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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 Luthor.

If the season opener is any sign, the answer is: sloppily written and way less intense.

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 episode.

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 few episodes.

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 the way.

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 editor?

(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 -- vaguely unpleasant.

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 eat them.

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 http://goodhealthnaturalproducts.com.


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