TNT is assuring viewers that its new crime-solving series is “unique.” And by “unique,” they mean “more or less identical to every other quirky, offbeat, crazy-but-brilliant amateur detective on TV.” Familiarity, however, isn’t a crime—certainly not on network TV—and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that “Perception” will score solid ratings for TNT.
Eric McCormack (still best known as one half of “Will & Grace”) stars as Dr. Daniel Pierce, an “eccentric” neuroscience professor in Chicago. One day, he’s visited by his former star-
You see, Pierce doesn’t just know crazy people, he is crazy people. The good professor is a paranoid schizophrenic who can barely hold it together outside the classroom. Start with a healthy dose of Sherlock Holmes, throw in some of Tony Shaloub’s Monk, a dash of “The Mentalist,” a little of that mathematician kid from “Num3ers,” a bit of whoever Tim Roth played in “Lie to Me” and a light sprinkling of Hugh Laurie’s House M.D. just for good measure, and you’ve got a pretty good handle on this Pierce character.
Give producers Ken Biller and Mike Sussman (“Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: Enterprise” vets, respectively) credit for at least pushing the concept to its breaking point. See, our main character isn’t just quirky, he’s got serious mental problems. Half the time, he can’t tell if he’s hallucinating or not. In this situation, though, that happens to be a good thing. In “Perception,” crimes don’t get solved by detective work, they get solved by brilliant hallucinations that pop by and deliver very important clues. In theory, it’s supposed to suggest that—since these hallucinations originate in Pierce’s brain—he’s merely solving the crimes through unconventional means. In practice, it looks like writers are cheating, giving us impossibly convoluted crimes and then writing themselves out of a corner with some cheap-and-easy deus ex machina.
History and Nielsen ratings prove that people like this kind of lightweight detective work, however. The show is crisply shot (on location in Chicago). It’s got a charismatic cast. (“Trek” alum LeVar Burton drops by for weekly cameos as a college dean.) And it’s just mainstream enough to attract a wide, TV-watching demographic. Plus, it fits in nicely alongside TNT’s other procedural series like “Rizzoli & Isles,” “Leverage” and “The Closer” (not to mention reruns of “The Mentalist,” “Bones” and “CSI:NY”). “Perception” is fun, easy-to-absorb and occasionally intriguing, but it isn’t going to change anyone’s ... let’s say, “cognitive impression” of detective dramas.