Pierce’s insights into the crimes are shown in a variety of ways, one of which is the highlighting of letters on the screen. There’s also some occasional philosophizing from the lead character, as he talks about perception and reality in his classroom lectures.
Thus it’s easy to see elements of Monk, The Closer, Psych, The Mentalist, and the movies The Oxford Murders and A Beautiful Mind mixed into Perception. What all the TV shows in that list share is a protagonist and close associates whom audiences like, root for, and want to invite into their homes every week. It’s a proven formula for TV success.
Alas, that’s the very thing Perception lacks. McCormick gives a reasonably persuasive portrayal of the troubled genius, but he doesn’t bring much personality to the role, at least not in the pilot episode. Most of his repertoire here appears to consist of frowns, which is a bit surprising given his work in the popular TV comedy Will and Grace. Cook plays a somewhat clichéd character, the overly intense police detective, and although she comes off as a mite more personable than McCormick, she doesn’t get much of a chance to convey the kind of winsome personality she brought to her role as fake-psychic detective Shawn Spencer’s paramour in Psych. Not even close, in fact.
The main case investigated in the pilot episode is as old-hat as the central characters, centering on the murder of a pharmaceutical company executive. A researcher for the company has falsified the results of a drug study, which would have resulted in an unsafe drug being placed on the market if Pierce and Moretti hadn’t providentially caught him while investigating a murder. The problem, as you may imagine, is that this mystery angle is neither original nor interesting. Casting a big drug company as a villain is, of course, the contemporary equivalent of making a sinister Chinaman or haughty German the murderer. (I can see it already: “Next week on Perception: Hitler clones!”)
Most of the screen time, in any case, is devoted to Pierce’s personal problems (another contemporary policier cliché) and the rather obvious plot angle in which his hallucinations — shown as if they were real — are actually the way his brain works on the puzzle to provide insights that will ultimately solve the mystery. There’s nothing wrong with the latter idea, but the writers don’t do anything interesting with it. And it’s rather difficult to see how it could be made interesting, actually, since all it involves is Pierce talking with people who aren’t really there, which is not intrinsically any more interesting than watching someone talk to people who really are there, after all.