A Graceless Will returned as the anti-Will in the premiere of TNT's one-hour mystery series, Perception.
Eric McCormack as Dr. Daniel Pierce in Perception is the polar opposite of Eric McCormack as Will Truman in Will & Grace. Consider: Will & Grace was a sitcom; Perception is a drama. Will was appealingly clean cut; Daniel is appealingly disheveled. Will was a solidly reliable lawyer; Daniel is a seriously eccentric college professor (specializing in neuroscience). And finally... Daniel has no chance of a relationship with his knockout leading lady (Rachael Leigh Cook) because he is a paranoid schizophrenic, while Will didn't have a chance of a relationship with his leading lady (Debra Messing) because he was famously gay. If counting the 180 degree differences between these two shows was a drinking game, this reviewer wouldn't have made it to the first commercial break.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
There's nothing new under the sun -- and television seems to like it that way. Perception has its undeniable charms, but it borrows heavily from two popular predecessors. The most obvious is Monk, in which the star sleuth was afflicted with a mental illness that worked to his advantage when he was working a case but made a shambles of his personal life. Where Adrian Monk's condition was Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Daniel Pierce suffers from hallucinations. Specifically, he sees people who aren't actually there -- which of course reminds us of the Oscar-winning film A Beautiful Mind. But in Perception, while Daniel's phantoms torture him, they are also kind enough to help him solve murder mysteries. There is also a dash of shows featuring detective/doctors like TNT's Rizzoli & Isles and Body of Proof, in that the crime du jour coincidentally always involves ailments with which the medical Marlowe is familiar.
Guest Starring Mental Illnesses
The first suspect in the murder of a Big Pharma lawyer was his wife, who readily confessed -- until Pierce concluded that she suffered from a condition that made her agree to anything anyone suggested to her. Later, the dead man's mistress was exposed as a liar by a mental patient who couldn't communicate through language, but whose illness gave him the ability to detect falsehood in facial expressions. Except for these novelties, the narrative was the usual combination of sex, money, betrayal and law enforcement personnel leaping atop fleeing suspects.
McCormack spices up the proceedings of Perception. But while his tremendous charm will no doubt endure as the series continues, the premise of crime solving via the convenient intervention of invisible friends at key moments in the plot could get very old, very fast. It opens the door to lazy storytelling. Still, we tend to remember our favorite mysteries by the characters who solve them (and sometimes by their Watsons -- in this case FBI agent Kate Moretti, pluckily played by Cook), rather than the twists and turns of each week's puzzle. On that score, Perception may prove to be more than meets the eye.
"Who has the brains to give me an answer related to the brain?"
-- Pierce challenging his students
"Impressive theory... but wrong."
-- Pierce throwing cold water on Moretti's favored suspect
"'Discussing your term paper' is obviously code for sex and while we might both enjoy that very much, it could also get me fired, so I'm afraid I have to regretfully and respectfully decline your offer."
-- Pierce to a student whose signals he turns out to have accurately read.
"Rationality is overrated -- particularly if you are a Cubs fan."
-- Pierce stating a simple truth
"Reality is a figment of your imagination. Who here hasn't woken up breathless from a nightmare and thought, 'Oh, thank God, it's just a dream?' That's because the neurochemical impulses fired when we're dreaming or fantasying or hallucinating are indistinguishable from the ones banging around inside our skulls when we actually experience those events. So... if what we perceive is often wrong, how can we ever know what's real and what isn't?"
-- Pierce presenting his students (and us) with the premise of Perception