Cultural References in The Mentalist part 2: TV shows


Happy New Year! 🙂 As every year brings some novelty, our amazing Reviewbrain has been kind and patient enough to do me an infinite honor: I’ve become a contributor to her precious blog. I can’t say how grateful I am. And one of the very first entries in my resolution list thus reads: “I shall not disappoint!” 🙂

The comments for the previous post about the Cultural References in TM made me realize I should have included a part about TV shows. So, thanks to the invaluable suggestions and comments from C Hill, Windsparrow and T, here is a preliminary analysis about references from TV shows: again, it is “a work in progress” and is only meant to complete at least a little bit the previous list of references. It’s still sketchy and obviously incomplete, but I hope it would do for a start!

I Jane’s character

1) “Columbo”

• is an inspiration for Jane’s character. T proposed: “ that from Columbo we get create an iconic character 101. Dress a certain special way, drive a special car and iconic phraseology and gesture which PJ certainly possesses. Columbo was also a small guy, endearing and famously rumpled and didn’t carry a gun.”
• Like Jane has been for the most part of the show, Columbo’s a very much married man (he always refers to his wife).
• The trademark structure where every episode starts with giving out the killer’s identity is also Jane’s ideal situation: indeed, it’s difficult to pinpoint every time when Jane knows who the murderer is, but we can guess that he understands it pretty soon most of the time (I’ll call it “method of investigating 1”: he knows beforehand who the killer is and tricks him by distracting him).
• This peculiar structure has been used in ‘Every Rose Has its Thorns’, where Jane tells Lisbon at the very beginning that Erica is the murderer. Indeed, as T pointed out “TM has played with the format of the show from time to time, with Erica Flynn we probably came closest to Columbo in that we knew who was guilty and it was the dogged pursuit and the ego of the villain at play”. The rest of the ep shows how he caught her.

2) “Remington Steele” (unofficial reference): Steele hasn’t been mentioned so far in TM, but there are enough similarities to draw a parallel between both shows.

• First, the humor is common to both: Steele’s character is definitely funny. He’s witty, spontaneous and has a errr… disputable take on legality. Steele’s comicality may become quite visual too, and as T mentioned Chaplin, a master at this kind of humor, inspired directly “the physical humor at which Baker is particularly adept”.
• Like Poirot in books, Steele completes the set of qualities brought by Columbo: Poirot influences the annoying parts of Jane’s personality (in T’s words: “from Poirot we get the fussiness, the ego, clarity of mind and elegance and well lack of physicality”), while Steele might be responsible for the charming conman vibe: Columbo is a professional investigator, whereas Steele is a fraud: he passes himself as a private eye while he’s actually just a professional liar.
• His stylish look coupled with Columbo’s crumpled suits provide the two sides of Jane’s appearance…
• Columbo plays dumb but he’s actually pretty smart; Steele plays the genius, with a bit of arrogance, but he doesn’t know a thing in fact (most of the time, his discoveries are lucky guesses… at the very best…)
• Columbo really investigates, even though he may come up with a scheme to force the killer to confess, while Steele often comes up with improvised crazy schemes first (his associate is the skilled investigator instead). That’s Jane’s “method of investigating 2”: the “I have no idea who the killer is but I’m going to flush them out nonetheless with a cunning scheme” method…
But the most interesting aspect in Steele’s show is his relation with his partner, private investigator Laura Holt…

II dynamics between characters

… so we have the following dynamic :
• a professional female investigator together with a male dilettante;
• she’s no-nonsense, he’s basically uncontrollable.
• She shares her knowledge of the field and everything technical; he relies on pop culture (hence the numerous references) and he gives her a new insight on cases because he’s very intuitive. And, just like Jane, his first goal on cases is to entertain himself.
• She’s valorized by him professionally (“Remington Steele” was at first a fictional name she came up with because people tended to dismiss her because she was a woman). In TM, this idea is played up with: Jane gives Lisbon’s team the highest closing rate in the CBI but he risks her career continuously… Moreover, he steals the spot light from her: here, Lisbon is the boss, but Jane has never acknowledged this and he keeps his golden boy status no matter what happens. She’s the one who takes the blame for him, may it be with Hightower or with Bertram.
• They get along. They are close friends, partners. He keeps using and amusing her, she tolerates him. They banter, they tease each other, they investigate together. And they flirt, even if the attraction is a far bigger part of the Holt/Steele partnership.

