This review first appeared in our sister Publication The Bulldog Edition
There’s something altogether comforting about NBC’s new Fall drama series, The Irrational, debuting Monday, Sept. 25.
Maybe it’s the all too familiar procedural set-up: A smart outsider helps the FBI solve murder cases with his extraordinary gift. In this case the smart outsider is Professor Alec Mercer, played by Jesse L. Martin returning to his procedural drama roots here, and his extraordinary gift is his degree in behavioral science.
Mercer juggles his career teaching behavioral science at a local university while moonlighting for the cops and FBI on their most difficult cases in his spare time. Any ruffled feathers created by his unorthodox methods are smoothed by his FBI contact Marisa (Maahra Hill), who also happens to be his ex-wife.
Mercer’s extra-curricular activities are also lent a hand by two adorable and nerdy research assistants, Phoebe (Molly Kunz), and Rizwan (Arash DeMaxi), who themselves are called upon to dig up crucial evidence at Mercer’s behest, or to just nod agreeably while he explains his latest psychological observation.
Maybe The Irrational’s comforting sense of familiarity is rooted in how all the good guys on the show are so likeable, reasonable, and mature, like Mercer’s wise and relationship-savvy sister Kylie (Travina Springer), or his capable and level-headed ex-wife Marisa, and even his attentive and respectful students. Meanwhile, all of the bad guys are clearly very bad eggs.
Or maybe it’s just how Mercer, with his kindly, sad eyes and beautiful, reassuring voice takes the time to gently and generously explain to his students, ex-wife, adoring assistants, and witnesses just how he knows who did it, and why. In fact, some villains are so overwhelmed by Mercer’s gift they even helpfully give up after the merest mention of implicit bias, or the paradox of persuasion, or the Barnum effect.
Maybe in retrospect, it’s all of these things. The Irrational harks back to a decade when all that was needed for an 8 season Broadcast hit was a guy with a quirk and a will-they-won’t-they romantic interest in a by-the-book FBI agent who eventually softens to his charms.
But this isn’t 2004, and the days of Castle, The Mentalist, Monk, Numb3rs, Bones and even later additions like Elementary and Lucifer are over. The Irrational attempts to add an extra dimension by means of a subplot involving a tragic and life-altering unsolved case from Mercer’s past. However, with tiny details eked out over multiple episodes, there simply isn’t enough to sink your teeth into, or to ultimately care very much about.
Broadcast is still churning out cosy, reassuring, familiar procedural drama pilots once a year with the hope of reigniting that early Noughts ratings spark. All the while, streaming and cable behemoths continue to adapt, improvise and overcome the temptation to play it safe. There may be nothing new or particularly audacious about The Irrational, but it’s a solid effort that will appeal to those who want a taste of the classic investigative procedurals of the previous decade of TV and a cast of pleasantly soothing characters reassuring us that everything is going to be ok.
The Irrational Premieres Monday, Sept. 25 (10-11 p.m. ET/PT) on NBC.