personal lives. In some ways, this iteration works. "House" is based on Sherlock Holmes, but Freud, who was an avid fan of Conan Doyle novels, likened detective work to psychiatry, not internal medicine. Besides, the unconscious is a lot more fun to examine than a PET scan. On "House," the camera keeps cutting away from the story for medical close-ups: microscopic and repulsive images of throbbing blood vessels and slithery aneurysms. "Mental" uses that device to get inside sick people's fantasies and phobias. One particularly effective moment occurs as Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones (Jacqueline McKenzie), a starchy but dedicated shrink who was passed over for Gallagher, looks in on her day clinic. She peers approvingly over the shoulder of a young male outpatient as he studiously reads a computer screen, pen at hand. She sees a calm, treatable patient, but viewers flash on what the man is seeing in his mind's eye: he seizes the pen and drives it straight into his neck, blood spurting all over the place. It's the star of "Mental" who is hard to take. Like Dr. House, Dr. …