Eric McCormack, the star of Perception, likes to describe his new TNT series as " A Beautiful Mind meets Columbo."
In other words, the show, which premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, feels like a throwback to puzzle-solving detective series of the '70s, with the added gimmick of giving its protagonist, an expert in the workings of the human brain, a near-crippling case of schizophrenia.
McCormack plays Dr. Daniel Pierce, a college professor and expert in forensic neuropsychology.
One could argue that Daniel knows so much about the frailties of the human mind because he himself suffers as much as anybody. "I hear voices. I see things that aren't there. I talk to the walls," he says. He is obsessive-compulsive, deeply paranoid and a crackpot conspiracy theorist.
Yet he won't take medication to quiet his inner demons. Doing so would extinguish the inner light that makes him brilliant.
"Rationality is overrated," Daniel proclaims -- and he almost makes a you a believer. Daniel has a knack for solving puzzles, be it crosswords or murder cases. He cuts through the clutter, connects the dots, sees things that everyone else misses.
That's why Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), an FBI agent and a former student of Daniel's, is convinced that it's worth putting up with his eccentricities. She believes his insights are invaluable.
And here is where the show's gimmick becomes more than that, McCormack says.
In the pilot episode, Daniel discredits a woman's false murder confession when he diagnoses her as having Korsakoff's syndrome, a neurological disorder involving retrograde amnesia and invented memories. The condition is brought on by a lack of vitamin B1 to the brain.
"That's one of the things I love about this show," McCormack says. "Every episode hinges on some little-known neurological twist that leaves you saying, 'Holy cow. I didn't even know that was a thing that a person could be afflicted with.'"
Later in the same episode, Daniel demonstrates a curious side effect of a condition called aphasia. Seems an aphasiac's damaged brain can tell when a person is lying. Untruths cause the aphasiac to burst out into laughter, making him a human lie-detector, a valuable tool for a detective.
"As an actress, I read a lot of scripts," Cook says. "With most of the scripts, I find myself shaking the pages at the end and shouting, 'I knew it was him in the second act!' I mean, they're all so predictable. But the scripts on this show keep you guessing at every turn, and that's so exciting."
The result is an odd-couple crime procedural that feels familiar and comfortable, yet also fresh and unique.
As McCormack puts it, "It almost has a McMillan & Wife quality, if Commissioner McMillan had schizophrenia."
Given how scientists are still unraveling the mysteries of the human brain, it's certainly fertile material for a TV series.
That's why playing a character that wages a constant battle with his own mental illness appealed to McCormack. The actor isn't much of a mystery buff, he admits. But the challenge of bringing a character like this to life -- and doing it in a way that isn't clichéd or broadly comedic -- was impossible to resist.
"Mental-health issues are still so stigmatized," he says. "So it's refreshing that this character gets to bust the stereotypes and the typical TV conventions of mental illness.
"The show explores human frailty when it comes to mental illness in a way that's kind and fair."
That said, Perception never loses sight of its main objective: to be entertaining.
"I like to refer to it as secret learning," Cook says. "You learn something almost accidentally. You take on knowledge even though that wasn't the pursuit. I love shows that can give you that.
"So many people are fascinated by psychology and human behavior. So even though we catch the bad guys, what I think viewers will really enjoy is the way we explore the secrets of what make us tick."