Eric McCormack, left, and Rachael Leigh Cook in a scene from “Perception,” premiering at 10 tonight on TNT.
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SAN FRANCISCO — Remember that old Jack Benny joke where a guy stops him on the street and says, “Your money or your life,” and Benny says nothing at first?
“Well? Which is it?” the guy asks.
“I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” Benny says.
The joke came to me the other day as I was watching the second episode of the new TNT drama Perception on a screener DVD. About 10 minutes from the end, the DVD just froze.
Should I take it out of the DVD player, dust it off and put it back for the last 10 minutes, I asked myself?
I’m thinking, I’m thinking.
The creators of Perception, premiering tonight, have done a bit too much thinking about Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack, Will & Grace), a brainiac professor of neuroscience who consults with the FBI on difficult cases. Pierce may be brilliant, but he’s also subject to schizophrenia-related hallucinations, some of which he uses to solve crimes.
Created by Ken Biller (Smallville) and Mike Sussman (Star Trek: Enterprise), the story lines of the individual episodes are mildly interesting, in that TV’s version-of-real-life way, but McCormack, who is also among the show’s producers, is hard to take in the role. Even as Will Truman, he always had this habit of making himself stammer when he spoke too quickly. It was an endearing quality on the old sitcom, but becomes maddening in an hour-long drama.
It’s also apparently part of McCormack’s concept of enacting schizophrenia, which is never entirely credible. He almost seems to be channeling Bob Hope pretending to be a babbling idiot in order to get Bing and himself out of some pickle or other in one of the old Road pictures.
The supporting cast includes Rachael Lee Cook (She’s All That) as FBI agent Kate Moretti, Kelly Rowan (The O.C.) as Daniel’s old friend Natalie Vincent, Arjay Smith (The Day After Tomorrow) as Max Lewicki, Daniel’s teaching assistant, and LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Paul Haley, the college dean.
Like the CBS fall season drama Elementary, Perception tries to milk the ongoing interest in Sherlock Holmes, enriched over the last two years by the modernized British TV take on Holmes by Benedict Cumberbatch on the PBS Sherlock series. Perception accordingly borrows a few things from Conan Doyle, making Pierce an anti-social consulting detective and Lewicki a more grounded, ever-tolerant Watson character.
The similarities end there, though, not just because Holmes solved crimes with his mind and not with the help of hallucinations, but also because Perception isn’t very smart.
It’s also not very pleasant. That isn’t always a bad thing, but watching Perception, I couldn’t help wondering how the USA channel might have made it better. With shows like Psych and Suits, USA has mastered the art of injecting a sense of fun into dramatic series.
There’s very little that’s fun about Perception. It doesn’t have to be a laugh riot, but it should be enjoyable to watch and the sad truth is, it’s just OK.
So: Should you watch it?
I’m thinking, I’m thinking.