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Scott D. Pierce: TV's latest detective really is out of his mind

Published July 5, 2012 8:18 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Television has a long history of quirky, offbeat detectives.

Columbo. Nero Wolfe. Jim Rockford. Allison Dubois ("Medium"). Brenda Leigh Johnson ("The Closer"). Richard Castle and Monk.

But offbeat doesn't begin to describe TV's newest crime-solver — Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack, "Will & Grace"), who's at the center of "Perception" (Tuesday, 7 and 9 p.m., TNT).

Pierce is a brilliant neuroscience professor who's recruited by the FBI to help with tough cases. He's also a paranoid schizophrenic who sees patterns and clues others miss and people who aren't really there.

"Are you out of your mind?" he's asked in the premiere.

"Well, that's not the clinical description," Pierce replies, "but yes, actually."

The people he hallucinates help him solve crimes. And they add a second level of mystery for the viewers, because it isn't always clear if characters are real or figments of Pierce's imagination.

"Perception" crosses into some dangerous territory. Not because of the mysteries themselves — they're not remarkably different from standard TV fare — but because of the inclusion of a character who's not only schizophrenic, but off his meds.

"And that's a controversial thing for someone to do," McCormack acknowledged. "In his case, it's almost an intellectual hubris. He certainly wouldn't recommend that to anybody else suffering with a condition."

It just seems that way.

"He figures that with the meds he loses a chunk of who he is and the way his magnificent brain works, McCormack said. "He doesn't want to dull that, so he takes the risk."

Creator/executive producer Ken Biller acknowledged that "Perception's" primary goal is to entertain viewers.

"But we want to be responsible in the way we depict [schizophrenia]," he said. "It's a serious condition for a lot of people."

And he insisted "Perception" is "one of the first times that we're really showing a very positive depiction of a high-functioning person struggling with a serious mental disorder. It's not something that you've seen very often, so we're proud of that."

It sounds almost heroic, doesn't it?

The cast includes Rachael Leigh Cook as Pierce's former student/FBI agent, Arjay Smith as his teaching assistant, Kelly Rowan as Pierce's best friend, and LeVar Burton as his boss and friend.

The show is OK, but it's also sort of tough to watch. You want to like Pierce, but it's isn't easy. He can be funny and charming, but he's also frantic, manic and incredibly annoying.

An episode of "Perception" may leave you exhausted.

"The show is sponsored by Red Bull," McCormack joked.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.