It's easy to look at TNT's new crime procedural, Perception, and have your thoughts wander to a list full of other television series that have contained lead characters with quirky, eccentric and overly observant tendencies that help drive them to cracking cases when some just can't fathom the truth behind the clues.
Programs like Monk, Psych, Numb3rs and a slew of others have come and gone adding certain depth, humor and dramatic storytelling by often exploring the characters in addition to solving the mysteries. It seems to be a time-tested formula that's garnered successes and failures, but won't ever quit.
Which begs less of the question, "Do we need another?" and more so: "What makes Perception a compelling take on the popular genre?"
Because let's face it, as much as critics could groan about the similarities of the concept across shows, the fact remains that there's something entertaining about watching a mystery unfold, especially when the sleuths themselves can be fascinating to watch.
Eric McCormack leads the cast as Dr. Daniel Pierce, a professor of neuroscience with a brilliant mind that allows him to see and read everything in a vastly different light, hence the title of the show.
Except while the scruffily good looking actor has often used his charm and smile to encapsulate his characters, his portrayal of Pierce is much more seriously tormented and driven. McCormack throws himself fully into the role providing a dichotomy between his confident demeanor in the classroom and zeroing in on the unseen answers, and his discomfort with the people around him.
He's socially awkward. Sort of.
Ultimately, though, it is Pierce's struggles with schizophrenia and seeing particular hallucinations that become both the gift and the curse for McCormack's character.
It's these imaginary people that help him solve the cases, essentially figments of his subconscious trying to spell out the clues as his fastidious brain works endlessly to get the answer. McCormack relies on a focused furrow of expression and subtle movements of his fingers and body to help bring to life the character that isn't the "freak" that everyone else seems to think he is.
I mean, c'mon, the guy has college co-eds throwing themselves at him.
There's certainly a determination to make this character succeed and McCormack's likeability shines through so that you hope he can learn to handle the schizophrenia and not succumb to it, a la John Nash in the film A Beautiful Mind.
His trusty sidekick (or is it the other way around?) is the youthfully pretty Rachael Leigh Cook, who continues to look as good as she did back in the teen flick She's All That. Except now she wears red trench coats and jumps off fire escapes. I wonder what Freddie Prinze Jr. would have to say about that?
Her Kate Moretti was a former pupil of Pierce and while the character claims to be as unorthodox and intuitive as her past professor, for the pilot, she seems to fall back into a place of observe and learn. I just hope we get to see her show off her set of skills and prove at some point that the student has become the master.
I wish Arjay Smith (as Max Lewicki) had a little bit more to do, but even with his few scenes, I already am looking forward to seeing what he can do with the character and what ways he will work with Pierce. Hopefully he adds a sense of lighthearted hope around the serious professor.
The premiere does a good job setting up the style of the show and introducing the characters but doesn't necessarily jump off the page right away. And one of my biggest fears is the use of Pierce's hallucinations as simple plot device to help move a case along rather than be utilized as a vivid look into his wondrously gifted mind.
Some of the best scenes were less about solving the case but watching him lecture his students during class where the man illustrates his comfort and prowess in the subjects that he knows. It works as a nice bookend piece for the episode and provides a certain narration for the context of the hour as well.
Even his conversations with Natalie Vincent, who he once dated and is now his close friend, helps ground Pierce and find a stability for him in the unstable world. Of course, things aren't always what they seem, but after the first twist that really just sets up the premise and backdrop of his character, Natalie's reveal is less shocking and more sad.
So does Perception prove that it stands out on its own merits?
In a way, yes, but it certainly takes a bit to get itself going and the subsequent episodes really help build upon and further establish the characters. The show isn't perfect and at times certain moments (the human lie detector anyone?) just felt too silly to be real, but the cast is amiable and the take different enough to be appealing. Although sometimes I wished a little more humor might lighten the very serious mood of the show, the pilot stays true to itself and promises that there's a long road ahead both for Daniel Pierce and the cases he solves.
Now whether viewers are ready to take that mind altering trip? I guess that all depends on your perception.
Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.Tags: Reviews, Perception