Before Perception returns for a third season Feb. 25, you may want to know whether it’s worth watching. I did. As adorable as Eric McCormack looks with a 5 o’clock shadow, I needed convincing. There’s no shortage of shows about eccentric geniuses, or their sub-genre, cop-with-eccentric-genius-partner shows. So Perception, for all its charm, needs its pilot to break the mold.
Perception suffers from the threat of another presupposition. No matter how many roles he plays, Eric McCormack will always be Will Truman, the character who made him a household name. The first thing I saw him in following Will & Grace was Dead Like Me, and I luh-hoved seeing him play a character so diametrically opposed to the previous one. So I know he’s capable of surprising an audience, but didn’t expect him to do it again, this time in a starring role. I was just waiting for this show to bore me.
For the first 20 minutes or so, my expectations were met. “What is reality?” a professor asks a lecture hall full of undergraduates. Snore. The professor, Daniel Pierce (McCormack) demonstrates his irreverant gravitas by dropping “Reality is a figment of your imagination.” He’s the hip, unconventional professor. He calls students by disprespecful nicknames. When one approaches him after class wishing to talk further, he dismisses her as only wanting sex.
We find out how smart–and eccentric–the doc is when we see him effortlessly completing numerous crossword puzzles while mimicking conducting classical music. I gotta wonder, if the puzzles are so easy, why bother? But in TV land crosswords and Mozart mean “smart.” It may be significant that his assistant (Arjay Smith) mentions the names of both American and British newspapers when supplying the puzzles. At this point, the show is reminding me of a lighter-weight Rubicon.
Enter the cop. A former student, Kate (Rachel Leigh Cook of Robot Chicken cred), who went off to work for the FBI has returned to local law enforcement and needs the help of Dr. Pierce’s big brain. A woman has confessed to killing her husband. Thought the cops are ready to lock her up and throw away the key, Kate alone knows something is off. When Daniel interviews the wife, Kate has to go to bat with her boss over Daniel’s unconventional approach.
Usually the cop has the unlikely partner thrust upon him/her. In this case, it’s the other way around, so there’s that. (Also note, we didn’t open with a dead body.) The case itself is pretty run-of-the-mill, involving a whistle-blowing scandal at a pharma company. But as things start to unfold they go in unexpected directions.
By the halfway point I actually cared about Daniel. While he seems to need no one, he’s not a dick about it. His mental health comes into question, giving him genuine vulnerability. They could have made him House. They didn’t, thankfully.
Kelly Rowan shows up as an ex-girlfriend and confidante who Daniel bounces ideas off of. Both she and personal assistant Lewicky provide sweet, earnest foils to Daniel’s brashness.
There’s a twist at the end, which I can’t say I didn’t see coming, but still enjoyed. It lays the groundwork for an interesting dynamic. This looks to be a cop show that’s less about bloody crime scenes and more about psychology. I also didn’t catch any suggestion that sexual tension between Daniel and Kate was going to be the order of the day, so that would be a refreshing change. I’ll keep watching and see if the show finds some other way to jump the shark.