Last summer, TNT expanded its populist programming beyond law-and-order fare to include the sci-fi epic "Falling Skies," and this year, it corralled a prime-time soap, the addictively sudsy "Dallas." I'm happy to report that both shows are having enjoyable runs this summer.
I can't say which one I'm more addicted to as the weather threatens to melt my brain: The slimy, but determined "skitters" of "Falling Skies" (which has really upped its game this year), or the shenanigans of J.R. and the rest of the double- and triple-crossing Ewing crew over at the Southfork ranch.
That's a lie: I can say which show I'm more addicted to, and of course it involves Larry Hagman's indomitable eyebrows. Obviously.
But cops, lawyers and various forms of investigations are TNT's bread and butter; even if I prefer its alien-related and eyebrow-raising offerings, attractive people slapping the cuffs on bad guys is what pays the bills for the network. And while it's no "Closer," which also returns Monday, the Eric McCormack vehicle "Perception" (Monday, July 9 at 10 p.m. ET on TNT) is perfectly adequate "Eccentric Consulting Genius" fare.
"Perception" isn't working at the level of "House" at its best (nor was "House" in its later years), but the TNT drama and the Fox show are built along similar lines (and thus both are among the many, many riffs on the Sherlock Holmes formula). McCormack plays Dr. Daniel Pierce, a neuroscientist and professor at a Chicago university who tends to get under people's skins with his strange methods, his odd social affect and his off-putting habits.
Kate Moretti (Rachel Leigh Cook), a former student who now works for the FBI, keeps pulling Pierce into difficult cases, knowing that her former professor, whose work centers on cognition and how the brain constructs reality, will notice things that others miss. Watching over Pierce and trying to keep him on a schedule that will safeguard his sanity is his assistant, Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith), who, in the early going, is defined mainly by his earnestness.
I won't be too specific about the serious mental-health issues that Pierce struggles with except to say that they tend to be fairly helpful, all things considered. He does indeed notice clues that others fail to catch, but the ways some of those clues manifest themselves are awfully convenient for whatever case he's working on.
Still, McCormack brings a fiesty commitment to this relatively unsurprising Super-Smart Curmudgeon role. As abrasive geniuses go, Pierce is no Gregory House and can't touch Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes (who can?), but McCormack's energy and the chugging, unflashy competence of the show around him make "Perception" watchable. For me, it's not a must-see hour, but TNT has done a moderate service here for those who prefer their hourlong dramas to be procedurally oriented.
And there is a connection to aliens, if you look hard enough: "The Closer" transitions into the spinoff "Major Crimes" on Aug. 13, the night the Kyra Sedgwick drama ends its run for good. "Major Crimes" stars Mary McDonnell, and next week's "Perception" features her "Battlestar Galactica" castmate Jamie Bamber. So if any Cylons pop up on Pierce's campus, he should have all the backup he needs.
"Perception" premieres Monday, July 9 at 10 p.m. ET on TNT.