3) “Burns and Allen” (unofficial reference, courtesy of Windsparrow)
The vaudeville duo seems to have accentuated our pair’s comedic vibe. (Since I didn’t know the show beforehand, please bear with me and feel free to complete/correct):

• The “old married couple” vibe many times has been referenced by wonderful Windsparrow. There might also have been an allusion to this precise aspect in the show in S2 ‘The Red Box’ where an undercover English cop pretends to mistake them for a couple because they are bantering.
• They are total opposites: in the Burns and Allen show, the wife is eccentric, bubbly, illogic and uncontrollable, while her husband is rational, by the book and a bit overwhelmed by her general insane attitude. The genders are inversed with cunning Jane and by the book Lisbon.
• That’s not explicitly stated in the show, but there are hints that people at the office are amused by the pair’s antics: the smiling lady in the elevator when Jane was trying to give Lisbon advice about her brother and she was being stubborn about it; Grace’s grin when Jane was telling Lisbon that it was kind of romantic that she got to ride his bicycle with him… with her “head” in the bike basket; Rigsby’s amused “you’re blushing, boss” earlier in the show when Jane told her he could read her mind…

4) “Sesame Street”: “Bert and Ernie” were the nicknames given to Cho and Rigsby by the other teams to mock their close friendship…

III cases

The format used in ‘Every Rose Has its Thorns’ alludes to Columbo’s trademark openings revealing the killer, as well as Erica’s friendliness towards Jane was a reference to those ingenuous and falsely friendly murderers featured in this show. But it isn’t an isolated reference: indeed, some shows seem so far to lend a basis for some episodes in particular.

5) “The Rockford Files” (courtesy of C Hill as well as the reference to the TV movie “If It Bleeds, It Leads”). As I didn’t know the show beforehand, I’m in dire need of watching some more episodes. But as far as I gathered, we have:

• another iconic car
• Rockford lives in Malibu, where Jane has a house.
• He has a criminal past (he spent years in jail even though he was innocent) and started a new life as a private eye. Jane was a conman/ fake psychic and has taken a job as a consultant when his life has changed.
• The TV movie “If It Bleeds, It Leads” seems to be about Rockford helping a friend unjustly accused of a crime. One aspect of the story is that the media cover the case as a juicy one. I wonder if that’s not the link with TM: in the corresponding episode, the team investigates the death of a journalist, who was about to uncover a terrible story about Volker. The whole episode showed the difference between two types of journalism: the sensationalistic type represented by the TV set, where good looks and apparent sincerity are assets (Jane and Lisbon being scouted for an interview), where people gossip and are jealous of the most successful ones (the “weather lady”) and where people are eager to do anything to satisfy their ambitions (the news anchor sabotaging his coworker’s car). In opposition to this shallow world, the victim was a real investigator, who was “wasted on TV” and was skilled enough not to be manipulated by Volker’s attentions. The media theme was previously introduced by character Karen Cross but this episode develops the duality between shallow “media as entertainment” and “media as information”. In some ways, this duality might reflect Jane’s: he was part of the first one as a TV psychic and a showman, while now he tries to redeem himself in conducing real investigations instead of wasting his skills too solely for money and fame… Moreover this episode might become a turning point in the relation between Jane and Lisbon, depending on how she would identify her own quest against Volker with Jane’s revenge, and the reference to a classic might be a way to enhance further the special status of the episode. Am I overreaching much?

6) “Starsky and Hutch”: this show has a particular status, as it doesn’t seem to relate to the big story in TM but it tells us something about the episode where it’s been referred to (‘Rhapsody In Red’). The reference is humorous: Cho is dark-haired while Jane is blond; Jane’s urging his coworker to climb in his iconic vintage car to chase down a suspect. But, to some extent, it also enlighten Cho’s arc in this episode, which has a definite “street” vibe (the gangs, Cho striking a deal with a delinquent for information, him relating to them and passing above rules to do what is right). His arc is more action-oriented, while Jane’s part of the investigation tends to work as a whodunit.

Last, I’ve hesitated before including “Psych” in this list. The show predates TM by two years and shares the same premise: a very observant man, who is a bit of a jerk but still very charming and funny, comes to work for the police as a consultant and decides to pose as a fake psychic. Nevertheless, there are some pretty big differences, as Jane no longer pretends to be a psychic when he began working for the CBI. Shawn Spencer on the other hand works outside of the police as a private investigator, he has a childhood friend, family and a love life: his whole live isn’t confined to seeking revenge and living at his team’s workplace (or a dusty attic or, at best, a gloomy motel room)… He also doesn’t share Jane’s drama and interrogations: while TM is a procedural with hints of drama and comedy, “Psych” is purely comedic. So I find it is rather hard to say if TM is truly inspired to some extent by it, or if both show have been created with a more or less coincidental common basis, both using a fake psychic as a variation of the “consultant” figure, like for instance “Castle” has been using the “writer” variation without imitating directly Ellery Queen’s style. Either way, it’s rather amusing that “Psych” keeps mentioning the other show in humorous ways…

Like the books from the detective stories golden era, the vast majority of these shows are classic or at least rather old-school. If someone has ideas concerning some others ones or even more modern ones, feel free to share!

