TV Review: Perception 1.1, ‘Pilot’

A unique and compelling character and some interesting thematic and visual aspects make this a crime drama to keep an eye on.

Connor Davey

Contributor

Rating: ★★★★☆

TNT’s latest crime drama ‘Perception’ is a show I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about it some time last year. Firstly, it’s right up my street. The premise of a cop procedural lead by an eccentric, outcast ‘detective’ type may be overused these days – but so much of my favourite TV has come from this set up. It’s an appealing one that always has potential if handled in the right way, and hopefully an ‘original’ way. The question is, does Perception do this? The answer in short, is yes, for the most part.

The case itself was fairly humdrum. The inclusion of a crooked drug company spiced things up a bit, but the conclusion of a runaway couple attempting to kill an existing partner is well played and nothing new. However, this was made up for by the way in which the case was solved. During my piece discussing 5 Reasons To Watch TNT’s ‘Perception’, I said the originality and development of the central ‘detective’ would be key to the shows success and appeal. Luckily, this is an area in which the first episode succeeds. Aside from being a very intelligent neuroscientist, something not entirely original in itself, Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack) suffers from Schizophrenia.

I’d also previously said the writers would need to be very careful in order to strike the right balance between serious and lighthearted when it comes to his condition. Despite criticism in some reviews, I think it was handled very well overall. It provided some very funny moments, naturally, none more so than Pierce standing on a table in the middle of a packed police station whilst mimicking the conducting of his classical music. On the other hand, they managed to effectively portray the loneliness and insecurity his condition creates. Realizing the character of Natalie (Kelly Rowan), who Pierce seems to share a special bond with, is in fact another hallucination was both surprising and heartbreaking.

On a side note, whilst I said the neuroscientist angle isn’t completely original – it seems to have been researched and written well. The scenes in which Pierce teaches his students were some of the most informative and entertaining.

One way in which the case worked well is how it linked perfectly to Pierce’s own paranoia and feelings towards other people with mental health issues. Seeing him sympathize with the wife of the male perpetrator and continuously question the intentions of drug companies and even the US government were just two examples this.

Whilst Pierce’s condition, particularly his hallucinations, could become an overused plot device (in order to catch the criminal) they also have the potential to develop into something much more interesting for the audience: making them unsure, consistently questioning whether what they see on screen is real or not. This was already used to an extent in this episode, particularly after the initial reveal of the ‘man’ who helped him solve the case. Given the title ‘Perception’ and Pierce’s claim that “reality is a figment of your imagination”, this idea of questioning what is and isn’t ‘reality’ seems as though it will be an important aspect and theme to the show going forward. It certainly feels original and I can’t wait to see how it develops.

The cast is a perfect fit and the characters they play are interesting, though the supporting cast could do with a bit more development going forward. This is only the first episode though, so that’s understandable given that the focus was on introducing and developing the main character of Dr. Daniel Pierce. FBI Agent Kate Moretti, a sarcastic and sassy former student of Pierce is played with a youthful exuberance by Rachael Leigh Cook (She’s All That) and Max Lewicki played by Arjay Smith (The Day After Tomorrow) has a dependent relationship with Pierce that is already a highlight. As I said above, these two and the other surrounding characters will need to be further developed in the coming episodes in order to assure that Pierce isn’t the only person of interest in the show. The early signs are good though. The highest praise must be saved for McCormack, of course, as he proves to be more than capable of carrying the show as its anchor. His physical performance in particular, emoting all of Pierces odd and eccentric traits, is very impressive and he has a likeable charm that more than endears him to the audience.

Whoever directed this episode also deserves credit, as a distinct style was noticeable, something not seen enough in TV. This aspect stood out mostly as Pierce talks to (I wouldn’t say he ‘interrogates’, he either ‘talks to’ or ‘accuses’ with no in between) suspects and the camera slowly pushes forward to focus on their faces, all else in the background out-of-focus as the good Doctor emphasizes with people not in a situation all that different from his own (psychologically). It remains to be seen if this was simply the style of this episodes individual director, or if it is in fact a style the show will adapt permanently. Another interesting visual touch was the use of anagrams, as Pierce solves them and the letters come off the page, rearranging themselves on screen. An interesting and fun touch, even if a bit unnecessary.

The use of classical music as Pierce’s calming tool is an interesting character quirk, I do wonder if we’ll see more of that, perhaps even different variations on it and the context in which it is used. Tree Adams score was well done, but it’ll take a few more episodes for the show to find its tone and we’ll see then whether it fits that and helps carry it.

Overall, this was a solid pilot episode. Some areas need work and there was some odd choices (the US president videos), but pilot episodes are rarely perfect. How the show irons out those weaker areas and develops the good ones (of which there’s a lot) further as the season goes on – that’s what matters from here. Supporting characters need to be worked on and the case-of-the-week needs improvement, but a unique and compelling character and some interesting thematic and visual aspects make this an already good crime drama with the potential to become a great one. I enjoyed it a lot.

Check back next week for my review of 1.02 ‘Faces’.