Friday, September 22, 2023

The Irrational, on NBC

Dr. Alec Mercer is a behavioral psychologist, who often consults with the cops and FBI—sort of like Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald in Cracker, but with somewhat more social grace. He could hardly have any less. Mercer still has more than his share of baggage, but it is understandable, given the tragedy he lived through. Mercer will solve fresh crimes every week, while working on the season-long (presumably) mystery of the domestic terror bombing that left him badly burned in creator Arika Mittman’s The Irrational, which premieres Monday on NBC.

Mercer’s credo is people often act irrationally, but often in a perversely predictable kind of way. He came to mild prominence through his ability to predict seemingly erratic behavior, which obviously has handy law and order applications. His incisive mind is so Cumberbatch-Sherlock-like, even his FBI Agent ex-wife, Marissa will call him in on cases. However, in the pilot, it is the mayor who requests Mercer’s assistance.

Dylan Hayes, the son of a U.S. Senator, stands accused of murdering his girlfriend and the cops are not inclined to investigate much further, because he conveniently confessed. However, Mercer suspects it is a false confession generated by suggestions (possibly planted by the real murderer) and Hayes’s persistent survivor’s guilt, as the sole survivor of an IED attack in Iraq.

It is frustrating that the only veteran’s stories Hollywood is interested in telling invariably focus on PTSD. There is more to the military experience than that, such as courage, camaraderie, sacrifice, and many days, just plain boredom. However, Caleb Ruminer’s portrayal of Hayes and Mittman’s writing display a good deal of sensitivity towards veterans.

The second episode (out of three provided for review) directly references Putin’s assassination of Alexander Litvenenko with Polonium 210, which is reasonably gutsy. In “Dead Woman Walking,” a journalist investigating a Belarusian oligarch is dosed, most likely fatally, with Polonium, but she still has time to work with Mercer to catch the killer (who might not be much of a surprise, given the limited weekly cast of characters, but decidedly does not fit the typical profile of TV villains).

The same true for the third episode, “The Barnum Effect,” in which Marissa enlists Mercer’s help diagnosing the pilot presumed responsible for a fatal plane crash. Everyone wants to write him off as a suicidal annihilator, but Mercer keeps poking holes in their assumptions.

Meanwhile, Mercer is also delving into his own murky memories of the bombing that left visibly burn scars on his face. The alleged lone bomber is coming up for parole, but Mercer and his ex both suspect it was planned by a larger cabal.
  Throughout it all, he will have the assistance of his research assistants, Phoebe and Owen, who probably aren’t even making minimum wage for their efforts.

We do not know much about the two grad students yet (she has mother issues and he has difficulty expressing his emotions), but Molly Kunz and Arash DeMaxi have nice chemistry with series star Jesse L. Martin. Sometimes their vibe is a bit like the doctors doing rounds on
House M.D., but far, far less caustic.

In general, Mercer’s edgy genius routine is highly watchable. Martin (familiar to viewers of
Law & Order and The Flash) is slightly eccentric, but never full-blown shticky. So far, he manages to be slightly off-center in a re-assuring way, which is exactly what weekly TV programming goes for.

The discrete episodic cases are relatively simple, but in the first three, they often subvert network dramatic cliches. The extended domestic terror story-arc also shows some intriguing potential. Based on three episodes, it seems to wear well, but the addictive hook has yet to be set. Recommended as a solid option for viewers of traditional TV detectives,
The Irrational premieres Monday (9/25) on NBC and streams he next day on Peacock.