July 10, 2012



PERCEPTION:  Monday 10PM on TNT – Change the Channel


A man stands on a chair in the middle of a police station, earphones fastened to his head, and frantically conducts the symphony he’s listening to.  Yes, we’re in Eccentric Genius Detective Territory, Psychiatric Disturbance Subdivision, aka Monk-Land.  The new series PERCEPTION is essentially Monk meets A Beautiful Mind, because in this case the brilliant man without social skills is Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack), who is simultaneously one of the world’s great authorities on neuroscience and a hallucinating paranoid schizophrenic who doesn’t take his meds because they blur that gorgeous mind of his.

Like Adrian Monk, Daniel is called in by the police as a consultant when there’s a particularly difficult crime they need to have solved.  Specifically, he’s the go-to guy for his former graduate student Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook, fondly remembered as Laney Boggs in the 1999 teen hit She’s All That, and somehow never really center stage since then), who’s now with the Chicago office of the FBI.  There’s a hint that if Daniel ever got his illness under control, there could be a romantic spark between him and Kate (she lives alone with a cat and binges on junk food), but that would be seasons away.  For now, like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, Daniel is constantly visited by people who aren’t really there, most often by Natalie Vincent (Kelly Rowan), who will presumably turn out to be a lost love of his, but who hasn’t been formally introduced to us yet.  Natalie is his all-purpose fantasy confidant, but Daniel also has episode-specific hallucinations who show up to jog his mind with clues and puzzles.  To keep his real and imaginary people straight, Daniel has Lewicki (Arjay Smith), a live-in student who can tell him when he’s been talking to thin air.

Perception‘s pilot, written by series creators Mike Sussman and Kenneth Biller, and directed by Alan Poul, doesn’t have much more than that.  The plot of the episode concerns a pharmaceutical company lawyer who’s been bashed to death, for reasons that unsurprisingly turn out to be related to a drug that’s more dangerous than the company wants to admit, and who wasn’t entirely innocent himself–it’s completely routine stuff.  Along the way, Daniel solves the crime by elucidating about syndromes that prompt extreme suggestibility among possible suspects, and human lie detectors who giggle when they hear someone lie, all the time conversing with his imaginary informants who for some reason offer vague hints and anagrams instead of just telling him whodunit.  (It’s like they’re TV scriptwriters.)  As in Beautiful Mind, words and letters fly around while McCormack squints at the camera, until they form Eureka! words.  Kate, meanwhile, is super-spunky:  she jumps off an apartment building fire escape to capture a suspect (“That’s crazy!” Daniel exclaims oh-so-cutely), and was demoted from her DC position because she doesn’t know when to let a case go.

Shows like Perception are very much dependent on chemistry and charm.  Monk worked for a long time (sadly, it stayed on the air for years after it stopped working) because Tony Shalhoub found just the right mix of comedy, melancholy and self-parody to make the character fun, and because the writer/producers did a remarkable job of finding new situations, however silly, where Monk could be made to suffer.  Eric McCormack is a perfectly fine, likable actor, but at least in the pilot, he doesn’t have Shalhoub’s gift for exuberant weirdness.  And because, unlike Monk, Daniel is trying to hide the extent of his illness, the show hasn’t found the right dynamic.  His hallucinations feel like a quirk, neither an agony nor an inspiration.  Also, Daniel’s resistance to interacting with people in any meaningful way makes intellectual sense, but it doesn’t allow for much of an ensemble.

It’s early for Perception, and the show might yet grow into its gimmicks.  At first glance, though, you’re likely to feel while watching it like the hero should just shut up and take his meds.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."