“What is reality?”
Those are literally the first words that we hear from the mouth of Dr. Daniel Pearce, (Eric McCormack of Will and Grace) the main protagonist of Perception, TNT’s new hit crime drama, during his classroom lecture on neuroscience in the pilot episode. Daniel continues by asserting that “reality is a figment of your imagination.” What makes Perception truly unique among crime procedurals is its interest in the human brain and in defying our belief in a straightforward, linear, objective reality. The show’s episodes often revolve around Daniel’s lectures to students that challenge our understanding of “normalcy” and the existence of free will. Because Pearce is considered the expert on neuroscience, he ends up dealing with everything from a head trauma victim whose memory is permanently frozen in 1986, to a teenage boy with a brain tumor that gives him visions of God, to a man with face blindness, to profiling a youth with paranoid schizophrenia.
And, oh what a lot of issues that last one brings up! For while other television series often feature protagonists whose sanity is doubted by their colleagues Dr. Pearce is, in fact, truly insane; he’s a schizophrenic with paranoia and delusions. He’s also extraordinarily sensitive, brilliant, impassioned, fascinating, plays the piano, and is amazingly dishy, a fact that is not lost on either current students or his former student FBI Agent Kate Moretti, (played by Rachel Leigh Cook of prior teen movie fame) who regularly seeks out Dr. Pearce for consults. Kate’s not necessarily a poster child for normal either; she pursues suspects by jumping out of second story windows, can be obsessive, impulsive, and is routinely chastised by her superiors for her tendency to “exceed her circle of responsibilities,” and for her unstinting faith in Daniel. Unfortunately for Kate, Daniel is devoted to his best friend Natalie Vincent (Kelly Rowan) who’s beautiful, wise, refined and perfect in just about every way…except for the fact that she’s imaginary and exists only in Daniel’s head. And Daniel on one level knows it, but can’t stop himself from singing “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” to Natalie on the piano anyway. Making this possibly the weirdest love triangle currently on television.
We get some other entertaining regulars as well including Arjay Smith as Max Lewicki, Daniel’s much put-upon TA and household manager, and LeVar Burton does a nice comedic turn as Dean Haley who is constantly trying to wrangle his extremely eccentric superstar professor into spending less time on detective work and more time on active fund-raising. This is a show that’s as interested in academia as in law enforcement, and interested in the brain more than anything else which is quite refreshing on TV these days. It is not, however, for everyone. My mother for instance admitted she liked Eric McCormack’s character but thought the show was “too confusing,” because Daniel’s delusions made it difficult sometimes to parse out what was real and what was fake. We see what Daniel “sees” which means we see things that turn out to be hallucinations or witness events we think are hallucinations that turn out to be real which can be a turn-off to viewers like mom. Perception is definitely convoluted and requires a fairly active viewing experience, but if you, like Daniel Pearce, are eager for the challenge of a puzzle, then this show is for you.
Perception, Mondays on TNT. Check local listings.