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27 responses to “Cultural References in The Mentalist part 2: TV shows

  • All-I-need

    Seriously, has anyone contemplated giving you an order for your work? Or some kind of award? Because you certainly deserve one!

    Now, I don’t know most of the shows mentioned here (or I only know their names) but I did notice that especially the relations between characters (headstrong no-nonsense female and charming, chaotic male sidekick) is basically exactly the same thing as ABC’s “Castle”. And I love both shows, the Mentalist and Castle, which is a pretty good indicator of the character relationships I like. Both shows handle that aspect really really well.

    “The Rockford Files” reminds me a bit of “Life”, just from the description of it. Both main characters spent time in jail, then were found innocent and released and subsequently worked with the police. It’s interesting to see how certain patterns repeat themselves on television, yet still get their inidividual spins and twists. I like that.

    The comparison was well done in any case. Good work, Violet!

  • windsparrow

    You really ran with Burns and Allen. The whole thing is very well-thought out. Excellent work.

  • C Hill

    thanks for mentioning me, violet, though i don’t know if i really deserved any kind of credit!

    as-i-need– regarding castle, there is some base similarity but there is so much more effort and richness in the development of the characters and story in the mentalist that there really is no comparison. and i like castle fine – but i made the same comparison between castle and bones a couple of years back and i think bones and mentalist do such a better job with character development and backstory than castle (and the mentalist is just killing it this season…)

    one show not mentioned, i think, that was mentioned a lot with bones and castle …. moonlighting. just a thought,but some of the very high level interaction between jane and lisbon does remind one of the best of moonlighting.

  • P

    Great job, Violet! And a nice stroll down memory lane. I haven’t thought about Remington Steele or Starsky and Hutch in years. Brings back childhood memories 🙂

  • rita

    Another well thought out piece of analysis. Well done, I have watched most of the shows that you have mentioned, and have often thought that there are a lot of similarities, but it is only when they are all discussed together that i could see just how close these are.

    You have made me want to make the effort to re watch my favourites, and seek out the others…..ah such happy times ahead!!

    Oh and I agree with C Hill about Moonlighting…some of the banter between Jane and Lisbon is very like the two characters in the show…sort of a slow dance forever coming together and at the last minute whirling off again

  • rjkitch13

    How about 24? Every season there are new Red John minions in the station, just as every season of 24 had new moles in the CTU.

  • Berenice

    How about The X Files? Scully and Lisbon are catholics.

  • violet

    Wow, thanks All-I-Need! I’m really very grateful! 🙂

    About Castle, it’s funny, but I always thought it was the other way around. Ever since the very first time I watched an ep from this show I thought it was inspired by TM: the classy, bothersome but charming guy helping out a by the book tough female cop in cases… But as C Hill pointed out, there aren’t so many layers in Castle: pretty fast, the relation between the two main characters has been revolving around romance, behind a good dose of friendship. In TM, it’s the opposite: Lisbon and Jane are friends before anything else, there might be shades of something else, but the questions between them don’t basically boil down to whether or not they’ll sleep together… In Castle, I’ve gotten sometimes the impression that the dynamic may be labelled simply as “the great guy/prince charming pursuing the inaccessible dream girl”. That’s why there are fewer causes for conflict in Castle: the protagonist is more slightly annoying than really troublesome as Jane is while Lisbon herself is less of a tough lady cop (less sexy vibe, but more of a maternal side). Beside, we almost never get to know what Jane really thinks, while his counterpart in Castle almost wears his heart on his sleeve with the number of confidents following him around… For the record, I checked and indeed, TM has been aired since 2008, while Castle only begun one year later… and there is a snapshot in the opening credits (I don’t remember if it was in the first season or later), where you see Castle entering a reception area and if you watch closely there is a board just behind him featuring the name of the company he’s visiting (“Tisdale NYC”): the design reminds the one they used for the credits in the first season in TM.
    I’ll take the leap and make the same assumption about Lie to Me (first aired in 2009 too); this one seems inspired by TM as well, it just listed Jane’s flaws instead of his qualities like Castle did: the jerkish behavior (like House too), the ability to read human behavior and to irritate people he meets…

  • violet

    Lol, thanks Windsparrow! What can I say, it was a good reference you offered us… 😉

  • violet

    Argh, Moonlighting… Never really liked this show… Guess I’ve have to watch it again, it was a long time ago and I don’t remember much of it… Thanks anyway, C Hill! 😉

