Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
September 28, 2008
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
The Mentalist, Popcorn, Avocado Oil Chips
I wondered what Smallville would be like without Michael Rosenbaum as Lex
If the season opener is any sign, the answer is: sloppily written and way less
I think where it's slipping for me is that I'm not a fan of other DC Comics
characters, so I find it tedious when Aquaman and others who have never
really been made into characters in the show itself keep taking screen time
away from the characters I do care about.
But there's enough Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack)
to make up for the time wasted on the Justice League, and Oliver Queen/Green
Arrow (Justin Hartley) is a decent enough character.
Still, you don't realize how much the intensity of Rosenbaum's performance
drove this show until it's gone. I'm not giving up on it, though.
The new show of this season that my wife and I are actually enjoying and
looking forward to watching regularly is The Mentalist.
By its premise, this is the opposite of another favorite of ours, Medium. Where
Patricia Arquette's series is about a real medium, The Mentalist's main
character is a guy who used to be a professional mind-reader and psychic, but
gave it up and came clean: All psychics, he says in the pilot episode, are either
fakes or deluded.
Well, that's my personal belief as well. When we watch Medium, we're watching
it as a fantasy story -- here is how it might be if psychics were actually real.
The fact that it's based on a "real" psychic does not impress me at all. The
show is great because of excellent writing and first-rate acting.
The Mentalist is making a bid for the same claim. Simon Baker, who plays the
title character, Patrick Jane, has a soulful intensity that allows him to carry off
the show's main shtick: Patrick Jane is so keenly observant, so quick-witted,
and so utterly convincing to other people that he seems to know things that
other people could not know.
Of course, Patrick Jane also doesn't believe in things I do believe in -- like God
and an afterlife -- but if I can pretend long enough to enjoy Medium, I can do
the same for The Mentalist.
The first episode did the job of a series pilot: In the first five minutes, it
completely gave us the premise of how he works with the police as he exposes
the real killer of a young girl, saving an obvious but innocent suspect. It also
gives us the deep, ongoing story -- the search for a hideous serial killer -- that
promises -- and threatens -- to be the overall story arc from episode to
The writing is good and the character's cleverness actually is rather clever.
Mostly, though, Simon Baker's acting is what's driving the show.
The cops surrounding him are already tedious and uninteresting; they have the
stock conflicts without ever becoming people. But maybe in later episodes,
Teresa Lisbon (played by Robin Tunney, whom we liked in Prison Break) will
become an interesting character.
The danger here is the Sylar effect -- the writers will become overly dependent
on a despicable enemy character and keep him around way too long.
I know I just talked about how Smallville is weakened by losing Michael
Rosenbaum's Lex Luthor after seven seasons, but Lex was a charming,
complicated character whose company we enjoyed. This serial killer, "Red
John," like Sylar (Zachary Quinto) of Heroes and T-bag (Robert Knepper) from
Prison Break, is a monster who is extremely uncomfortable to think about.
Though we haven't met him yet, I believe we'll find him unbearable after just a
The writers of The Mentalist need to take a page from Medium's book and make
it a rule never to let any opponent or villain go on too long.
This show will work much better if they take Columbo as a model than Heroes.
Keep bringing us new opponents, and focus on the relationship between Simon
Baker and an array of superb bad guys, with clever writing and plotting along
In any event, we're optimistic and TiVo is guarding episodes of The Mentalist for
us every week.
Usually the only popcorn that I like is fresh-popped. Which means most
movie-theater stuff, which comes in huge plastic bags and is only heated up at
point of sale, is not on that list, though I've been known to eat it, as long as
they don't put any of their miserable slime (a.k.a. "butter") on it.
As for the stuff they sell in grocery stores, I can't tell whether they sell it for
food or packaging if you're too cheap for styrofoam or plastic bubbles. Maybe
it's for packaging items sent to starving people.
But I couldn't ignore the name of Lesser Evil popcorn. That's how I ended up
with a bag of "All Natural Classic Kettle" flavored "Kettle Corn."
(Weirdly, this means that if you read the name all in a row, it includes the word
"kettle" twice. "All Natural Classic Kettle Kettle Corn." Don't they have an
(Not that that would make any difference. The quality of copy-editing in
America has reached such a nadir that even books that definitely had an editor
don't seem to have had one after all.)
The package touts how inoffensive it is -- no trans-fatty acids, low fat -- but for
me, it's the best candied popcorn I've ever had.
It's not gloppy with caramel, just lightly glazed, and there's still some saltiness
to it. It's compulsively edible. Please go and buy a lot of it, so they'll keep
stocking it, so I can keep my new Lesser Evil popcorn habit going.
Terra Chips have been a reliable brand since they first showed up with their
original "exotic vegetable" chips. My favorite product was their "shoestring"
chips, though I also loved their sweet potato chips (not the spicy version).
When they also added excellent potato chips -- red bliss, yukon gold -- I
enjoyed those, too, so I was quite optimistic when a new line of "kettle chips"
(not to be confused with the Lesser Evil Kettle Kettle Kettle Corn mentioned
above) appeared on the shelves at Fresh Market.
There were two "chef-inspired" flavors: Arrabiatta and General Tso. I was
disappointed that neither one of these flavors lives up to the billing -- General
Tso's chicken is a favorite of mine at Chinese restaurants, and Arrabiatta
promised excellent Italian spices. Instead, both were -- to me at least --
But that doesn't mean you won't like them. Meanwhile, I'll stick to my old
favorites in the Terra Chip line.
Maybe the new Terra flavors suffered partly because I had eaten a whole bag of
Good Health Natural Foods's Avocado Oil/Chilean Lime potato chips.
I've tried lime-flavored chips before, but in standard taste-test fashion, the
flavor was so intense that after a couple of them it stopped being a pleasure to
This time, though, the lime flavoring is much more subtle, and while I can't
taste actual avocado, I do know that the overall flavor and mouth-feel of these
"kettle chips" (once again, not to be confused with ...) is superb. It never
palled, as witness the empty bag that I was holding when my wife looked at me
with hurt astonishment.
"Didn't I get to try just one?"
"The bag was here for three days," I pointed out, trying to fake a sympathy I did
not feel. "And I would have passed you the bag if you had asked."
"I didn't know it was an emergency."
"Be fair," I said. "Do I look like the kind of man who leaves chips in the bottom
of the bag? What did you expect?"
I'm not sure; she might have been muttering a mantra like "yes I do love him,
yes I do love him." In any event, the Good Health Natural Foods people also
make Sea Salt Bistro Chips and Olive Oil Chips that I've quite enjoyed. You
can find them locally or buy from them online at