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'Perception' review: A mixed-up smart guy

THE SHOW "Perception"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 10 on TNT

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack) is a supersmart college professor who has written four supersmart books in the esoteric area of forensic neuropsychology. That's brought him to the attention of the FBI -- notably Agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), who was a former student and may have once had a crush on the boyishly eccentric Pierce.

She enlists his help for cases that are too difficult even for the bureau to crack because the solution exists in the deep twilight of the human mind -- where perception and reality are indistinguishable. Or something like that. Pierce is also a schizophrenic who suffers from delusions. In fact, he carries on conversations with imaginary people who provide clues to the crimes. But he does need a colleague -- Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith) -- on hand 24/7 to tell him whether they are real or figments.

MY SAY Here's a mystery that young doc Pierce can't crack: Why has an actor as gifted as McCormack bounced around for as long as he has without scoring that big defining post-"Will & Grace" role? A movie here ("Knife Fight," this fall). A promising series there (TNT's "Trust Me"). A Broadway run here (he just finished Sunday in "Gore Vidal's The Best Man"). Otherwise, he's still looking.

There may be one possible answer in this TNT newcomer -- McCormack can't make up his mind what kind of role he wants. His Pierce is a kaleidoscope of acting styles, techniques and personas. One scene, he's Adrian Monk. The next scene, John Nash of "A Beautiful Mind." He's alternately annoying, brash, weird, smooth, kind and brittle. He's as insightful as Sherlock or as doddering as Watson -- sometimes in the same moment. Lack of focus is a problem for a boilerplate procedural that hasn't quite got the focus thing down yet, either. Also, there's a lot of clinical language that's used to rush the plot along, but you're left with the sense that no one has a clue what they're talking about.

BOTTOM LINE "Perception" is both clever and ridiculous -- but should do well for TNT because it's also familiar.


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