  • violet

    Thanks P! Brought back some nice memories for me too… Such good times… 🙂

  • violet

    Thanks Rita! I’ll be re watching some Moonlighting again and concentrating particularly in their banter, thanks for the very useful input! 🙂
    It’s kind of funny now that I think of it: every show that might enlighten Lisbon and Jane relation has some pretty heavy shades of romance or couple vibes… Intriguing. Wonder if they might be some less romance related (just friends, or maybe even same sex friends)…

  • violet

    There are some similarities with 24 indeed: the disputable methods used by both protagonists to get to the truth for example, as well as their firm belief that the end justifies the means. Even so, I’m not sure if those similarities are due to influence, or if both have some common roots in the same genre (“spy” thriller/ political conspiracy movies or books). Same goes for the moles: in almost every conspiracy storyline or even action oriented cop movie we have a traitor posing as an ally, may it be under the guise of the true murderer in the case the protagonist is investigating (in cop movies) or as a double agent in more political thrillers. As TM is playing the conspiracy card with RJ minions, moles are bound to appear since they are part of the genre. Moreover, come to thing of it, moles are not really the major plot point in Jane’s perspective, except for O’Laughlin, they just played their part in one episode or two then were killed off (Hardy, Rebecca, Todd Johnson and Gupta). I find it pretty interesting for instance that right now Jane isn’t trying to flush out the mole still in the FBI to cross references with the men he met and shook hands with: it might be something useful to do, but it’s revealing that Jane prefers to be investigating on his own. Unlike 24, TM is a procedural: the main point is the investigation (to find RJ, that’s to say to find clues and witnesses like Lorelei), not so much the action-packed and thrilling conspiracy part (finding the moles to get to the truth) that only was only used as such with O’Laughlin…
    Of course, since I never was a big fan of 24 there may be some things that I’m missing… Feel free to correct me! 🙂

  • violet

    I admit that The X Files never occurred to me as an influence for TM, lol! I can see some similarities beside the detail of Scully and Lisbon being both Catholics: both shows feature two protagonists who are opposites but get along as each one complements the other. Mulder believes in conspiracies and supernatural while Scully is the scientific doubter; Lisbon is by the book and reasonable, but she has faith, whereas Jane is a rather cynic atheist and a trouble-maker. Moreover both Jane and Mulder manage to convert gradually their partner to their views. Nevertheless, as those parallels are not really specific, I think it’s hard to say for sure if The X Files have inspired some aspects of TM: this kind of relation is quite common in TV shows. But if you can think of other elements that can show a link between both shows, feel free to share, I would be very interested! 🙂

  • windsparrow

    Heheheh. When the Man and I were first keeping company, he would occasionally call me Gracie. But I swear I’m really George.

    I’m just glad that Mork And Mindy did not come to mind with reference to the female “straight man” until now. Then again, there are times when Jane does show a childlike, innocent glee in the world around him…. OK Stopping now.

  • violet

    LOL! Mork and Mindy! XD

    Errrr… food for thoughts: you do realize that Gracie probably sees herself as the “George” in her couple as well, right? Just saying… (and just kidding! ;))

  • windsparrow

    ROFLMAO!

  • Little Firestar

    Ever thought about the show “Profiler”? First time I saw The Mentalist, I couldn’t help but think that the premise was very similar….Samantha’s husband had been killed by the serial killer she was help the FBI find, when she talked with the press and he felt insultated by her words…

  • violet

    Oh, I *really* love this one! 🙂 Indeed, there are more than a few similarities… I needed to refresh a bit my memory, but as far as I gathered, here we go:

    First, the storyline:
    – the premise, as you said, is very similar (Samantha has criticized a serial killer she was helping the FBI to catch and he has taken upon himself to murderer her husband)
    – the main character was devastated and decided to cut ties with her old life (taking her daughter and her best friend with her), but a friend in law enforcement helped her to get out of this self-imposed isolation (like Lisbon basically did with Jane in ‘Red Dawn’ when she met Jane who was just out of the hospital).

