Jesse L. Martin as Alec Mercer in a scene from...

Jesse L. Martin as Alec Mercer in a scene from "The Irrational." Credit: AP/Sergei Bachlakov

SERIES "The Irrational"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Behavioral scientist and college professor Alec Mercer (Jesse L. Martin) is recently divorced and has moved in with his sister, Kylie (Travina Springer) when the FBI comes calling. One of the agents, Marisa (Maahra Hill), needs help cracking a case that has confounded the Bureau. Mercer — whose favorite saying is "people are irrational but predictably so" — helps her to understand that the clues are hiding in plain sight, if you understand human behavior as well as he does. Mercer has help — a pair of whip-smart Gen Z associates, Phoebe (Molly Kunz) and Owen (Arash DeMaxi), who know how to read the irrational mind almost as well as he does. Mercer's also got a big mystery of his own to solve. Someone firebombed a church he was in, causing extensive burns to his face. 


MY SAY If it hadn't been for those strikes, a double-whammy that has sidelined all of scripted television, "The Irrational" would likely land on NBC's fall lineup with scarcely a squeak. Yes, Martin is back on this network after that long sabbatical at CW's "The Flash." Yes, he's still the Jesse most of us knew and loved from "Law & Order" all those years ago. Sure, a little older, with his youthful "L & O" edges softened somewhat, but he's still Jesse. 

  That's about all. Nothing much else to pay close attention to here. We have seen this show before, multiple times. 

  But — understatement alert! — this isn't a normal fall which makes "The Irrational" something unusual, if not exactly special. The series is effectively one of just two new scripted series on the major networks (the other, NBC's "Found," arrives Oct. 3.) Even had this not been a strike-denuded fall lineup, there wasn't going to be a scripted bounty anyway. Under punishing budget restrictions, the major networks had already bulked up their lineups with football and unscripted shows.

  Instead, "Irrational" got lucky. A few episodes were wrapped before the writers' strike hit in May, and now they're seeing the light of day, while offering the comfortable illusion that it's business as usual at NBC. 

  Overall, "The Irrational" is decently acted, competently written, and adequately directed. You will learn fun things, and presumably true ones, about behavioral science, as well as its forensic applications in police work. Do you know, for example, what "attentional blindness" is? Or that the deadly isotope, polonium-210 is absorbed into tobacco leaves? I didn't but our hero Alec Mercer does. His support is solid too. It may take one skilled "behaviorist" to understand the case, but three to crack it — ideally, if two of them are young and cute, all the better to remind the senior-aged viewers at home of their own grandchildren. 

  "The Irrational" hits the right notes, too, or at least hits them at precisely the right moment. "Cuff him," someone actually says here, right before the last act. "Book 'em" or "just one more thing" could've worked fine too.

  Meanwhile, here's just one more thing about "The Irrational," the latest in an endless line of pot-roast-and-mashed-potatoes network procedurals. So much a part of their past, shows like this could perhaps be part of the networks' future, or (who's to say?) their salvation too. Easily and effortlessly consumed, they aren't part of some Byzantine fictional universe. They don't tax the mind. They send you off to bed with a reassuring pat on the head. 

  They're nice, or at least "The Irrational" is nice. In the midst of this new-normal world of supersized "Voice" editions, 'round the clock NFL and repeats, you could do worse.       


BOTTOM LINE Decently acted, competently written, adequately directed, achingly familiar. 


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