"What is reality?" That's the question asked by Dr. Daniel Pierce, professor of neuroscience at a prominent Chicago university, in the first scene of the pilot for the new TNT series, Perception. Raising the question in his classroom, he answers it: "Reality is a figment of your imagination." It's your perception of everyday experience, but also dreams, hallucinations, and fantasies, for as far as the brain is concerned, Pierce asserts, it's the same neurochemical activity. 

That sets up the quandary of the latest crime/mystery procedural whose hero is a specialist whose gift is also his curse, just like Adrian Monk's obsessive/compulsive disorder that allowed him to see broken patterns that led to solved crimes. Daniel Pierce, whom the Perception website calls "eccentric," has his own quirky condition that helps him solve mysteries: schizophrenia. Yes, brilliant academic of A Beautiful Mind meets consulting specialists as in The Mentalist, Lie to Me and Numb3rs. There's even a little House, M. D. on the side with a scruffy but sexy looking outsider. It worked for the other shows and now the cable network wants to try it with a new shtick, a protagonist with full-blown mental illness.

The formula is certainly helped by star Eric McCormack, (Will and Grace) a very appealing actor who is the main draw of the series. With his shaggy haircut and highlights, and trendy scarf, he stands out amidst the dull suited FBI types when he's brought in to analyze the brain science aspect of a crime. As in Numb3rs and other crime shows built around such gimmicks, this somewhat limits the plots to whatever aberrant neurological conditions writers can work into the scripts. In the second episode, a man having an affair didn't know it was with his disguised wife since his brain lacked the ability to distinguish facial features. Pierce arrives on the scene and identifies the affliction of the week that helps crack the case. 

Recruited by a former student, FBI agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), looks a tad too fresh-faced for the job. The requisite skeptic, agent Robert Probert (Jonathan Scarfe) is there to roll his eyes at Daniel's eccentricities and offbeat theorizing. The derivative and familiar concept could have overcome these weaknesses because of McCormack's appeal and with sharper writing. That potential was hinted at in the third episode which featured a rapist/killer who surfaces every five years to strike again. Daniel and Kate find the only victim to escape from the 1986 attack, played, in a resonant casting coupe, by Sheryl Lee, (Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks). 

A head injury in the attack has left her with no short term memory, so after being taken off a stupor-inducing drug since her attack 25 years earlier, she is kept in the room she grew up in as a teenager and will always think she's 17. Daniel uses this to help her recall the information about the killer needed to catch him. Lee's performance as her character's teenage self was chillingly good and her permanently teenaged mental state made for a bittersweet episode.

McCormack's character is sympathetic and it's easy to see his romantic appeal. Unmarried, he often meets with a longtime friend, Natalie, a serenely beautiful blond played by Kelly Rowan to discuss cases and how they are affecting him. Do these two have a thing together?

But the problem with Perception lies at the core of Dr. Pierce's conception as a character. In the first episode, we see that he's quirky, and listens to classical music on headphones to lessen his stress in public. He has a live-in student assistant, Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith) who helps him manage his schedule and stress. So far, nothing more odd than defective detective Adrian Monk's coping mechanisms. But in the first episode, while helping investigate the murder of a drug company executive, Pierce is visited at home by one of the technicians he'd seen at the company's laboratory. After the man pleads with him for help, Pierce calls Lewicki downstairs.  But when Lewicki comes down, he sees no one but Daniel.