    Then, the main character:
    – is a grieving widow/widower
    – investigates while seeking personal closure (thus has a somewhat personal motive beside doing her/his job)
    – has a particular gift: Jane is a master manipulator and an expert in human behavior, while Samantha has an excellent knowledge of the criminal mind and she can “see” the way crimes were committed. Interestingly, the way she can “see” the crime has been more or less referenced in TM to enlighten the horror of some cases: in contrast with the version given by the murderer in ‘Red Alert’ and to show the surprise of the victim sitting in a bench and carrying flowers in ‘Rhapsody in Red’. In both cases, the crime seems then far more monstrous than it would have appeared at first sight. Nevertheless, to present the crime in a flashback isn’t particular to Profiler per se (even though the way they did it was), so it’s still hard to tell if it’s a direct reference or not…
    – the show is named after his/her characteristic ability that also give him/her a role in the team (profiler/mentalist)

    The team:
    – is the Violent Crimes Task Force (FBI) or the Serious Crimes Unit (CBI). Two rather similar names.
    – The consultant/ profiler is close friend with the team leader (in both cases, this friendship is an element that grounds the protagonist)
    – There is a repartition between cops who generally are on the field and those who are more specialized in computers and researches. This is less obvious in TM. Again, that’s common to a few other shows as well.

    The antagonistic serial killer:
    – is nicknamed with a common male first name and an epithet: Red John and Jack of All Trades. The latter references even more obviously Jack The Ripper.
    – He feels an admiration and a “kind of love” for the protagonist and enjoys to taunt him/her (as far as I recall, that laugh in the phone at the end of ‘Red John’s Friends’ was quite à la Jack, as was the video RJ made of Darcy).
    – Both disguise themselves: it’s Jack’s speciality but RJ was wearing a mask in ‘Red Sky in the Morning’.
    – Both are all-knowing, elusive killers who seem to be everywhere: Jack-of-All-Trades is a master of disguise, while RJ seems to have a never ending supply of minions.
    – The teams elaborate plans to catch the killer using the protagonist as a bait.
    – It’s a detail, but in both cases, an episode features a local sheriff who is revealed to be working for the serial killer: it was Jack himself under disguise in Profiler (if I recall correctly) and an accomplice for RJ.

    Still, in spite of all those similarities, TM is far from being a rip off from Profiler: Jane is very different from Samantha. She’s a good detective and a good person, while he’s more ambiguous, he cheats and manipulates people to his advantage. Jane also wants revenge by killing his nemesis, Samantha wants to catch her own bad guy. She’s not as alone as he is: she has a family, friends, a love live. Besides, Jane has something to prove (his superiority, his self-worth…), that’s why he tends to become confrontational and that causes tension in the team; he also add a comedic element to the show.

    There must be more but I need to watch the show again to give a detailed analysis… Thanks a lot, Little Firestar, it’s a great reference! 🙂

  • Little Firestar

    Also, in season 3 and 4, of Profiler,, Jack did have a kind of network working with him-even if I don’t remember if it was ever revealed how far it spread and how limited it was. There was a man who worked for him, and got arrested in his place, pretending to be the killer himself, and then Jill of all trades, a young, troubled woman who had turned herself into a kind of copy of Samantha.
    And like John, Jack targeted the people Sam was close to. If I recall correctly, he was respansible for the death of the bomb officer (played by A Martinez) Sam was dating, and even arrived to kill people she had randomly met in her life, evidence of it had been the librarian who run the library when she was a kid.
    And a funny fact, whish is not really a reference but that always made me smile: when posing as a sheriff, Jack lived in California…

  • violet

    “Also, in season 3 and 4, of Profiler,, Jack did have a kind of network working with him-even if I don’t remember if it was ever revealed how far it spread and how limited it was. There was a man who worked for him, and got arrested in his place, pretending to be the killer himself, and then Jill of all trades, a young, troubled woman who had turned herself into a kind of copy of Samantha.”

    Yeah, there were accomplices but RJ goes further. I think it’s an originality of the show: they managed to mix rather smoothly the usual other criminal many recurring serial killers in TV shows are partnered with and the also usual character of the nefarious guru. The difference there is that Jack convinced people separately and used them one at the time (if I am not mistaken). RJ’s network is organized: that makes him a kind of criminal mastermind at the center of his web, while keeping shades of an evil spiritual advisor. His minions believe in him: in fact, there are two kinds of them, those who would enjoy killing for him and would give their live to protect him (psychopaths like Hardy and Todd Johnson), and those who don’t seem to particularly like murders but believe they are a necessity because of a greater truth provided by their master (Lorelei, Gupta, Rebecca). Those believers are not troubled: they have just been convinced by him. That would make RJ more of a Moriarty mixed with a guru/dark god/Satan himself, while Jack is still closer to an elusive serial killer (Jack the Ripper). I don’t know if I’m explaining myself well: in Jack’s case, the interpretation of Renfrew’s last message as “he is man(y)” wouldn’t work for example. So, yeah, you’re right, there are similarities in that aspect too, but here also lies a pretty big difference, IMHO.

    “And like John, Jack targeted the people Sam was close to. If I recall correctly, he was respansible for the death of the bomb officer (played by A Martinez) Sam was dating, and even arrived to kill people she had randomly met in her life, evidence of it had been the librarian who run the library when she was a kid.”

