It’s not surprising that Mental has often been compared to House. Like House, the head of the department employs unorthodox methods, is managed by a director who works to manage (read: damage control) him, and has a team that does not quite see eye to eye with him but usually discover that he is right in the long run. There are differences of course. Where House’s desire to heal people arises from his need to solve puzzles, Jack’s comes from a true desire to help people, specifically, his sister. While House is distant, Jack is almost too close. And where the Cuddy-House relationship is just beginning, the Jack-Nora is over before we even meet the pair. And while House is trying to find the disorder, Jack is more often simply trying to reach the patient to help cure them rather than to discover what’s wrong with them in the first place.
Where Mental fails however, is where House succeeds. From the very beginning of House, the various cast members are distinct and memorable. Each member of his team has a distinct story and personality that play a role in the show. Mental, on the other hand, seems to ignore the vast majority of the other doctors in favor of Jack with the occasional foray into the other’s lives (specifically, Veronica’s extra-marital relations and Carl’s power struggle with Jack). But where on House the power struggle between Foreman and House is one you enjoy to watch because each is right in their own way, Carl’s fight for power comes off as pompous arrogance and you have no desire to see him vindicated or at least considered. While you care about Cameron’s relationships, Veronica’s affair is rather unspectacular because we don’t really see what it says about her (we already know that her real husband’s kind of a loser, so whatever). We root for the Cuddy-House coupling and we don’t really care that Nora and Jack were once together because they barely have any chemistry now. This lack of character dynamic is, in my opinion, where the show has it’s greatest loss.
Other aspects of the show are problematic as well. The problem is, where in general medicine if you find out what’s wrong with the patient you can cure them, in psychiatry/psychology things are not so simple. A couple examinations and meetings with a doctor cannot simply cure a patient. Most cases take years of therapy and medication and have to be monitored even once treatment is successful. And therein lies the problem. In Mental, nearly every episode employs the 72 hour holding period during which time someone wants the patient out (whether that’s the patient, a parent, etc) and Jack insists that he can help them. And sure enough, within the 72 hours, he’s reached the patient, basically cured them, and they are ready to be released.
The other thing is the main characters. Hugh Laurie as House does a phenomenal job playing a deeply complex character who we spend the show trying to figure out. Chris Vance’s Jack is not nearly so interesting. The entire “complexity” of his nature is that his sister is schizophrenic and missing and he has rearranged his life in an attempt to find her. Oh, and he doesn’t like his stepdad because he thinks the man handled his sister’s illness poorly. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t enough.
Mental does manage some interesting cases, a woman who believes (and looks like) she’s pregnant, a kid trapped in a video game, a supposed werewolf, a man who believes he shouldn’t have his hand, etc. But what the cases lack is the deeper connection to the doctors. In House (as in shows like Grey’s Anatomy as well) there is always some connection between the doctors and their cases. The things they are treating always shed light on some problem and often offer a solution (however temporary) to their inner dilemma.
Whether this show will be renewed or not has yet to be determined. I have not heard much of anything about the show–whether it’s done well, what critics think, etc. But while I enjoyed it in so far as it was something to watch when there was nothing else on, it certainly isn’t something I will mourn the loss of if it isn’t renewed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t.