Perception, TNT’s new hour-long crime drama, borrows from just about every other procedural with an overly idiosyncratic, troubled central protagonist whose unorthodox methods lead to the solution of many a carelessly constructed brainteaser. With a spoonful of The Mentalist, a dash of House, and a sprinkle of The Closer tossed in for good measure, Perception appears to be covering all the bases in terms of primetime viewing appeal, but what simultaneously distinguishes and depreciates the series is precisely how its hero, Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack), a revered neuroscience professor, goes about decoding the frequently convoluted riddles brought to him by a loyal former student, F.B.I. agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook). Pierce is afflicted with schizophrenia, but it’s of the shamelessly glorified, Hollywood-ized variety, apparently only surfacing when he needs the magical vision-quest support of an imaginary friend to provide farfetched, otherwise out-of-reach clues. While the farcical Perception aims to paint a thoughtful, at least semi-realistic picture of neurosis, using a misleading, happy-go-lucky depiction of mental illness as a device for serendipitously solving homicides renders the series dead on arrival.
The program’s unremarkable pilot begins in the vein of Tim Blake Nelson’s Leaves of Grass, with Pierce lecturing a group of wide-eyed students hanging on his every word. “Reality is a figment of your imagination,” he tells them unflinchingly before an attractive coed, whose shirt reads “Stimulus Package,” shoots him flirty glances and later covertly propositions him for sex. Scenes of bogus attempts at comedic interplay such as this typically coincide with the show’s more serious segments: people getting killed in the oddest of fashions, and Pierce being the only one quirky enough to decipher a set of increasingly contrived puzzles, all having something to do with at least one type of cerebral instability—some more well known than others. Quite simply, labeling Perception‘s first conundrum as outlandish is generous. Featuring a corrupt pharmaceutical company, faulty diabetic medication, an implausible love triangle, and a textbook case of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (a brain disorder caused by a deficiency in thiamin, manifested in deep amnesia), Perception overstuffs its early episodes with far too many overwrought plot points.
Pierce’s condition is characterized by him tightly clutching his book bag, recoiling at the inquisitive touch of others, and escaping large crowds by listening to cassette tapes of symphonies on his Walkman. McCormack occasionally emits an offbeat charm, but his unavoidable air of commonality makes the idea that his character is suffering from a serious mental illness a hard sell. Perception‘s supporting characters are largely inconsequential, from McCormack’s mild-mannered live-in aid, Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith), to the amiable dean of Pierce’s university (played by LeVar Burton); these characters are often cloyingly sympathetic and conveniently forgiving of Pierce’s impulsiveness and eccentricities when he obviously needs to be called out on his questionable behavior. There’s occasional chemistry between McCormack and Cook, who looks too young for her part as a seasoned federal agent, but instead of trying to build a flimsy romantic bond between the two, the writers would be better served focusing on crafting more thoughtful professional enigmas for their main character to obsess over.