    This is ambiguous too, since we know so little about RJ. Except for Jane’s family, it seems that every time his nemesis targeted the people he was close to, there was another motive. He didn’t do it out of the blue, because he was jealous of them for taking Jane’s attention from him or because he just wanted to pressure him. I mean, those reasons were probably part of his motivation, but he mostly wanted to get rid of them for a more concrete motive:
    -Bosco had taken the case from the team, sure, but that was some time before. He had sent Rebecca to keep watch and ordered the killing when Bosco and his men were making a breakthrough in the case. RJ was basically preventing them from it.
    – Kristina (mentally killed, if not physically) had taunted him. RJ had used her to torture psychologically Jane after their first date, but Jane knew she had painted a target on her own back when she addressed RJ. His later speech to Lisbon that everyone close to him was in danger was right(RJ would have his eye on them and wouldn’t hesitate to kill them), but it was also his guilt speaking.
    – Lorelei demanding Lisbon’s head was a test. If RJ just wanted her killed, he could have done it himself long ago. It was the ultimate test to verify if Jane had a change of heart or not. Of course, he also tormented him by asking him that, and he has to be aware that Jane must be even more afraid for Lisbon now, but in truth asking him to kill her and then doing *nothing* to her after they managed to escape his trap -with Lorelei no less- is a far cry from wanting to hurt him, for instance by attacking the team directly…

    I think the main difference is that RJ has greater plans than just taunting Jane: he enjoys toying with him, of course, but he hasn’t been solely obsessing about harassing him after they crossed paths. He seems up to something bigger and probably more nefarious. As I said, I haven’t watched Profiler since a rather long time, but I recall Jack as being pretty obsessed with Samantha.

    (I’m really enjoying the discussion, thanks again Little Firestar! 🙂 )

  • violet

    I can’t believe I never spotted the biblical reference before : the temptress Lorelei demanding Saint Teresa’s head/ Salome asking for Saint John the Baptist’s head on a silver plate… LOL! That makes Jane King Herod, who had executed part of his family and ordered the Massacre of the Innocents… probably a reference to his guilt. But at least, Jane refused to give up on his own saint….

  • violet

    Sorry it took me so long, I wanted to make something a bit detailed and it took some time! I want to thank you again, C Hill (and Rita too 😉 ), because there are indeed some pretty striking connections between TM and Moonlighting, which was way better than I remembered!
    First, the settings resemble one another: they are investigators; he’s carefree, she’s more serious (in a way); he’s a professional, she’s an amateur who had to leave her career as a model (a entertainment job, like Jane). There are Shakespearian references too (The Taming of the Shrew). Still, the better part is the banter, as Rita pointed out. The banter between Jane and Lisbon seems to fall into the same categories that have been defined by Moonlighting and they even combine two of them.

    I The arguing

    1) The actual arguing is dimmed, or more rational in TM’s version (never thought I’d used that word to describe anything Jane…). Lisbon and him are less vocal and less action-oriented. Also the discussions aren’t as long: both agent and consultant tend to prefer one liners. All this can be explained by the fact that while Moonlighting was a comedy, TM is not. So they have less time imparted to comic scenes.
    Still, some elements seem directly inspired by Monlighting: Lisbon punching Jane in the nose (Maddie punched David in the jaw in the pilot); both bantering during stake out and Lisbon/Maddie asking her partner “what are we doing now?” or something like that when they are in the middle of a half-cooked scheme… Some lines in TM that could have been in either show:
    – “Why don’t we just skip the part where you lie to me and get right to the part where you tell me what you’re going to do?” (Lisbon to Jane in ‘The Blood on his Hands’)
    – “When the aliens do come, I hope they eat you.”(Lisbon to Jane again, in ‘The Red Mile’) – – “The absolute truth or I beat it out of you”( Lisbon threatening Jane in ‘Redacted’)
    – Also, Lisbon’s diatribe against Jane’s stupid plan in the church in ‘The Crimson Hat’.

    2) The mock-arguing: Lisbon and Jane’s speciality. They seem to argue, but they are actually having fun. For instance “I’m not gonna ask where you’re really going, you wanna know why? I don’t have to.” (Lisbon to Jane in ‘Bloodstream’); in ‘Blood and Sand’: “Mass Vanishment.”-Jane explaining to Lisbon where the island community is. Lisbon answers: “That’s not even a word.” – “I can picture them gathered together in a dimly lit room plotting their mysterious island purpose.”
    Interestingly, they imitate Maddie and David’s exuberant and never ending arguing when they are walking away from the camera: at the very end of ‘Pretty Red Balloon’ or the scene with Jane stealing Lisbon’s sandwich in ‘At First Blush’.

