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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
(Mondays at 10:00/9:00c beginning tonight)
The network's description: "Drama fans are about to meet one of the most unique crime solvers on television when TNT premieres this fascinating new series about an eccentric neuroscience professor who is recruited by the FBI to help solve complex cases. Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award winner Eric McCormack stars as Dr. Daniel Pierce, who possesses an intimate knowledge of human behavior and a masterful understanding of the way the mind works. Although Pierce's mind may be brilliant, it's also damaged as he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Perception also stars Rachael Leigh Cook, Arjay Smith and Kelly Rowan. Produced by ABC Studios, the series was created by executive producer Ken Biller and co-executive producer Mike Sussman, with McCormack serving as producer."
What did they leave out? The project was originally announced as "Proof" all the way back in May of 2009.
The plot in a nutshell: "Reality is a figment of your imagination," Professor Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack) explains to his neuroscience students. After all, nightmares, fantasies and hallicinations can all be very real to our minds. Knowing then that what we perceive is often wrong, how can we ever perceive what is real? Such a dilemma comes into play when Daniel is approached by FBI agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), one of his old students, who wants him to resume consulting for the Bureau. You see, she has a case involving a woman who has confessed to murdering her husband and yet her Nicole Richie-esque physique suggests such a brutual attack would be impossible. Kate thinks she may be mentally ill and needs his help to prove it.
He of course does (Korsakoff's syndrome!), opening the door to a more likely motive: a death threat issued against the pharmaceutical company where he was general counsel. And with that Daniel finds himself reluctantly dragged into Kate's world, a challenge considering he himself has his own mental problems. You see, Daniel is terrified of crowds, is zealous about his particular routines, does crossword puzzles ad nausuem and literally needs live in help - his assistant Lewicki (Arjay Smith) - to keep him from flying off the rails. In other words, eccentric to say the least. Thankfully he confides in Natalie Vincent (Kelly Rowan), an old flame, who helps him make the baby steps back into the real world. Daniel's going to need it as the case begins to affect him in ways that challenge his own sense of reality.
What works: There's an interesting show kicking around somewhere in here as there's a concerted effort to try and tell the standard procedural stories in an unorthodox way. We're not just watching Kate and Daniel shake down witnesses, examining evidence and so forth, we're also seeing how Daniel's mind processes them (in a twist I won't spoil here), which in turn opens avenues of investigation previously unseen. It's a nice - albeit at times heavy handed - way of sidestepping the usual "aha!" moments found in these types of shows, not to mention gives Daniel a potentially unique depth. I also enjoyed that Daniel is genuinely embarrassed by his "gift" and horrified at the prospect of someone like Kate finding out about it.
What doesn't: At the same time the show is riddled with inconsistencies, most notably in McCormack's performance. The Daniel lecturing to his students, the Daniel in the interrogation room and the Daniel lost in his crossword puzzles never quite line up, nor does there seem to be many dots to connect them. If anything the Daniel's baseline is your standard "TV crazy" - scruffy beard, awkward people skills and rebellious tendencies ("If I carried a cell phone the government could track me," he quips when Kate can't find him) - and yet we only see that come out when it's convenient for the story. I don't quite buy that the guy who can charm a room full of students would clam up at a police station filled with the same amount of people or would be socially incapable of handling conversation with a co-ed one-on-one.
By that same token, Cook's Kate is given her own theoretically distinct traits - she's unapologetically reckless and is more than willing to sell out her career in the name of solving a crime - and yet they're just afterthoughts to what is more or less your standard TV cop. The show also manages to doubles down on just about everything that's interesting, ultimately spoiling their initial resonance. Whether it's the aforementioned twist (if you don't see it coming the first time, you'll definitely the second), the use of anagrams to advance the story or the standard trope that "the the case is closed... or is it?" even with Daniel's unique skills. I get why they happen - procedurals like comfort food after all - I'm just disappointed to see them used a crutches. Ultimately my gripes don't keep the show from being unlikable, they...
The bottom line: ...just make it standard fare.