The damaged detective genre moves into challenging new territory with “Perception” (9 p.m., TNT). We’ve traveled far beyond the quirky phobias of “Monk” and the cranky attitudes of “House.” Eric McCormack (“Will & Grace”) plays Dr. Daniel Pierce, a neuroscience professor described as “brilliant” about 47 times during the pilot episode.
For reasons not entirely explained, Pierce has been recruited by his former student, pert FBI agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), to help her solve crimes. Pierce has a way of seeing patterns in apparent chaos and plucking anagrams out of random ransom notes.
He’s also a heck of a good crossword puzzle master. He’s seen doing five or six a day while listening to classical music on a vintage cassette Walkman, conducting the music as he completes each puzzle. A student intern who helps him with the petty details of daily life has the darndest time finding rare classical recordings still available on cassette.
All of those quirks make Pierce seem merely eccentric. But during the first episode we discover that he’s more than just that. He’s a full-blown paranoid schizophrenic who refuses to take medication because the pills cloud the clarity of his thinking. And his brilliant cogitations include fully realized hallucinations of imaginary people. In at least one case, these transitory visitors help him solve the crime.
We’re not talking “Harvey” here. Nor is this “A Beautiful Mind.” While “Perception” hints at the pain and social isolation of the mentally ill, Pierce is a mostly colorful character, a “Columbo” with mental health issues.
Portraying paranoid schizophrenics in this manner is at best questionable. Even hinting that there are social and career benefits for the seriously mentally ill who refuse medication is beyond dicey. It takes “Perception” to uncharted, even dangerous, waters beyond the realm of entertainment.
Tonight’s other highlights
• “Fear Factor” (7 p.m., NBC), the summer ick-factor time-waster, returns.
• Service with a scowl on “Hell’s Kitchen” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Sea world on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox).
• Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods America” (6 p.m., Travel) kicks off a new season.
• “Hard Times: Lost on Long Island” (8 p.m., HBO) follows the families of four long-unemployed workers as they face dwindling savings and sinking spirits.