    3) They’re having a bit of private conversation during a conversation with someone else: in ‘Red Alert’, “Underling? Really? Lisbon would you explain to this man I’m a consultant. I’m not below or above I am to the side.”; in ‘Blood for Blood’ “Can’t you control your man? –Oh, believe me, she tried”. It gives the impression that making a point for the other is somehow the priority.

    4) The mocking: It usually takes two forms in both shows. First, doubting the other and joking with it: Lisbon doubting him and Jane trying to convince her that he was never wrong in ‘Redacted’. Second kind: mocking the other quirks. Lisbon mocks his shoes, his childlike attitude… Also, in ‘Every rose has Its Thorns’: when Jane explained to Lisbon that he wanted to catch Erica because she thought she was smarter than him, she answered “Oh that’s a good reason. Healthy. Professional.” In ‘Blinking Red Light’: “Working on a computer, what’s next? Rayguns? Teleporters?”And Jane mocking her for having three guns in her car in Red Badge.

    II Childlikeness and absurdity

    Another aspect beside animosity (or playful animosity) is that some of their moments take unexpected fanciful twist. It’s a huge part of the appeal of Moonlighting and TM has a fair share of it too. In fact, TM uses it abundantly, during the main characters’ banter and with other people.

    1) Playing on childlike expressions and attitudes: in ‘Bloodstream’, “This man, he has a gun, and he pointed it at me. He’s very rude and that’s not even including the assault.” Also Jane is very childish in ‘Something Rotten In Redmund’. Same goes with rhymes: Jane was especially in them in ‘Bloodhounds’ but to a lesser extend in ‘Bloodstream’ too: “She does the detecting I do the insulting.” Lisbon corrects “the consulting” and Jane adds “That too”.

    2) They exchange witty retorts that expend on a well-known expressions: « go to hell, take a toothbrush » (or, outside of their banter, Jane telling the nurses “a scream a day keeps the doctor away” in ‘Bloodstream’).

    3) A variation of the above: they mix a serious matter with something that isn’t (or two things that don’t have anything to do with the other): in ‘Red Hot’, “I take this nap for freedom Lisbon, for every little guy who has a dream.” In ‘Red Alert’: “I’d love to chat with you Lisbon but there’s a man here with a large gun wants to talk to you.” In ‘Red Ribbons’: Lisbon says to Jane in jail “This doesn`t look good” and he answer dejectedly “Yeah, I was hoping for that muffin.” In ‘Days of Wine and Roses’: Jane: No but I’m just a little worried that he’s inside your head and believe me that’s not a good road to go down. Bad neighborhood.”

    4) Absurdity that makes sense: “Rabbits don’t dance” (‘Like a Redheaded Stepchild’).
    Also in ‘Scarlet Ribbons’: Lisbon: “I don’t think his wife wants to talk to you.” – Jane: “Why not?” -Lisbon: “Because you killed her husband!” – Jane: “See? The ice is broken. We’ve got something to talk about.”(And Jane likes immensely that kind of absurd comments, with anyone and everyone)

    III The flirting

    It’s less heavy in TM than in Moonlighting: Jane and Lisbon are more friends than any anything else, while Maddie and David were treated as potential lovers. Also Lisbon is less receptive than Maddie to her partner’s flirty teasing: she is embarrassed, but mostly deflects by ignoring him.
    Unlike in Moonlighting, there is no reference to kissing or anything a bit sexual until very recently and that’s also quite ambiguous: Jane told her he loved when she was bossy in ‘Not One Red Cent’ and told in a sultry voice that her toughness she showed was giving him goosebumps in ‘If It Bleeds, It Leads’. Before that, Jane simply made allusions to dating in S1 ‘Red Hair and Silver Tape’ and he used dating terminology to prove to Lisbon that she was jealous of him spending time with Hightower in ‘Red Gold’. His interest in her love life stays rather general (some reflections when Bosco was around) and he seems to prefer analyzing it than teasing her with it. Nevertheless, he does comment on her appearance (eyes, hair) but in a far more unobtrusive manner than David with Maddie. Jane never comments on the rest of her body.

