FOX will premiering new drama Mental on May 26 as part of its summer season. The show is a one-hour medical mystery and stars Chris Vance (Prison Break) and Annabella Sciorra (The Sopranos). Getting more original scripted series on the summer schedule has been a goal for the network and I was delighted to take part in a media call with Chris Vance to learn more about this one.
The show is a bit unusual in that it is a co-production between FOX Television Studios and FOX International Channels. The deal helps with costs and allows the show to quickly air in other countries. Mental was shot in Bogota, Columbia and has thirteen episodes in the can. Chris Vance plays Dr. Jack Gallagher, an unorthodox psychiatrist with radical methods who is named the Director of Mental Health Services at a Los Angeles hospital. Jack’s unusual methods for getting to know his patients so he can find how to help them challenge and occasionally infuriate his co-workers and bring him into conflict with his conservative boss, Nora Skoff (Sciorra). It doesn’t help that he and Skoff have a romantic past. It all sounds a bit like House, including the lead actor being British (in this case keeping his original accent), but Vance feels his Jack Gallagher has some fundamental differences from House’s cranky doc.
The actor was asked if he agreed Mental seems to fall halfway between House’s medical drama and Lie To Me, and he said that from a structural standpoint, there are similarities, particularly with House. “The two shows are similar in construct; they’re single-lead shows that are investigative medicine in a way, but the two characters are very, very different. Jack is at completely the opposite end of the spectrum in the way he approaches a patient and patient care than House.”
Vance sees Jack’s empathy as central to the character. Describing his character’s central point of view, he said, “He doesn’t view any kind of patients with a mental health disorder as [having] anything wrong with them. He just understands that they’ve got a different state of mental health. All he does really, and this is what I found so fascinating, is to try and help them, get inside their heads and try to find the best way of bringing them back to function in what we call normal or conventional reality.”
Vance is aware viewers may watch Mental to learn about mental disorders as well as to be entertained and thinks the writers have tried to weave both aspects into the story. He noted, "When you’re doing a … TV drama, there are two things you’re really trying to do: one is to entertain and one is to inform. The trouble with that is we’ve only got an hour. We can’t become a documentary. We’re very aware of that when we were dealing with the various phobias and psychoses and disorders involved, and we can’t cover everything, which was and is frustrating at times. But given the show that we’ve made, I think the writers have done a marvelous job at drawing a balance between the two."
Asked what he thought viewers would enjoy about his character, Vance suggested Jack’s maverick methods would be fun to watch. Audiences will get a taste of those methods in the premiere when the doctor has to shed his clothes to reach a patient. The actor laughed about filming the scene, saying “It was a hoot running around in front of 40 extras and all of the cast and crew. It was one of the first things we filmed down there in Bogota so it was a real icebreaker, you know.”
With that to look forward to, audiences will want to tune in for the premiere on Tuesday, May 26 at 9:00 p.m. ET. FOX will be repeating the show on Fridays at 9:00 p.m. ET.