    Those differences, particularly in the arguing and the flirting, can be explained by a divergence in the basis of their relation. Maddie and David disagree because they have both an energetic temper and because they are attracted to the other: arguing basically gives them an outlet on both fronts. It works because they’re playing a comedy, meaning that they don’t need to explore too many facets of their bond and can get away with exaggeration. Meanwhile, in TM, the banter gives only hints of lightness and fun in a rather dark story. It also illustrates the characters and their resistance to the other, their struggling between trust and control, like Reviewbrain had put it. The tension between Jane and Lisbon is more situational: the man is annoying and a troublemaker, thus Lisbon has to look after him. He also loves testing her reactions, hence his frequent provocations. They enjoy bantering because they get along in spite of everything, and the much time they spend together, they understand the other better and better (that’s why the better part of the actual arguing took place in the beginning of the show). As I said, they are friends before anything else, so, while Maddie revel in arguing, they enjoy more teasing the other: that explains the “old couple” vibe emanating from Jane and Lisbon. They’re more often in sync than antagonistic.

    On a side note, it’s interesting that both the arguing and the childish part have also been used to characterize Summer’s behavior towards Cho.

    (Sorry for the long comment! Hope that it makes some sense…)

  • rita

    I am so glad that you re watched Moonlighting, You did a great job of analysing the similarities and differences.

    I think that there is a similarity in the ‘rhythm’ of the banter (For want of a better word) there is such familiarity between the characters that the line between flirting and friendship is much more blurred between Jane/Lisbon than between the Moonlighting pair (I can’t for the life of me remember his name now!!) I have a feeling that when they have finally worked out just what their relationship actually IS then there will be two VERY surprised people!!

  • Rose UK

    I always loved the X-Files. 🙂 I occasionally feel a vague flicker of it in TM, although as you say it’s nothing very specific and the dynamics of TM are way different enough not to draw much comparison. But the similarities, to me, would be:

    – the way Mulder/Jane are so determined and single-minded in their quest(s), to the detriment of their personal lives.
    – their intelligence and apparent arrogance (because they’re always right!).
    – they’re always ditching their partner to go off on some hare-brained scheme or other/not telling them something.
    – Mulder has a nemesis/enemy high up in government; I think he may have had the odd ‘good’ source, but I can’t recall.
    – Mulder is always flouting authority/the rules and often gets into trouble with superiors (he just doesn’t care if it means he gets further to that damn ‘truth’!)
    – there’s a certain humour to Mulder; he’s rather sardonic/sarcastic/ironic (which I sometimes find with Jane).
    – they’re both resolutely single and…
    – they both live fairly streamlined lives (ok, Mulder has an apartment but if I remember correctly it was a running theme that he slept on the sofa because he didn’t have a bed).
    – Scully and Lisbon keep failing to reign in their headstrong partners!
    – the overall reversal of gender stereotypes and the growing relationship and sense of intense trust and loyalty between the leads. By the end, you knew Scully would do almost anything for him and probably vice versa.

    I’m sure there are lots more differences than similarities – I mean, the aliens for heaven’s sake! – but it’s good fun trying to find parallels. 😉 It’s been so long since I watched it, particularly the early seasons… Hm, perhaps this is a good excuse to delve back into that universe…

    Thanks again, Violet; I love this blog’s “English literature” approach to a TV show!

  • violet

    Wow, thanks for your input! Truly interesting points! Particularly since you focused on the characters and their relationship… Very, very interesting indeed! 🙂
    When I read your list, I find that both couples have a common basis of personality (stubborn, independent), a comparable relationship (sometimes “failing to reign in their headstrong partner” who tends to obsess about something, but mostly a deep trust and a solid partnership). So there are indeed some strong similarities. 🙂
    When comparing that with the other shows, it seems that the thing that Jane and Lisbon add is more a quirk in their personality they got from other possible influences, at least partially: a foolish unpredictable childlessness for Jane that makes him particularly charming (a bit like in ‘Burns and Allen’), and a sincerity and an almost youthful awkwardness in Lisbon that counterbalances her natural badass authority. And the recurring bantering, that gets closer to ‘Moonlighting’ than to ‘The X-Files’… It seems that the difference in TM is that they wanted to make the characters more original than the story premise: in the X-Files, the originality was that the show played with supernatural events and the characters tried to uncover the truth (= those files in the title), while in TM the main focus is on the characters (Jane particularly, and progressively Lisbon in reaction to him) and the way they deal with the events in Jane’s life.
    As for the alien thing, there has been already an allusion in ‘The Red Mile’… Not so far away from Mulder then, lol!
    (If you “delve back” in the world of aliens and other creatures, I’ll be very interested to read more of your comments! 😉 )

  • Rose UK

    Hehe. Glad you found the points interesting! I’ve never seen the other shows you mention, so I shall take your word for it. 🙂 I’d agree with what you say about premise v character (and I do ultimately prefer character-driven stuff.) I think all that remains to be said is that I like both pairings for the aforementioned developing sense of trust mixed in with the teasing. (Ok, fine, I admit it: I’m a ‘shipper!)

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